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Dracula (1931) * Worst Hit *


The bat has feet. How quaint!
The bat has feet. How quaint!

Genre: Vampire Horror

Starring: Bela Lugosi (White Zombie The Wolf Man), Helen Chandler

Directed By: Tod Browning (FreaksThe Unknown)

Overview: "MLENH! MLENH! I vant to suck yer blud!"

Bela Lugosi, in his most classic role: Dracula. The man with a distinctly strange accent and a gaze that bores to the very soul. A man whose castle is nothing more than a broken, web-entangled grave that creaks of death and despair. Talk about a weirdo.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself yelling, "No! No! No!" at the screen for Dracula being a crappy film.

Dracula had a deep streak of the mood I felt while watching the original King Kong, namely, it's really just a 30s B-Grade film with a lot of hype and special effects that somehow etched its way into pop culture for generations. The only difference is that, with Dracula, there's a lack of good special effects (big rubber bats on strings are quite beauteous and ever so majestic) and I don't see how the hype carried it this far... 

Having recently seen Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu, I can tell you how chilling and strange Dracula seems as a character, yet Lugosi's portrayal carries absolutely none of that strange behaviour indicative of centuries of twisted unlife. Admittedly, comparing 1931's tamer, saner Drac to 1979 is unfair, yet when comparing to Murnau's version from a decade earlier, the mood of terror in Browning's vision is simply not there. Though most of it can be attributed to sub-par cinematography, there's other factors that played into it's mediocrity.

Firstly, the year it was made: 1931, two years into The Talkie as a commonplace thing, and the camera / sound technology was still in its dirty clunky stages. I've said it time and again, the worst era for film were those transition years. Combine that with the Great Depression, which caused a drastic drop in Dracula's budget, and you find clunky visuals with the more lavish and elaborate scenes completely cut. Next we have veteran director Tod Browning. Given his penchant for the absurdly strange, you'd think he'd be a perfect candidate for the subject matter. Turns out he wasn't completely into the project. His ideal candidate and good friend, Lon Chaney, had recently died of throat cancer. Bela was the one who'd gotten fame from playing Dracula on stage and was the obvious casting choice, yet Browning was against it from the beginning. During production, rumour has it that he was completely uninterested, tearing out pages of the script and leaving much of the direction to his cinematographer.

What disappointed this critic most of all was how the vampirism of Dracula was diminished by a frequent lack of on-screen display. While feeding from a female neck, the camera cuts to a reaction of a scream, or Dracula leans towards a woman hidden behind a wall. In the final scene, where Van Helsing comes to drive the stake into Dracula's chest, we see it as a wide shot, with Van Helsing blocking the action, hiding the coffin with his body. As he deals that final blow, we don't see any of it. Rather we cut to the screaming maiden clutching her heart. Though I may easily chalk it up to not wanting to terrify the 1930s kiddies in the audience, I still won't like it. I'll spare you the discussion as to how there's no real mention of the romanticism of the blood or the complete obsession our main character should have with it.

Dracula is a classic, but be warned children. It may only chill your wallet.

Entirely mislead by the awesome that is this moment.
Entirely mislead by the awesome that is this moment.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 5 Script: 6 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 62% (Once Bitten...)

As with 99% of all film, all is not lost. The original run-down, spider-infested castle of Dracula strewn with his eerie wives is certainly a welcome sight. I shall also extol the virtues of Dwight Frye, the man who played Renfield the mad slave, a dramatic performance above and beyond that of Bela himself, and I was quite pleased to see a version of Dracula that focused much on a little-explored character. 

A final note about the sequel, Dracula's Daughter (1936)? It also sucks, pardon the pun. How anyone could get excited about a woman whose power is shining a ring in people's eyes is beyond me.

I much preferred Bela in White Zombie. In that he was a force of motion, something to be looked up to. And he definitely uses those hypnotic eyes.

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Bang on with your comments here, especially concerning Dwight Frye's portrayl of Renfield. One of the truly creepy moments of the film is when he crawls about on the floor gibbering madly. Freaked out my kids, anyway.

Have you seen the spanish version shot with the same sets/costumes/script  that was filmed concurrently, but by night after the english crew had shut down for the day? If not, you may want to check it out. Many consider it a superior version.

Damn, no. It was included with the disk when I rented it, but I opted for  Dracula's Daughter instead... friggers

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