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Dracula

Universal Monsters
by yo go re

Has it really been more than a year since the last Universal Monsters Ultimate came out? Well, no, but I've definitely not been able to find Dracula until now, despite actively looking for him. Guess I know how Van Helsing felt!

Universal's 1931 Dracula was groundbreaking. The trend in movies at the time was to eschew the supernatural - monsters and such appeared, obviously, but there was always a "real" explanation behind things at the end of the movie. You know, Scooby-Doo style. But Dracula was so popular, both the original novel and the stage adaptation on which the film was based for legal reasons, there was no way Universal would be able to get away with making the Count be involved in some kind of complex real estate hoax against the people of London, and thus Dracula had to remain an honest-to-god vampire. The movie was a smash hit, proving audiences weren't afraid of purely supernatural stories, and kicking off Universal's new focus on the horror genre.

We said the movie was based on a play for legal reasons, but the truth is it was for budgetary reasons: this was the Great Depression, and Universal didn't have the money to license the rights to the book; you'd think the rights to adapt the play would be just as expensive, since the play would also have had to pay the Widow Stoker, but apparently not? Bela Lugosi was already starring in that play when Universal decided to turn it into a movie, and luckily for him the play was on tour in Los Angeles during casting.

Book Dracula wore all black clothes so drab they didn't even warrant description; Movie Dracula wears a fancy tuxedo and cape. So where did that come from? Again, the play. When the play premiered in London, Drac was played by Raymond Huntley; rumor has it he provided his own costume for the role and, since a play has to convey information more visually than a novel does, the Count's sophistication was conveyed by fancy dress. The costume choice remained intact when the play was brought to America, and so was taken directly to the movies, cementing a tuxedo as "the" look for any pop culture vampire. The medallion on the chest was totally Lugosi's addition, though.

In 1927, Lon Chaney (Sr.) starred in London After Midnight, a "vampire" movie directed by Tod Browning. Although it was an original story, it was basically an audition to handle Dracula once some studio landed the rights. Browning did get to direct, but Chaney died in 1930 and so a new actor was needed for the Count. The studio did not want Lugosi, but he campaigned hard for the role, eventually agreeing to be paid only $3,500 for the seven-week shoot.

The figure includes three heads, as seems to be the way with these Universal Monsters Ultimates. His are a serious head, a smiling head, and one with the mouth open. Whenever "the Big Wheel of Available Licenses" spins and Universal Monsters lands on a new company, it's always a question of whether or not they'll deal with the Lugosi estate to get likeness rights. It was a big deal when Sideshow first did it in 2001, and noteable when DST didn't in 2011. NECA isn't about to halfass anything, so you know Trevor Grove is one of the credited sculptors.

The likeness on all three heads is superb, and a major part of that is the paint. You know how bad paint can ruin a good sculpt (even ones Trevor did), but these three head look exactly like the man they're supposed to, giving us a 7" figure at retail that can compete with high-end 12" versions. Drac's skin is the same shade so many action figures are today, but in his case, he's supposed to look dead, so it works. Even this pale shade looks vibrant next to the black tux and nearly greyscale accessories. If it weren't for the red ribbon holding his medallion on, this would be about as colorful as the Mummy. Really nice job using a paint wash to differentiate the vest from the shirt beneath it, however!

Draculee, Draculaa, Draculaa-ah-ha-ha-ha-ha can be a happy wanderer thanks to all the typical NECA articulation: swivel/hinge ankles, swivel/​hinge knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips, a balljointed waist, swivel/​hinge wrists, swivel/hinge elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, a balljointeed neck, and a barbell head. Weirdly, the set doesn't include just three alternate heads, but also three necks: toy heads usually swap at the top of the neck, but this one swaps at the base, with the soft PVC shirt collar flexing out of the way as you trade them. Not sure why NECA opted to do it this way, but it works just fine. His cape is softgoods, so it won't block the movement at all, but it has a plastic collar to ensure it clips into place on the neck securely.

Drac has a selection of different hands - two relaxed, two gesturing wildly, and one to clutch the included silver tray. Upon that tray you can rest the two pewter goblets and bottle of vine. Er, wine. Yes, two goblets, even though he never drinks... wine. We also get the same dragon-shaped candlestick the Mystery Mini carried, but linking to that review makes us wish NECA had taken the extra step to also get Carlos Villarías' likeness for another alternate head.

We also get an alternate form for the vampire: the large fake bat he turns into (off-screen). It's a large, solid piece with a 4" wingspan, and it gets its own clear display rod to hold it aloft. This isn't a necessary inclusion, but it's a nice thing to get, regardless. Naturally there's one of those accessory sets available, as well, with a coffin and some other typical vampiric creature minions like... an armadillo? Yeah, one of those famous Transylvanian armadillos.

As with all the other Universal Monsters releases so far, Count Dracula is available either in color or black and white versions. Unlike all the other releases so far, they're two different molds. This one is Dracula (Transylvania), and that one is Dracula (Carfax Abbey). It's basically just a difference of chests: once in London, the count dropped his medal in favor of a more modern accoutrement, a watch on a chain. That one also gets a top hat and cane, plus extra hands wearing gloves and oh my god, that's why the necks swap! Because the Carfax Abbey outfit wouldn't really look any different in color, so you can put the skintone neck into the b/w shirt and have a second figure! Well played, NECA; well played.

I've been seeing the grayscale Dracula at FYE for months now, but kept waiting for the colored one to show up anywhere at all. I even saw the accessory set before this figure! It finally showed up at Best Buy, but it rang up for $3 more than the shelf said, and they wouldn't fix the price. This line, I swear! Dracula is the king of the Universal Monsters, and it's excellent that NECA went all-out, getting the full likeness and everything. No line could really count as complete without Bela.

-- 10/01/23


 
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