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"Come Children of the night."
This is one of the few horror films that has withstood time, The original Frankenstein was made to look almost bad, and even The Shining has had some trouble and its one twenty-five years old. But Dracula is still a very, very scary film today in 2005. Dracula may not be a great film but it is sure a classic and one that everyone should see. The story is very, very good but not amazing it has its holes but is nearly perfect. The screenplay has good dialogue and characters but the best thing about it is that it understands two things, things that most horror films forget. 1. We are scared more by what we don't see. 2. Silence is often scarier than a lot of screaming and dialogue about scary stuff. The acting is horrible by most of the cast but Bela Lugosi as the infamous Count Dracula himself is amazing. The direction is very good. The visual effects are a little cheesy but hey it was made in 1930. A amazing and truly terrifying horror film
Bela Lugosi was, is, and shall be the greatest Dracula of all time. No modern performance touches his. A truly underrated talent. If he had lived a few more years, he would have been in high demand. Mr Lugosi is the iconic Dracula of the ages. His performance in this picture and many more set the standard for a suave sophisticated villain of diabolical evil. His problem was that he was so completely convincing as Dracula, that his association with the character became, in the audience's mind, natural and eternal. The legion of fans of Bela Lugosi will remain grateful for his untiring efforts to entertain and enthrall us with his stylish and sincere performances even when confronted with a poor script and low budget. The films in some cases were not up to par, but Mr. Lugosi's performance was always above par and professional. The Spanish version of the 1931 Dracula was very well designed and photographed, but it lacked the main ingredient Bela Lugosi. The comparison of these two film should show anyone the power of Lugosi's Dracula. Bram Stoker's Character Dracula was given eternal life by the great eternal BELA LUGOSI.
When I "hear" the silence of this film, I also hear the noise of most other films. This is to say that movies are increasingly noisy -- not only full of manipulating and unnecessary sounds, but full of film composers' scores which desperately try to fill some role in the visual medium (I am a visual artist and also a musician and feel that these guys should take a break). The silence of this film is pregnant with horror and so eerie. Lugosi is also so frightening that in the scenes in which he is absent (or silent), the fear of his return remains. I also think of Van Helsing's silence in his approach to Dracula: without a word, he opens the cigarette case .... There is power and chi in the stillness of this film which is lacking today. There is also, despite from "antique" acting techniques, a lot of sincerity here.
Dracula opens very well with lavish sets and a genuine spooky
atmosphere as a young lawyer named Reinfield visits the Count's
Transylvanian castle to settle some business. But after this, when the
story takes us to London, it seems more disjointed and vague.
I don't understand what has supposed to have happened to Reinfield, why did he go mad? If Dracula bit him then why didn't he die or become a vampire? And the story is a bit confusing. Did Dracula plan on killing certain women when he came to London or did he just go with the flow? Why did he come to London in the first place? It's never really clarified. Which is a bit odd considering all of the expositional dialogue featured in the movie.
Though it sounds incredibly unpurist, I did enjoy this film much more with Philip Glass's new score. The chewed up Swan Lake music at the start just got on my nerves and I feel Glass's music gave the whole film a new sense of consistency and tied it together a little tighter. I would have liked it more if it showed us the gore and killing rather than simply implying it. I know it was the '30s but they still could have made an effort. I see nothing that would shock even a naive '30s audience.
And surely I am not the only one who thinks that Dracula looks a uncannily like Steven Seagal.
Despite its usual *four star* rating, this movie is poorly directed and
has only adequate acting and a flimsy script. The fact that it was
filmed in 1931 does not excuse it. Film editing and directing was
already advanced at the time of its production (Nosferatu--the German
version of Bram Stoker's novel--is a far superior film), so the only
explanation can be that, despite our fond memories, this film is a
Like the play that inspired it, action often takes place off-screen, with the characters offering expository to tell us what they're seeing. The story is hard to follow and director Tod Browning positions his camera like he's filming a staged play.
Legosi's performance is classic, but the ridiculous close-ups with off-target eye-lights ruin any atmosphere established in the opening scenes. 6/10
Everything imaginable has been said about this film which set the standard forever for every classic vampire portrayal. The suave, continental Hungarian Lugosi is unequalled in his role of a lifetime. Helen Chandler is fetching and supremely lovely as the blonde Mina, his lead victim. Dwight Frye goes deleriously mad in his signature performance as Renfield. The sets are magnificent and the photography (and possibly much of the direction) by Karl Freund is toweringly classic. Detractors are quick to call it static and stagy but its mesmerizing power continues to this day. The tragedy of its DVD release is that the print is ungodly dark & murky and MUST be remastered! Are you listening, Universal? Also accompanied by the Spanish version of this film which is visually and cinematically brilliant. The DVD cover features the breathtaking one-sheet poster for the film. But please, somebody at Universal, please clean up the sound and deliver us a lighter, clearer version of this film. DRACULA deserves the best and we lovers of the Great Lugosi deserve the best too! A masterpiece.
This film is exactly what so many new horror movies are not. There is little blood, little violence, no gore. The settings, acting, etc. are so well done and so creepy, there's no need for the kind of shock value blood and gore provide. Every other Dracula film, with the exception of the Jack Palance version from 1973, might as well not have been done. Skip all of the new stuff and go to the classic!
"Dracula" is a film that works against the normal standard of how a monster can be scary. Bela Lugosi's performance as the count Dracula makes for an excellent performance as you watch his suave and intellectual behavior guide him to the streets of London. It's the way he retains his mental appearance that makes him terrifying. He acts so human that we could of forgotten that he's the villain, had it not been for that devilish smirk he often displays. I loved this movie for its chilling atmosphere, use of lighting and camera transitions, and, of course, Lugosi himself, but there's still something that sort of anchors the movie. That anchor is none other than Edward Von Sloan's character, Professor Van Helsing. To be fair, Sloan is a really tough supporting character; he's dedicated to exposing the vampire and works to keeping the other characters from falling victim to him. The only thing about his character, though, is in his dialogue. Looking back at his speeches, they seem jumbled, as if Sloan's lines were written solely from a few great lines and lots of facts on vampires. I remember a part in the plot where David Manner's character asks him a serious question, to which Sloan opens his mouth and spits out more vampire information.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The marvelous thing about this classic Universal version of Bram
Stoker's novel is the fact that even though it's one of the least
faithful or even indeed cohesive versions of the narrative, Bela
Lugosi's performance towers above the film and indeed over all film
Draculas to this day. It doesn't matter that Stoker's vampire was more
of a hairy giant while Lugosi's interpretation is late 19th Century
Continental. He brings more to mind the ruined "White Russian" princes
who populated the hot spots of London and Paris in the early 20th
Century than he does any kind of 15th Century Inquisition leftover. It
matters not. Lugosi connects with the audience, with his intense eyes
and bizarre mesmeric hand motions. His gravity is undeniable, and he's
like a dark star twisting and attracting everything else in the movie
around him -- much like Dracula himself.
Browning's direction is understandably derided, although his film would have benefited from a more extravagant production. The conclusion of the movie in particular seems rushed and inadequate. But it's grossly unfair for so many critics, professional and amateur alike, to claim that the film would be better off without him. Even more ridiculous are the claims that the film was directed by Karl Freund. I've seen most of Freund's directorial films and most of Browning's, and this is absolutely Browning's film and his cinematic vision, take it or leave it. The main positive Browning can be credited with, a sort of vestigial reminder of the great Lon Chaney with whom he had collaborated so many times in the past, is the sense of empathy for the outsider that imbues the film with real poignancy. Not for a moment do any of the "normal" characters like Jon Harker or Mina seem like real people; but Browning paradoxically manages to make Lugosi's vampire come alive, as well as Dwight Frye's amusingly disturbed Renfield. It's not right to credit Lugosi with the lion's share of the accolades, as so many do. Take a look at most of his later films, even his higher-budget collaboration with Benjamin Christiansen a year after this film. Lugosi only reached these heights again when, as in the popular "White Zombie", he imitated his performance for Browning. Not to mention that Browning's entire filmography, from the Chaney works like "Unholy Three" and "Unknown" through his subsequent work on the infamous "Freaks," is marked by the same kind of trenchant identification with the most extreme social outcasts imaginable. Browning's Dracula is another extension of the same idea -- Dracula's lust for blood is the only real emotion on display in the entire film, and it would be a giant mistake to assume that was accident or incompetence.
Only in the scenes with Renfield, however, does Browning's trademark dark humor really come into play. Otherwise the film is objectionably dry in tone. The weird atmosphere of the Transylvanian scenes is never equaled by the mausoleums of London which look like the cheap sets they are. What's really important though is the image that you're left with after the movie is over, and that's of Lugosi's magnificent performance.
This DVD is the "Jewel in the Crown" of the classic Universal horror
films released in that format. It includes a quality print of the Bella
Lugosi Dracula, with options to play the film with Philip Glass' recent
soundtrack; the so-called "Spanish" Dracula starring Carlos Villarias;
and a fascinating documentary hosted by Carla Laemmle, who has a bit
role in the Lugosi Dracula and who was niece to Universal studio head
Carl Laemmle. There is also an audio track by David J. Skal, production
notes, and the like.
The Lugosi Dracula is somewhat problematic. Dracula had been previously (and illegally) filmed as the silent NOSFERATU, and a later stage adaptation proved a staple of the British theatre. When the stage play at last arrived in New York, the title role fell to Bela Lugosi. Although Universal optioned the material, studio head Carl Laemmle was not enthusiastic about it; although European films were comfortable with the supernatural, American films were not, and Laemmle did not believe the public would accept such an irrational story. Nor was Laemmle interested in Lugosi; if Dracula was to be filmed, it would be filmed with Lon Chaney.
When Chaney died the screen role went to Lugosi by default, but there were further issues. Originally planned as a big-budget production, the deepening Great Depression made the film's box office possibilities seem even slighter than before and its budget was cut to the bone. And Todd Browning, who had been such a successful director of the macabre in the silent era, proved clumsy with sound. The resulting film was more than a little clunky--but it had two things going for it: a superior first thirty minutes and Lugosi. Although Lugosi's performance may seem excessively mannered by today's standards, audiences of the 1930s found it terrifying--and even today, when the character of Dracula comes to mind, we are more likely to think of Lugosi than other actor that later played the role.
For a brief time after the advent of sound, several studios made foreign language versions of their productions. The "Spanish" Dracula was one such film, and when the English language company wrapped for the day the Spanish speaking cast arrived and filmed through the night using the same sets. This gave the Spanish company the benefit of hindsight: they were perfectly aware of what the English language company was doing, and they deliberately set out to best it. The result is a somewhat longer, more cohesive film with some of the most arresting visuals and camera work of the early sound era. But unfortunately, star Carlos Villarias was no Bella Lugosi: although much of his performance was more subtle than Lugosi's, it was also less intimidating, and where today Lugosi seems mannered, Villarias seems unfortunately comic. In a perfect world, we would be able to insert the Lugosi performance into the "Spanish" Dracula. As it is, we are left with two deeply flawed but nonetheless fascinating films.
In their own ways, both films proved incredibly influential, and it is difficult to imagine the evolution of the classic-style horror film without reference to both the Lugosi and the "Spanish" Dracula. The Lugosi film is not perfectly restored, but the print is very, very good, easily the best I have seen. The "Spanish" Dracula has more problematic elements, partly due the fact that the film borrowed some scenic footage from the Lugosi version and snips of footage from earlier films (there even appears to be a brief clip of the ballet from the silent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in the film); the film is sometimes dark, sometimes very spotted, but short of a cgi restoration this is probably as good as it gets.
The Philip Glass soundtrack, which is optional, tends to divide viewers. The Lugosi Dracula had virtually nothing in the way of soundtrack; the "Spanish" Dracula used music to a greater degree, but even so that degree is comparative. The Glass score is often quite interesting, but it is also as often intrusive as it is effective. Some feel it adds quite a bit to the film; others find it distracts. Whatever one's reaction to the film, either English or Spanish language, or with or without the Glass score, this is a remarkable DVD package, and fans of classic horror will find it an almost inexhaustible pleasure. I cannot recommend it too strongly.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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