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"I bid you welcome," "I never drink wine," "Children of the night...what
music they make," and of course "I am Dracula" are memorable lines that
resonate throughout horror films, literature, art, etc... throughout the
20th century because of a landmark film made in 1931 starring Bela Lugosi
and directed by Tom Browning. This film was the birth of the horror film as
we know it. Its importance can not be underestimated. Dracula is a
wonderful film for so many reasons, but first let's look at its many
The film is by today standards very antiquated. It has almost no soundtrack, stage acting for the most part, limited special effects, and a slow pacing. It has long parts of little action and lots of chat. It shows little while leaving much to one's imagination(a plus for those like myself that are good at envisioning what is not shown). With all this not going for it, why is Dracula such a classic? Why is it considered to be such a great film and a great horror film?
The answer is that even with all these flaws (and bear in mind some of these flaws are not flaws for all) the film offers a rich story in an eerie, atmospheric way. Bela Lugosi was Dracula. He was the model for oh so many vampires to come. His gesturing, his deliberation in speech, his facial movements all created a vampire never to be forgotten. Despite Lugosi, however, is the real genius of the film....Tod Browning. Browning created a movie and a setting hitherto imagined and conjured on a screen. Browning was the man behind the camera that created the cob-webbed stairs of the Dracula castle and the squalid emptiness of the crypt. He created the ghoulish female vampires thirsting for blood. Dracula is not just a film to see, it is film history and should be viewed with that in mind and not put under a microscope of today's languishing tastes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Directed by Hollywood horror king Tod Browning,this 1931 take on Bram
Stoker's classic horror tale gave birth to the Vampire genre of
today.F.W Murnau had filmed his version of Stokers tale called
Nosferatu in the twenties and in the process started a legal dispute
with Stoker's estate. While Murnau's version is undoubtedly iconic and
chilling,it's Browning's(slightly more accurate)take on the exploits of
a certain blood sucking Count Dracula which paved the way for the
Vampire genre we know so well today.
Browning's favourite actor(the so called man of a thousand faces)Lon Chaney was the director's first choice for the role of Dracula.However when Chaney sadly passed away in August 1930 the role went to stage star Bela Lugosi.Lugosi had played the Count on stage for several years and it's his performance that dominates the film.It's mouthwatering(no pun intended)to think how Chaney would have been in the role and if he would have(through his famed make up)played the count as written(as an old man)or gone for the look Lugosi gave us.
All the vampire and haunted house staples we know so well today begin here from the acres of thick cobwebs,afraid locals,bats etc.And far from being strange visually Dracula is shown as being very charming,charismatic,elegant and sexy.
Although the actual blood sucking moments happen off-screen(unlike in The Hammer versions)the build up to said scenes is suitably chilling and downright creepy.
The film is based on Stoker's novel and on the play by Hamilton Deane and John L.Balderstone. The film stars Bela Lugosi, Dwight Fry,Edward Van Sloan and Helen Chandler.
The film begins with a few bars of Swan Lake playing over the image of a carriage making it's way through the mountains.Onboard is the tragic Renfield(Dwight Frye)who is travelling to the castle of Count Dracula(Bela Lugosi)to get his signature on the lease of a house in England.After being made to feel welcome by the charming Count he is hypnotised and becomes the mindless servant of the Count.
The story then moves to the drawing rooms of England for mind games between Dracula and Van Helsing(Edward Van Sloan) and Frye almost steals the film from Lugosi as Renfield becomes a screaming,fly eating nutcase. Browning falters at the last sadly with his villain impaled off-screen with a barely audible groan.That aside what's here is top class from the performances,set design and atmosphere.
Sadly Lugosi(unlike fellow horror icon Boris Karloff)found it difficult to escape this role in the future.He played the Count again in the comedy Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein(1948).And played Dracula-like characters The Return of the Vampire(1944)and Plan 9 from Outer Space(1959).He returned to play Dracula on theatre tours a few years before his death.And when he passed away he was buried in his Dracula costume.Whether you're a horror fan,a casual fan or new to the genre make sure you watch this.
A friend of mine once said that there are three types of movie
vampires. There are the "scary vampires", such as Count Orlok from
"Nosferatu", there's "sparkly vampires" like from "Twilight", and
there's the "cool vampires" and under that category, there's only one
name that comes to mind: Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi may have tragically ended his career making some of the worst, most laughably bad productions of all time under deservedly infamous names such as Ed Wood, but for a while, he stood in the golden arches of Hollywood and nowhere else is this more evident than his iconic portrayal of Bram Stoker's famous vampire Dracula in this 1931 masterpiece of the same name. Who can forget Lugosi walking down the great steps of a rundown Transylvanian castle, hair sleeked back, clad in dark robes, a candle in one hand, a pale face, grinning, and announcing himself with deliberate hesitations and exaggerated pronunciation: "I am Dracula." Or maybe: "I never drink wine." Evidently, nobody can forget since basically every conception of a vampire, whether on stage or film or simply in the imagination mirrors Lugosi's performance in "Dracula." This is one of the most influential and popular horror movies of all time. Now does it still terrify audience members as its advertisements claimed? No. No, Lugosi is not scary and I'm not quite sure he ever was. But if there is one thing that he is and most certainly always was, that is awesome. He's a spiffy, cool, groovy vampire who does not come across as unintentionally funny. He won't terrify you, he won't make you laugh unless he wants to, but he will keep you entertained because he's such a terrific screen presence.
In short, yes, Lugosi is the primer behind "Dracula", but the movie's reasons for sheer entertainment do not stop there. "Dracula" works so well and has aged so well simply because it is a great movie. The only regret I have about the movie is that it's only seventy-five minutes long, a common running time for films its age. And during that brief length of time, one finds the most terrific levels of absorbing entertainment. The screenplay is very well-written, the acting by the supporting cast especially by Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing is terrific, the camera-work is eye candy, the editing is absolutely fabulous. The special effects are a mixed bag. Sometimes you can tell the bats are nothing more than props on strings as they bobble up and down while hovering, but since this consumes only a few seconds of screen time, it's hardly a detractor.
"Dracula" is so well made that to add a music score to its fabulous images really seems distracting. During its age, soundtracks were mostly prohibited since the invention of sound was brand new in the film industry. Looking back on the old films, there are some that seem in desperate need of an imposed musical score. A score was recently composed for "Dracula" and provided for as an option of the DVD release, but to put it over seems to detract from the movie, not strengthen it. Because the movie is nearly impeccable on its own with its acting, cinematography, dialogue, and sheer entertainment. This is one of the finest horror movies ever made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dracula (1931) Dracula, the film that started it all. Dracula is the
first film to feature the dark lord of the undead and the character has
been in over 700 films since, only being toppled by Sherlock Holmes.
The film is based on the play version of the book by Bram Stoker. The
book was inspired by Slain Castle, Whitby (where the count lives while
in England), and Cruden Bay in Scotland and the history of Tepes Valad,
a warlord. While in Cruden Bay, Bram's friends and relatives were
afraid of him while he planned out the book. He would sit in front of
the typewriter for hours on end. Despite rumors, Bram Stoker had never
been to Transylvania. Dracula, the book, did not take off until after
the author's death, but quickly became a must read after the movie. Due
to the Depression the movie had a limited budget and is a lot different
then the epic book, Bram Stoker's Dracula(1992) is the closest to the
book movie to date.
The strength of Dracula is the main character played by Bella Lugosi. His haunting portrayal of the title character is legendary. Bella didn't know much English and had to pronounce each syllable separately. Due to his poor English skills, he did not mingle with the rest of the crew, rumors also have it that he wanted to stay in character, but the cast and crew were impressed by him. As one of his few demands, Bella also did his own make up for his role. Bella's portrayal of Dracula was so good that it caused him to be type-casted for the rest of his career. Bella was even buried wearing one of the capes he wore in the in a stage version. Bauhaus, legendary goth rockers' first single was a song called "Bella Lugosi's Dead", it made references to Dracula and if Bella really was a vampire. Bella's performance went on to scare people to the point of fainting in the movie theater and providing hunting's on TV starting in 1957 and been giving kids nightmares ever since. Rumour also has it that the infamous Hannibal Lector's slurping sound in Silence of the Lambs was inspired by when Dracula sees Renfield's blood.
Unlike vampire movies to come, Dracula in this film did not have fangs, Dracula is killed off stand and there were armadillos in Dracula's castle. Armadillos are not native to Europe or England. However, because Dracula was the first film with the title character, it became the staple of Dracula films including: Starting in Transylvania with Renfield as the real estate agent instead of Jonathan Harker, cutting several characters, including an American who's knife eventually kills the count, Dracula being staked in England and several things are changed from the book. In Stoker's book vampires don't sleep in coffins, vampires don't cast shadows either and the no reflection in a mirror was invented by Stoker.
The movie's special effects may appear to be cheesy by today's standards. But the fake flapping bat, the piecing gaze of Dracula, the walk through the spider web and Dracula coming out of his coffin has frightened people to nightmares. The overwhelming performance of then unknown actor Bella Lugosi sealed the movie as one of the scariest and influential roles in movie history.
"Dracula" (Universal, 1931), directed by Tod Browning, from the novel
by Bram Stoker, is the ultimate horror film of the sound era that began
the cycle of others to come. Starring Bela Lugosi who reprized his 1927
stage performance, up to then, with some movies to his credit, he was
basically an obscure actor until "Dracula" hit the theater screens. It
should be noted, however, that for Lugosi's sixth billed supporting
role performance as a police inspector in Tod Browning's THE THIRTEENTH
CHAIR (MGM, 1929), starring Conrad Nagel, comes close to being the
major lead. Two years later, "Dracula" has Lugosi's name heading the
cast for the first time, making him an overnight sensation and a new
master of horror. Like some subsequent Universal horror films of the
early 1930s, Dracula opens its main titles with the underscoring of
The familiar plot features Count Dracula, a vampire from Transylvania, who rises from his grave at night to seek victims from whom he can suck out blood from their necks, and rest in his coffin by day. The first twenty minutes of the story, in which Mr. Renfield (Dwight Frye) comes to Castle Dracula via horse and carriage, to discuss some real estate property in England, and becoming Drac's first on screen victim, is horror film making at best - wolves howling, atmospheric background, with the count seen slowly rising from his coffin, accompanied by his three vampire wives, surrounded in gigantic spider webs, rats and other unrecognizable creatures crawling about which add to the mood and creepiness. After Dracula puts Renfield under his spell to use him as his "slave," they come to England where Renfield is later placed in an asylum, and Dracula places his coffin with Transylvanian soil in a mansion next door to Doctor Seward (Herbert Bunston) and his daughter, Mina (Helen Chandler), a young girl engaged to John Harker (David Manners). Of course Dracula has his eyes on Mina and intends on making her his next vampire wife by putting her under his evil spell. Then there's Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), knowing about the vampire legend, who must find a way to save Mina's immortal soul and destroy Dracula.
At the time "Dracula" was released, Universal produced a Spanish language version starring Carlos Villarias. While there were some added bonuses in the Spanish version, which runs about a half hour longer than the English version, Lugosi's performance with glassy eyes and deadly stare make it more appealing to the avid horror movie lover. Lacking background music during most of the proceedings, Dracula was presented with a new under scoring in 1999. After viewing the "scored" Dracula, the best thing that can be said about it is to "leave well enough alone." Thank goodness "Dracula" did not have the misfortune of being colorized. However, the Spanish language version with English subtitles is highly recommended, All the versions mentioned are available on video cassette (later DVD) and formerly shown on both the Sci-Fi Channel and American Movie Classics (1991-92) before shifting over to Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 10, 1998).
Bela Lugosi would play vampires in future film roles, but reprized his Count Dracula role only once, in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) starring the comedy team of Bud and Lou. Sadly it would become Lugosi's last decent movie role of his career. Sequel: DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936), in spite the absence of Lugosi, is another one worth seeing.(*** bats)
Today people laugh at that Dracula. Bela Lugosi is a joke of a vampire and
every close-up on his stiff-glared face echoes ridiculous.
The movie itself is a harsh end-to-end editing of key scenes from the novel. That's why there's no inner breath hampering boredom. Eventually it's the worst Dracula I have ever seen. And I definitely rank Murnau's Nosferatu far above with masterpieces of horror movies.
I could not imagine something that bad: I was making these comments in my head during the screening!
There is no doubt that Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula is not only one of the most recognizable but also one of the most popular of the Draculas. The film is very clean, in that each of the cuts and edits were done so that it wasn't unsettling for the viewer. The sound of this film was very clean as well. The music is eerie and really sets the movie up with an early horror and or typical monster movie feel. Which is exactly what it is. While today some of the special effects, such as the faux bats are not up to the standard moviegoers expect to see today, for the 1930's this film was something. This is a movie you can watch again and again and not grow tired of. Not only is it a classic cinematic masterpiece, it has left an impression on and inspired numerous other movies following it.
Dracula is one of those movies, that suffer from not really being an outstanding movie, as it is portrayed to be. Bela Lugosi and his fantastic acting is what gives the movie its charm. Bela Lugosi is known for being a mysterious person, which quite suitably fits the role of Count Dracula. Lugosi comes off as being a delightful mixture of suave and creepy, but the movie just didn't age very well. Even at the time most aspects of the movie were dated, from cinematography to acting. Set pieces were masterful and fit really well with the setting that the movie was determined to build. However, movies around the same time such as Frankenstein would triumph as Garret Fort's screenplay just wasn't adapted well enough.
It seems as though today, films rely completely on special effects to
instill fear in the viewer. The true measure of a horror film is one
that is inherently scary without using the crutch of modern film
Dracula absolutely embodies that concept. The acting is spectacular. Dracula is creepy in a way that can really affect you. The acting is extremely well executed. Count Dracula is as believable of a vampire as I have ever seem. Not to mention this film basically pioneered the genre of horror. Hard to believe in a world where t is so omnipresent.
The dark sets, along with the eerily silent nature of the film really adds to the effect of horror. At the time this came out, I can imagine it was utterly terrifying.
Dracula is a figure that is known by virtually all and can be credited in large part to this 1931 classic. Bela Lugosi who plays Count Dracula is horrifyingly creepy and finding a better Dracula would be nearly impossible. From the first encounter between Renfield and Dracula to the closing scene, the audience is on the edge of their seats and don't know what to expect, which is an essential part of most horror movies. I was a big fan of this film not only because it is an American classic but because it is a true horror film. In my opinion, too often in horror films today, the story itself isn't scary at all. The experience of going to the movie theatre with a huge screen and incredibly loud speakers help scare audiences by having things pop out when you are least expecting it. I believe that anyone can make a movie like that and is completely insignificant. The story behind Dracula is truly creepy and horrifying. A great story like this makes this one of the most significant horror films in history.
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