With his Slavic cheekbones and brooding presence, Jack Palance makes an ideal vampire overlord in the new-to-Blu-ray "Dan Curtis' Dracula" (1974, MPI, unrated, $20).
Instead of playing Drac as a strictly evil presence, Palance — a native of Lattimer Mines, Luzerne County, — emphasizes the tragedy of the count, making him as much a victim of vampirism as a manipulator of it.
That said, Curtis ("Dark Shadows") and scripter Richard Matheson ("The Night Strangler") know when to pump up the action with some good scares, especially in the creepy scenes set at Dracula's Transylvanian mansion.
In the special features, Curtis calls Palance "the best Dracula there ever was. He was the most frightening Dracula to ever put on that cape."
Palance, who also participates in a short interview, says he was eager to star in the movie after working with Curtis on "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." But playing the neck-biter took its toll on the tough guy actor.
"Dracula was the only character I ever played who frightened me," Palance says, noting that Dracula stuck with him long after shooting wrapped.
Through the years, Palance, who died in 2006, was approached about playing vampires in other film projects but he turned down those offers. He also reveals that he never watched himself in the movie.
"Someday," he said back in 1994, "I might watch it to see how mean and cruel I was."
Also new on Blu-ray
Did you know that one of the leading lights of late '70s and early '80s cinema grew up in Reading?
Lisa Eichhorn made her starring film debut opposite Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave in John Schlesinger's "Yanks" (1979) and went on to appear in James Ivory's "The Europeans" (1979 ) with Lee Remick; and, most memorably, in the Jeff Bridges masterpiece "Cutter and Bone" (1981), one of the best films you've likely never seen.
Eichhorn was living in the United Kingdom and mostly absent from movies by the time Steven Soderbergh offered her a pivotal role in "King of the Hill" (1993, Criterion, PG-13, $40), which is based on A.E. Hotchner's Depression-era memoir.
This jewel of a coming-of-age film revolves around a teenager (Jesse Bradford) who, after his consumptive mother (Eichhorn) is sent to a sanitarium and his father (Jeroen Krabbe) departs on a long business trip, must survive on his own in a run-down hotel.
Bradford has plenty of madcap adventures that involve outwitting bellhops and police officers, but what makes "King" so special is Soderbergh's willingness to show the Depression in all of its darkness.
Eichhorn only appears in a handful of scenes but she conveys a lot with little screen time. While fighting off easy sentiment, Eichhorn endows her character with warmth and a bone-deep weariness.
The "King of the Hill" package served up by Criterion is bursting with fascinating extras, including "The Underneath," Soderbergh's 1995 follow-up to "King of the Hill."
Amy Longsdorf is a freelance writer.
Jodi Duckett, editor