I took a break from Twilight to watch the 1931 classic movie Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi as the infamous vampire from Transylvania. A nightmare of horror! proclaims a vintage movie poster featuring Dracula with a young female victim. But I wasn’t so much horrified as intrigued by this early film of the vampire genre. I wasn’t sure I had ever seen it, and if I had, the years had faded it from memory.
Bela Lugosi certainly defined for moviegoers worldwide the quintessential vampire. Numerous vampires since have copied his entire walk, his talk, his mannerisms, the look of his makeup and cape. Would Bram Stoker, author of the 1897 novel, have approved of Lugosi’s Dracula? I think he would have. Unfortunately, he had already passed away nearly 20 years prior to this film’s release.
The director, Tod Browning, had previously had a very successful career in silent film and I think that experience lent itself well to the story of Dracula. There are often long silences, no music even, which gives a somber mood to the events as they are revealed. Also, there is no blood and gore, which should please some of my readers who may be disgusted by the violence in film that seems to dominate theaters today. We don’t even get to see the telltale puncture wounds on the victims’ necks. Dracula comes in for his meal, and the scene cuts to another. I didn’t mind. It’s an easy watch, only 75 minutes. My disc from Netflix included some commentary, and something to note is that a Spanish version of Dracula was filmed at the same time as the English version. They would film the English Dracula during the day, and once they were finished, the Spanish crew, actors and director came in and shot far into the night. It is rumored that the Spanish version is even better, so that might be worth looking into.
The fascination with the vampire is evident in Lucy’s initial reactions to Dracula. She is clearly drawn to him, the slightly dangerous and forbidden aspects of this stranger she hardly knows. The cheesiest part is the bat flapping around, but it was 1931 after all. The best performance (other than Bela of course) is Dwight Frye as Mr. Renfield. His acting is genius. I’ve never seen a more transformed character in any movie; his madness is absolute.
What little music there is at the beginning of the film is from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and seemed fitting to me for the introduction of the film’s opening credits that older movies always featured. It was of course, black and white, and the cinematography by Academy Award winner Karl Freund lent an eerie and moody feel to the landscape, both in Dracula’s castle and then in England, where Dracula relocates.
I highly recommend this version of Dracula. It really set the tone for all subsequent vampire movies, especially Bela Lugosi’s performance of the man in black. If you enjoy the vampire genre, you will like this film that started it all.