Universal's original plan was to make a big-budget adaptation of "Dracula" that would strictly adhere to the Bram Stoker novel. However, after the stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression, Universal chose not to risk an investment on such a sprawling film. Instead, it adapted the much less expensive Hamilton Deane stage play.
There was no real musical soundtrack in the film because it was believed that, with sound being such a recent innovation in films, the audience would not accept hearing music in a scene if there was no explanation for it being there (e.g., the orchestra playing off camera when Dracula meets Mina at the theatre).
Similar to the prologue in Frankenstein (1931), the original release featured an epilogue with Edward Van Sloan talking to the audience about what they have just seen. This was removed for the 1936 re-release and is now assumed to be lost.
Bela Lugosi was so desperate to repeat his stage success and play the Count Dracula role for the film version, that he agreed to a contract paying him $500 per week for a seven week shooting schedule, an insultingly small amount even during the days of the Depression.
While it is rumored that Bela Lugosi, could not speak English very well, and had to learn his lines phonetically, this is not true. Lugosi was speaking English as well as he ever would by the time this was filmed.
In the scene where Dracula and Renfield are traveling to London by boat, the footage shown is borrowed from a Universal silent film called The Storm Breaker (1925). Silent films were projected at a different frames-per-second speed from that later adopted for sound films, accounting for the jerky movements and quicker-than-normal action of these shots.
Several famous elements often associated with Dracula are not visible in this film. At no point does Dracula display fangs. Also, the famous vampire bite mark on the neck is never shown either (though it is visible in the Spanish version).
Among the living creatures we see in Dracula's castle in Transylvania are Opussums, Armadillos, and an insect known as a Jerusalem Cricket (Stenopalmatus Fuscus). This insect was common in Southern California, which may explain its cameo in the film.
The original Broadway production of "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi opened at the Fulton Theater on October 5, 1927 and ran for 261 performances. Also in the original cast was Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Doctor Seward. These three were the only actors from the original 1927 Broadway production to repeat their roles in the film.
The large, expansive sets built for the Transylvania castle and Carfax Abbey sequences remained standing after filming was completed, and were used by Universal Pictures for many other movies for over a decade.
When Universal purchased the rights to the 1927 Broadway play, Lon Chaney was considered for the title role. However, Chaney died on August 26, 1930, and the role went to Bela Lugosi. His son Lon Chaney Jr. would later play Count Alucard, the son of Count Dracula, in Son of Dracula (1943).
After viewing the initial cut, Universal president Carl Laemmle Sr. reportedly said that the film gave him the "heebie-jeebies" and ordered that it be re-edited. Tod Browning was bitterly disappointed by the studio's 11th hour re-edit, and claimed that his best work ended up on the editing room floor. The re-cut apparently introduced a number of continuity errors into the film, which disappear when fans have re-edited the film to match the continuity of the shooting script. See "Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning" by David J. Skal and discussion at monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/topic/40203/DRACULA-Restored.
Before he was cast as Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi acted as an unpaid intermediary for Universal Pictures in negotiating with the widow of author Bram Stoker in an attempt to persuade her to lower her asking price for the filming rights to the Dracula property. After two months of negotiations, Mrs. Stoker reportedly lowered her price from $200,000 to $60,000. This, however, further demonstrated to Universal how desperate Lugosi was to repeat his stage success as Count Dracula and secure the film role for himself.
Richard Matheson claimed, in an interview with the Archive of American Television, to have conceived of his famous science fiction story 'I Am Legend' after viewing this film: "My mind drifted off, and I thought, 'If one vampire is scary, what if the whole world is full of vampires?'".
Apparently morose over the loss of friend and collaborator Lon Chaney and in the midst of severe alcoholism, the normally meticulous Tod Browning was said to have been sullen and unprofessional during the shoot. Among his actions were to leave set, leaving cinematographer Karl Freund to direct scenes. He would also recklessly tear pages out of the script if he felt them to be redundant.
Bela Lugosi played the role of Dracula on Broadway in 1927 before touring the country with the show. The American performance of the British stage actor Hamilton Deane's adaptation of the book was a smashing success. Soon after the play began touring Universal started to express interest in the script.
John Carradine was among the actors considered for the title role. However, there is no corroborating evidence from that time period, only Carradine's own later testimony. He also claimed to have turned down a makeup test for the Monster in Frankenstein (1931), due to the absence of dialogue. This statement seems to have a greater bearing of truth, as the actor did indeed work at Universal in the late spring-early summer of 1931, on Heaven on Earth (1931).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The studio did not want the scene where Dracula attacks Renfield to be filmed due to the perceived gay subtext of the situation. A memo was sent to the director stating "Dracula is only to attack women".
When this film was re-released after the Production Code was strictly enforced in 1934, several deletions were ordered made to the soundtrack. The deletions include Renfield's scream as he is being killed and Dracula's moan as the stake is driven through his heart. These deletions have been restored.
The shooting script features a scene not found in the film in which Van Helsing kills Lucy following her transformation into a vampire. In the scene, Van Helsing brings John into the graveyard to prove the existence of vampires. There, they witness Lucy walking into a mausoleum. After consoling John, Van Helsing pulls a parcel from his pocket and makes clear his intentions to follow Lucy and destroy her. At this point, the film was to have cut back to a scene of Dracula abducting Mina.