At midnight on Walpurgis Night, an English clerk, Renfield, arrives at Count Dracula's castle in the Carpathian Mountains. After signing papers to take over a ruined abbey near London, ... See full summary »
Count Alucard (read his name backwards) finds his way from Budapest to the swamps of the Deep South; his four nemeses are a medical doctor, a university professor, a jilted fiancé and the woman he loves.
Lon Chaney Jr.,
After Jonathan Harker attacks Dracula at his castle (apparently somewhere in Germany), the vampire travels to a nearby city, where he preys on the family of Harker's fiancée. The only one ... See full summary »
At midnight on Walpurgis Night, an English clerk, Renfield, arrives at Count Dracula's castle in the Carpathian Mountains. After signing papers to take over a ruined abbey near London, Dracula drives Renfield mad and commands obedience. Renfield escorts the boxed count on a death ship to London. From there, the Count is introduced into the society of his neighbor, Dr. Seward, who runs an asylum. Dracula makes short work of family friend, Lucia Weston, then begins his assault on Eva Seward, the doctor's daughter. A visiting expert in the occult, Van Helsing, recognizes Dracula for who he is, and there begins a battle for Eva's body and soul. Written by
Let's get real: there are only two reasons the reputation of the original Dracula has remained intact into the 21st Century - Bela Lugosi's performance and as a monument to camp/nostalgia of a certain kind. In all other respects, it is at its best competent, in its worst moments dreadful. While admittedly atmospherically moody in design, it is ridiculously slow, and, with the exception of Lugosi, the acting is hilariously bad. Does Lugosi's strangely ethereal, other-worldly performance save the show. Yes; on the other hand, goth-nostalgia grows ever more wearisome as the years wear on.
Despite a legend perpetrated by Universal Studios itself, that the Spanish language version of the film produced simultaneously with the original was shot by shot the same with different actors, the Spanish Dracula is a completely different interpretation of the same script. The lighting is better, the camera work more fluid and more professionally handled, the editing is far more advanced - indeed the look of the film would put it in the early '40s if we didn't know better. Adding to this impression of being ahead of its time is the acting - naturalistic, emotive, performed by a cast with a considerable repertoire of facial expressions and vocal intonations at their disposal, most utterly believable.
Finally, there is the redefinition of just what the 'horror' of Dracula really amounts to. Lugosi's presence in the original is heightened by the portrayal of a British middle class environment that is hopelessly banal. Here, the environment is given a warmer glow, but the real horror of the vampire is that he is a beast in aristocratic disguise, seething with barely suppressed violence. Pay special attention to the ship voyage sequence: in the original this is mostly about a storm in which Lugosi stands literally unmoved by the rough waves battering the ship. In the Spanish version, the sequence is about the direct confrontation between the Count - hungry, gloating sneer on his face, crouched, about to pounce - and the unbelieving sailors, with a soundtrack provided by a truly frightening screech of laughter from the mad Renfield.
A note must also be made concerning the sexuality of the two films. The implicit sexuality of the original is really largely legend, derived almost solely from Lugosi's own impressively suave charisma. The makers of the Spanish version have not left the matter to the chance of casting - the women are thinly dressed, and Dracula's approach to them openly seductive - this especially becomes clear in one scene where Dracula steps between the heroine and her fiancé, utterly ignores the fiancé's presence and speaks to the heroine in the soothing, caring tones of a lover! I'm not saying the Spanish Dracula is anything more than a well made B-movie - but it is an exceptionally well made B-movie, probably the best of its era - a real classic that stands the test of time on the virtue of its rugged performance and professional polish.
Give honor to Lugosi's historic performance - but pay homage to a nearly lost masterwork of genre cinema, the Spanish language Dracula, 1931.
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