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"Dracula" is a true cinematic classic that still hold up well today more
than 70 years after its initial release. Bram Stoker's novel had been filmed
before, most notably the 1922 German masterpiece "Nosferatu" with Max
Schrenk playing the vampire as a monstrous rat like creature with no
Bela Lugosi rose to instant fame with his portrayal of Dracula, a part he had been playing on stage for several years. Lugosi's interpretation is that of a suave and sophisticated nobleman with a hypnotic stare and a cultured Hungarian accent. This made the character more appealing to the ladies while at the same time terrifying to the audience when we see the monster revealed beneath.
The story has the tragic Renfield (Dwight Frye) arriving in Transylvania to complete a transaction with the Count which will allow him to lease a English castle. Before they leave for England by ship, Dracula turns Renfield into a quasi-vampire who obeys his master's every command. Upon arriving in England it is discovered that all of the ship's crew have been murdered and only a raving lunatic of a Renfield remain alive.
Renfield is committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston). Dracula seeks him out and discovers Seward's comely daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) and her friend Lucy. Dracula quickly "kills" Lucy and sets his sights upon Mina whose fiance Jonathon Harker (David Manners) is baffled by her sudden change in health and personality. Seward consults with a colleague Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) who quickly identifies the source of the problem as a vampire. They soon expose Dracula for what he is and......
The atmospheric sets of this movie set the tone for the story. Dracula's castle is dark, damp and web filled and his cellar is positively scary. So too is his English manor with the classic winding stair case leading to the cellar. The opening theme I found to be equally foreboding and frightening. I wonder how many of those early film goers realized that it was adapted from the classic ballet "Swan Lake".
Bela Lugosi should have become a major star after this film, but did not. His first mistake was the turning down the role of the monster in "Frankenstein" (1931). He did enjoy moderate success in the first half of the 30s playing various mad scientists and criminal masterminds. But he also accepted roles in several "poverty row" quickies which did little to advance his career. He had a brief return to glory in 1939 when he played "Ygor" in "The Son of Frankenstein" and again in 1948 again as Dracula in "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein". With his well documented personal demons, Lugosi wound up his career in cheap "B' movies ultimately becoming the "star" in some of Ed Wood's "classics". Oddly enough, though he was forever identified with the Dracula character, he only played him on screen twice, in 1931 and 1948 as noted. He did play "Dracula like" characters in MGM's "Mark of the Vampire" (1935) and in Columbia's "Return of the Vampire" (1943).
Dwight Frye almost steals "Dracula" from Lugosi with his portrayal of Renfield. He takes him from a young ambitious businessman to a half crazed lunatic and back again. After this and his role of Fritz the hunchback in "Frankenstein", this great character actor never again achieved such heights. A real tragedy. Oddly enough, Stoker's book portrays Renfield as a minor character and it is Jonathon Harker who makes the unfortunate trip to Transylvania.
Also filmed in a Spanish language version.
This is the movie that set the horror genre into action. Sure there may be a few campy scenes that look like they might be out of some high school play production (the rubber bats and armadillos in Dracula's castle come to mind), but there is an unmistakable suspense and eerieness about the film. If you are lucky enough to find the DVD reissue from 1999, you have three great versions: the original 1931 version with basically no background music, the 1999 rescoring of the movie by composer Philip Glass, and the extremely interesting Spanish version, made at the same time as the original (with totally different actors). If you have this DVD, watch the movie twice: once with no soundtrack and once with the Glass rescoring.... totally different movie. Glass' score is great, but it doesn't really help the movie at all (it actually hurts it in many cases). But the utter silence in Browning's original just makes my skin crawl! The acting is actually quite great (Lugosi is, of course, phenomenal as is Dwight Frye as Renfield). The fear, the suspense, and, believe it or not, the sexuality, combines for a great movie that was an unbelievable success in its first release ($700,000 in it first US release, $1.2 million worldwide). Not bad for a movie made 72 years ago!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thinking back to 1931, it's hard to imagine what going to the movie
theater was like for people. It was something new and exciting; instead
of having 6 movies open in one weekend, they were lucky if 6 movies
opened in one month. Horror movies were nothing new in 1931, but one's
with sound were and Universal Studios cranked out hit after hit after
hit, one of the first being was Dracula. Not too many people realize
that these films created exactly what we think of the typecast today
with the most popular monsters. Dracula, if you've read the book, is
nothing like what Bela created: the cape, the accent, the charm, the
presence, the looks, etc. This was the first time we ever had a
romantic Dracula, the silent film released before called Nosferatu was
a monster, Bela created a Dracula that could charm you one second and
the next he's draining the life out of you. Dracula is one of the most
memorable movies of all time and it's not hard to see why when you
Renfield, a British solicitor, travels to the Carpathian Mountains. He enters a castle welcomed by charming but odd nobleman Count Dracula, who unbeknownst to Renfield, is a vampire. They discuss Dracula's intention to lease Carfax Abbey in London, where he intends to travel the next day. Dracula's three wives suddenly appear and start to move toward Renfield to attack him, but Dracula waves them away, and he attacks Renfield himself. Aboard the Vesta, bound for England, Renfield has now become a raving lunatic slave to Dracula, who is hidden in a coffin and gets out for feeding on the ship's crew. Some nights later at a London theater, Dracula meets Dr. Seward, who introduces his daughter Mina, her fiancé John Harker, and the family friend Lucy Weston. Lucy is fascinated by Count Dracula, and that night, after Lucy has a talk with Mina and falls asleep in bed, Dracula enters her room as a bat and feasts on her blood. She dies in an autopsy theater the next day after a string of transfusions, and two tiny marks on her throat are discovered. Later on Mina has the same bite marks and now the men call on Professor Van Helsing to take on Dracula and save Mina before she meets the same fate as Lucy.
Despite the fact that it might not be as terrifying as it was back in the day, you have to consider that this movie made people faint in the theater and gave them nightmares for years to come. The film does have flaws, Lucy dies and that's it, she never comes back which was interesting that Mina was becoming a vampire when bitten, but Lucy doesn't. However, the atmosphere of the film still holds up incredibly well, Dracula's castle has the perfect shadows and isolation that could send shivers down anyone's spine. Makes you wonder how the heck Renfield could stay in that place? I would've camped outside, especially when Dracula comes down and says in that creepy voice "I bid you welcome"; would you trust someone like that while looking at your neck like it was a Thanksgiving turkey leg? Bela gave a terrific performance that will be remembered for all time. But also much credit to Dwight Frye who plays Renfield and still has one of the most horrific images of all time when they open the door on the ship to see him laughing manically with his eyes wide open. Not to mention his scene with the maid where he's laughing at her, she faints and he crawls towards her. You know what? I lied; this is still a scary movie and I will continue to watch it every Halloween. Bela is king and made Dracula one of the most terrifying monsters in movie history.
I suppose we all have differing opinions on what is scary and what isn't.For my money though,this film tops my list.I have seen many a horror film,but few have made me shiver as this one did.The creepy silence virtually throughout the movie,coupled with Bela Lugosi's intimidating presence and Dwight Frye's chilling performance as Renfield(remember the eyes and the laughter?)give me chill bumps on top of chill bumps just thinking about it.Yes,the movie has flaws, but they are few and far between.Hey,it was 1931 after all,and movie making was still in it's infancy.I have seen the various opinions on this film,good and bad,and while it may not top a lot of people's list when it comes to scariest movie ever,it sure tops mine.Bone chilling!
It's almost impossible not to love 'Dracula', a horror milestone that is the most important and influential vampire movie ever made. Bela Lugosi became a cinematic legend after this movie, and his portrayal of Dracula basically invented the modern vampire as we know it. Murnau's silent classic 'Nosferatu' was an obvious influence on Todd Browning, but while Browning was no James Whale (the innovative British director who made 'Frankenstein' for Universal a few months after this) he added a lot of his own style and ideas to the project, and Counts Orloff and Dracula are completely different kinds of creatures. Lugosi made his Count sophisticated, attractive and sexy, and this is what made this movie such a sensation at the time, and what helps make it still a wonderful viewing experience. Lugosi's performance is one of the greatest in horror history. Some of the other actors in the cast are a bit shaky but Edward Van Sloan as Van Hesling is excellent and Dwight Frye's Renfield (a different character from the book) is also memorable. Both actors would reappear in 'Frankenstein'. 'Dracula' is an important landmark horror movie, but even better, is still a fantastic viewing experience seventy years later. Don't just watch it because it's a classic, watch it because it's wonderful entertainment!
While Tod Browning's Dracula is not the definitive take on the most famous vampire of all time, it is possibly the most memorable one. This is not due to Browning's technical achievements or directorial wizardry, by ANY means. It is due to Bela Lugosi's career-defining portrayal of the title character. Born in what is now Lugoj, Romania, Lugosi brings to the part the flavor of his homeland, making him more believable as Dracula. This other-worldly aesthetic helped to make his performance what many consider the ultimate incarnation of Stoker's Dracula. Having played the Count in Hamilton Deane's Broadway version of Dracula, which started in 1927, Bela Lugosi was more than prepared for the role when it was time to commit it to film. Still struggling with the English language, however, he had to learn his lines phonetically. European accent in tact, he was able to deliver such memorable lines as, "I bid you welcome," "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make," and, of course, "I am Dracula." His performance alone is reason enough to watch this monster movie classic. If only the rest of the film was as spectacular as Lugosi. Dwight Frye's Renfield, while perhaps a little too over-the-top, is still another highlight to the film, and even Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing is enough to challenge the might of Count Dracula. The rest of the film is rather flat to me. Now, I know it was made in 1931, and that, at the time, it horrified audiences, but I still stand by my opinion that the overall movie pales in comparison to Bela Lugosi's performance. Everyone else just seemed to be going through the motions, and it seems especially evident while Helen Chandler and David Manners are on screen. They just aren't convincing. I'm not saying that their performances ruin the film. It is still a classic, and certainly worth a viewing, but if you are in the mood for a vampire movie that is worthy of Bram Stoker's name, look no further than F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu. It is much more convincing and even scarier than Tod Browning's Dracula, despite being nine years older and silent. All in all, though, one cannot overlook the stellar performance of Bela Lugosi in the role he was born to play!
Tod Browning's film of the Stoker novel didn't so much eclipse Murnau's
NOSFERATU (1922) as shove it into antiquity. One big reason was the
technological advancement of sound. Roughly three years old by 1930,
the public embraced the talking picture wholeheartedly over silents.
The other big reason for Dracula's success was that the star of the stage play had been cast as the star of the film. And movie history was made. Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula is now a eighty-one year old icon, outlasting all other interpretations before or since. The twist is that this Dracula looks nothing like Stoker's creation (read the book). Lugosi, either through his work with the playwrights or later at Universal with Browning, devised the most insidious form the character would ever take- a handsome, courtly, well-groomed, civilized aristocrat, so gracious and attractive that he projected an aura of well-being over the viewer. This was worlds away from the Murnau/Max Schreck approach of head-on abomination in NOSFERATU.
Sensibly, no one in their right mind would stay within viewing distance of Schreck (or Kinski in NOSFERATU, THE VAMPYRE and Dafoe in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE) after the first glimpse. But Lugosi's Count would have you chatting and drinking wine- until he began to drink of you. That cape and those evening clothes are the perfect deception. Browning's Dracula is sometimes stagy and tentative in its continuity (it feels at times that the director was unsure where to go next in the progression of scenes). But Karl Freund's photography summons up a persistent mood of heavy gloom and enveloping dread.
Two other assets in the film are Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Frye as Renfield. Van Sloan was Universal's resident Learned Man, appearing as an Egyptologist in THE MUMMY (1933), and perhaps most famously as Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). A career-long character actor, Dwight Frye was an eccentric talent who appears to have worked exclusively at Universal. He had his best role as Renfield, producing a still blood-curdling, sneering laugh that seemed to come from the depths of a hellish insanity. If you haven't seen this Dracula please do so. The Count awaits.
Bela Lugosi forever captures the role of a certain undead Transylvanian count who takes a trip to London in the first legitimate version of the classic Bram Stoker novel. Despite many attempts by many talented film makers, I believe this version, directed by Tod Browning, remains the definitive take on the often-filmed novel. But why? Is it simply nostalgia? Granted, I do fondly remember staying up late as a child watching this film on Ghost Host theater and finding myself suitably frightened. However, if I were the same age today, would I find the film as effective? Would a steady diet of more modern and explicit horror films made me too jaded to enjoy the more subtle charms of this film? I hope not, but I could see how it might. The film is slow, and its slowness is further emphasized by the absence of an under score. It is stagey - being as it was more influenced by the stage play than the novel itself. Also, the story plays itself out too quickly. Van Helsing manages to figure everything out and dispatch the count in about two seconds. There simply isn't much suspense - and even less gore or violence. Yet it remains the champ. Why? The main reason is Lugosi himself. He gives the performance of a lifetime. He truly inhabits the role and is genuinely creepy. The rest of the cast, particularly Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Frye as Renfield, support him admirably. However, when I watch the old Universal horror films nowadays, I find myself really enjoying the atmospheric sets and lighting. Yes, there is still much to love about Dracula today. (As long as you avoid the optional Philip Glass score on the DVD!)
The real estate agent Renfield (Dwight Frye) travels to Transilvania
for a business meeting with Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), who is
interested in Carfax Abbey in London. Renfield is converted in a
servant of Dracula and prepares his master's ship travel to his new a
property. While navigating, Dracula sucks the blood and kills all the
crew of the vessel. Once in London, Dracula sucks the blood of Lucy
Weston (Frances Dade) and she becomes an undead. He feels also a kind
of passion for Mina Seward (Helen Chandler), the daughter of Dr. Jack
Seward (Herbert Bunston) and fiancé of Jonathan Harker (David Manners).
Dracula sucks her blood, Mina has a weird behavior and health problem,
and Dr. Seward calls a specialist, Prof. Abraham Van Helsing (Edward
Van Sloan), to diagnose the mysterious problem with Mina. Although
being a scientist, Van Helsing believes in the supernatural, and tries
to save Mina from turning into a vampire.
"Dracula" is a spectacular well-known classic vampire story, with a magnificent transposition of the Bram Stoker's novel to the cinema. Although being a 1931 black and white movie, the photography and the camera work are excellent. There are at least two magnificent scenes: the long traveling of the camera in the sanatorium, from the yard to Remfield's room and the long stairway in the end of the movie to Dracula's tomb. The performances are quite theatrical, as usual in that period, and the film does not show any explicit violent scene. I dare to say that probably it is Bela Lugosi's best performance. "Universal Studios" released in Brazil a wonderful box, with the shape of a coffin, called "Classic Monster Collection" with eight classic horror movies on DVD. Maybe "Dracula" is my favorite one. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Drácula"
Note: On 23 November 2013, I saw the Spanish Version of this movie.
Dracula(1931) mayn't be the definitive version of the brilliant Bram
Stoker novel, but it is still a classic. My only complaints are the
abrupt ending and David Manners as John, he tries his best but
sometimes his line delivery is awkward and some of his lines are
I did also think that to a lesser extent the first half is better than the second. The opening scene is absolutely brilliant, but while there are still some compelling and well-done scenes the second half is rather talky. That said, there is a lot I loved about Dracula. The costumes, sets, photography and lighting are suitably atmospheric and grandiose, the story is still the timeless story even with the many changes I love and the screenplay apart from the odd stilted line from John is very good.
I saw Dracula in two versions, one without background music which added to the genuine atmosphere, and one with a suitably hypnotic and haunting score from minimalist composer Phillip Glass. While I loved Glass' score, I do prefer slightly the one without the scoring, the silence further added to the atmosphere I feel. The whole film is beautifully directed too, and while the film is very short at about an hour and a quarter the pace is just right.
The acting is very good, perhaps theatrical in a way but I think it worked. Bela Lugosi has such a magnetic presence in the title role, Edward Van Sloan is perfect as Van Helsing but in a sinister and funny performance Dwight Frye steals the film.
In conclusion, excellent film and a classic. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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