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If my facts are straight, this much touted Spanish version of "Dracula"
was considered lost for many years until its rediscovery in the
1970s--upon which many a critic and film historian flocked to view this
rare "gem" & seemingly all at once proclaimed it better than its more
famous English cousin.
Perhaps the novelty of finding this similar, but in many aspects different alternate take on the Tod Browning classic led to such clamoring, though given the many years in which viewers have been accustomed to videotape & now DVD--in which a back-to-back comparison of the two films is a very simple exercise--the fawning many do over Melford's 'Drac' seems a bit in the extreme, particularly such critical observations of how Melford upstages the English film "scene by scene, shot by shot". Having recently viewed both films, it's my opinion that a shot-for-shot comparison doesn't prove very detrimental at all to Señor Browning.
For instance, the much raved about moving camera of George Robinson doesn't really show much more mobility than Karl Freund's. Yes, there is the shot of the camera roving up the stairs in Drac's castle, but aside from that & a few other minor instances, Melford & Robinson keep the camera as still as the oft-derided Browning. Btw, I found it more than a bit amusing that the critters Browning has roaming around the cellars of Dracula's castle--the opossum and bug escaping from a miniature coffin--were retained by Melford.
The really big difference in movies is seeing the different angles which Melford shot many of his scenes from & how he makes more use of the outside portico in many of the later drawing room scenes. For those of us familiar with the Lugosi film, this can make for an interesting visual variety, but does this really equate to "better" or "masterful" directing?
It's not my intention to slam this version of Dracula. I think any horror fan should give it a few looks to see how two different production teams can interpret a single script & put their own creative twists on it. From that standpoint, the Spanish "Dracula" is required viewing, but hardly the "scathing critique" of its English counterpart that many have proclaimed it to be.
Language was no barrier to Hollywood in the silent era: title cards
were easily translated from English. When sound began to roar,
Hollywood began to fear the loss of its foreign markets--and so, for a
brief time, the studios occasionally produced two versions of certain
films, one in English and one in another language, most often German or
Spanish. Such was the case with the 1931 Dracula.
According to film historian and author David J. Skal, producer Paul Kohner fell in love with Mexican-born actress Lupita Tovar (they later married), and his romantic interest prompted the suggestion that she star in a Spanish-language version of the film. When the English language cast wrapped for the day, the Spanish language cast arrived and worked through the night using the same sets.
Most of Hollywood's foreign-language duplicates were forgotten as quickly as they were released, but the Spanish Dracula would be the exception. Todd Browning, who directed the English language film starring Bela Lugosi, was extremely uncomfortable with sound technology. While the first fifteen minutes or so his film are exceptional, the movie thereafter becomes a filmed stage play--and a very choppy and rather unimaginative stage play at that. Instead of simply duplicating Browning's set-ups, producer Kohner and director George Melford set out to best him, and when the Spanish version debuted most viewers declared it greatly superior to the English version.
And in many respects it is. Whereas Browning's version is visually flat and rather slow, the Spanish Dracula is visually exciting, and although it is considerably longer than the English version the pace never drags. It also has it all over the Browning version in terms of editing, and it has a cohesion the Browning version completely lacks. The supporting cast is also quite fine, with Lupita Tovar a standout, easily besting Helen Chandler's remarkably tiresome performance in the English version.
But the Spanish Dracula has a problem, and it's a big one: actor Carlos Villarias, billed here as Carlos Villar. Villarias had a respectable film career throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but he met his match in Dracula; where Lugosi intoned, snarled, and endowed the vampire with an elegant evil, Villarias goes through the film with a series of expressions that lead one to believe he has just encountered an overflowing toilet. His flaring nostrils and disgusted glances are so incredibly out of place that they quickly become unintentionally hilarious.
Lugosi's performance, of course, is generally considered the ultimate statement of the role, and with good reason. In a perfect world, we would be able to snatch Villarias out of the Spanish Dracula and insert Lugosi in his place; the result would be a truly amazing film from start to finish. As it is, however, we are stuck with Villarias, and frankly he bites.
The VHS release of the Spanish Dracula is out of print, but the film is available on the same disk with the Universal release of the more widely known Todd Browning version. By and large the film quality is remarkably good; it has not, however, received a digital remaster, and at least one of the reels would greatly benefit from it. If you are a fan of 1930s horror, you'll find it more than worth the effort, but I suspect more casual viewers will be reduced to hysterical laughter by the Villarias performance.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
I have read most of the comments on the spanish version of Dracula, and I
have two hypotheses as to why can anyone say this is a better version than
1.- YOU'VE BEEN INFLUENCED BY THE INTRODUCTORY DOCUMENTARY IN THE DVD
VERSION - I also saw the documentary and was very excited to hear that
version was better and I can almost say that I was looking at it with the
intention of finding the better version no matter what reality said, but
movie was definitely NOT better than the Browning's version.
2.- YOU DON'T SPEAK SPANISH - Folks, if you spoke spanish, believe me!!!
would understand how BAD this version is. It is so badly spoken (i hope
as bad as my english ;-) ) and so KITSCH!!!! it is incredible that anyone
can say this is a good version.
Having said this, I would like to comment on the film: Perhaps there is one or two scenes better directed if by "better directed" you mean a better use of film language (i.e. the "Children of the night" scene), but in general Browning's Dracula remains a classical version for a good reason: it is better. The acting is so bad that it becomes very difficult to see through it a good directing... but directing means not only moving the camera, but also to direct people, and in that sense this movie fails miserably. I am very sorry I am so blunt, but I feel I need to shake you all in order to wake you up.
The Browning/Lugosi 'classic' has always been one of my favorite
Universal horror films but, ever since the simultaneously-produced
'rival' Spanish version resurfaced, the 'original' has taken a beating
by fans and historians alike - mainly because the latter features
superior camera-work! This, however, is the ONLY area where it can lay
a claim to be better in when compared to the US version (the fact that
leading lady Lupita Tovar had a sexier wardrobe than Helen Chandler
shouldn't even be considered, I guess). Still, the fact that on the DVD
the opinion that the seminal US version is the inferior one seems to be
shared by quite a few people hasn't done it any favors! I remember
being impressed by the Spanish version when I first watched it in 2001,
singling out for praise the performance of Pablo Alvarez Rubio as
Renfield and, of course, George Robinson's cinematography. However,
coming back to it now, I felt that Rubio's hysterical rendering of the
character (which reminded me of Gene Wilder in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
 of all people!) was nowhere nearly as nuanced as Dwight Frye's
unforgettable characterization in the US version. Regarding the
"superior camera-work", I guess this is true for individual sequences
(Dracula's introduction, for instance) but, frankly, I never felt that
Karl Freund - a pioneer of the moving camera - had somehow been
restrained by Tod Browning, who admittedly wasn't very fond of this
technique. Given that of late we've also been faced by the ridiculous
assumption that Browning didn't actually direct the film, he couldn't
have - since he wasn't even there!! It may be however, that since
frequent Browning collaborator Lon Chaney (who had been slated for the
title role) died before shooting began, the director sort of lost heart
in the project - coupled also with the fact that the script was rather
talky, another element with which Browning felt uneasy! Well, whatever
went on behind the scenes, for me what's in front remains one of the
highlights of the American horror film - from the marvelous dialogue
(especially as delivered - each in their own unique way - by Lugosi,
Frye and Edward Van Sloan), irreproachable performances (Frye and Van
Sloan were at their best, while Lugosi only ever really came close with
THE BLACK CAT  and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ) and memorable
individual scenes (the entire first act set in Transylvania, the
confrontation scenes between Dracula and his nemesis Professor Van
Helsing, Renfield's various ravings). The tame ending may appear
anti-climactic to most people but I honestly was never bothered by it!
If anything, this was remedied in any number of ways in subsequent
Which brings us back to the Spanish Dracula: like I said, the film is an interesting and altogether pleasing 'alternate' to the Lugosi version...but it is fatally compromised by the inadequate leading performance of Carlos Villarias, whose bulging eyes and feral snarls can't hold a candle to Lugosi's definitive screen vampire! This version does go to places where the American doesn't (Browning shies away from the vampire attacks, for instance) and even features 'new' scenes like the aftermath of the vampiric Lucy's demise - but, at 104 minutes (a full half-hour longer than the US version, when considering that they were following the same script!) it's way overlong for its own good. The Browning/Lugosi version is often criticized for its sluggishness but this one actually moves at a snail's pace: take, for instance, the famous scene where Dracula is exposed by the mirror - Lugosi knocks the box down immediately, while Villarias takes forever to do so (even if his resolution is effectively flamboyant nonetheless).
A word about the DVD quality: disappointingly, the Spanish version features closed-captions (for the hearing-impaired) rather than proper subtitles. As for the US version, the print utilized for this particular transfer (which differs from that of the original, and more satisfactory, 1999 release) is a bit too dark for my taste and the dialogue sometimes was hard to catch due to the incessant hiss on the soundtrack! It also reverts to the 'original' single groan during Dracula's staking (instead of the elongated variant available on the earlier disc)...but does feature a bit of music at the end of the Opera sequence, which had been missing from the previous edition!! Well, this only means that it's worth keeping both copies of Dracula as neither is really definitive...
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.
Dracula, in Spanish.
I saw this version several years ago thanks to a local film festival. They had recently reconstructed a copy and were about to re-release it.
In a wonderfully cost-effective move this was filmed, using the same sets and the same script as the famous Bela Lugosi version. Swing-shift filmmaking.
Even though my Spanish is very weak, I know the original. And hearing "I never drink... wine" or "The children of the night! What beautiful music they make!" is still chilling no matter what language.
And the director of this version made different choices from the Lugosi version. One scene that was particularly effective: Dracula walking through a mass of spider-webs without disturbing them.
Eight stars. See it if you can.
The Spanish-language Drácula (1931) is frequently said to be better
than the simultaneously shot, English-language Dracula. I find this
The performances of Villarías, Rubio, and Arozamena are much less affecting than those of Lugosi, Frye, and Sloan. I'll readily grant that Rubio's behavior is more like than of a typical madman than is Frye's, but *realism* precludes vampires in the first place.
The acting of some of the bit players in Drácula is poor. The lighting is simply thoughtless illumination. Continuity is ignored *ab initio*; for example, does Conde Drácula emerge from the coffin of Count Dracula (as shot by Freund or Browning), or from a packing crate?
There are various points at which Drácula *is* better than Dracula. Holes in the script of Dracula are generally plugged in Drácula. While Sloan's acting is superior to that of Arozamena, the English-language script requires him to be unbelievably ineffectual. (Watch Sloan pause on the steps to explain that there is no time to lose, and then continue *walking*!)
Unusual film in that it is a Spanish language version of the Bela Lugosi film, made at the same time and on the same sets as the 1931 film, only with an entirely different cast and crew. Actually, it was directed at night, while Tod Browning made his during the day. Plot is exactly the same, though differently staged, and in some ways is an improvement, being more atmospheric and effective, even though it is nearly 30 minutes longer! What's missing is a lead actor with the talent of Bela Lugosi, and that's a big deal. Universal Studios apparently did it this way once, and resorted to dubbing in the future, which would certainly be simpler...
This Spanish version of DRACULA is interesting and odd, running nearly a
half-hour longer than the English version with Lugosi. It was filmed by
Universal simultaniously with the Lugosi version, using the same sets but
with a Spanish-speaking cast. The Lugosi version was filmed during the day,
and the Spanish version was filmed at night.
Carlos Villarias is excellent as Dracula. There is more use of sound effects in this version, with doors creaking and other moody sounds along the way that are not in the English version. Also, the costumes for the women are more revealing.
Lugosi still has the upper fang as far as being ominous, especially with that one-of-a-kind accent. But Villarias does a great job as the blood-thirst Count, especially with the use of his eyes, giving a very spooky look to the old boy. This is an enjoyable alternative version of the venerable classic.
Carlos Villarias was a better actor than Bela Lugosi, but Villarias was campy at times and had zero sex appeal. He was also less creepy than Lugosi. Instead, Villarias made Dracula more lonely and and relatable. I feel that made Villarias the better Dracula by leaps and bounds. Villarias was the Dracula that Bram Stoker described. To make up for Villarias's lack of sensuality, Lupita Tovar oozed lust. At times, her hair was messy, tousled, and maybe even a little frizzy. Her outfits were tighter, showed more skin, and her body type was curvy and voluptuous. When she dove in to bite Mr. Harker, she looked like a flesh-crazed beast/a sex-crazed nymph and it's the most sexual moment I've seen in any 1930s movie. Dracula's harem girls were also more sensual than those in the American version. As for the camera work, the camera actually moves and there are more camera angles. As a result, you see more of the small details of the set design and more of the disorienting, unnatural shapes that the stairs, archs, etc. make.
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