Dracula the name itself is a true icon in not just the horror cinema, but as a whole to all disciplines of entertainment, from novels and comic books, to stage productions, films, music and memorabilia, the role made many famous by donning the cape to addressing themselves as Count Dracula. Universal Pictures interpretation to base the movie more the stage production than the novel seems to focus a great loss to many of both horror fans and cinema. Though a deeper route cause might focus on the finances of the situation of the studio and the nation, the Great Depression reign havoc among many facets of life, no one stood safe from the spreading chaos of it. These factors likely shortened the filming time and accelerated the production time, to recoup their investment quickly. The Dracula character presence to the audience contains a brooding and uneasiness, perhaps echoing from his cursed damnation of the devil’s creation. The movie is considered by many as a mediocre creation, yet it is the epitome of the essence of evil and mystically instilled in society of a blood-craving demon, that corrupts the virginity of woman, and turns men into repulsive lecherous slaves. Screenwriters Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston adapted their work from the play a well-known truth than from Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name; it wouldn’t be truly adhered to until 1992, by director Francis Ford Coppola. Although Bram passed on in 1912 never having seen his work on the screen, he still has accumulated over 100 screenwriter credits. While the Spanish version of this film, was in production with far less paid crew and cast, and is considered superior for various reasons, it shall not have bearing for this article. As previously mentioned many of the fans of today frown negatively onto the movie, avoiding the association to the classic as one of the first talkie movies of its time, and yet a landmark in style and design, and embracing the Germanic expressionism classic with the excessive darkened shadows around the eyes. Lastly, in 2014, Carla Laemmle at the age of 104 was the last surviving cast member of the production and held the role of uncredited coach passenger.
Everyone knows the plot to the movie, it has remained the one true constant in the film, over the past eighty eight years, and not needed to rehash it or mention it now, except to state that as a vampire movie, it remained quite bloodless. Director Tod Browning wanted his favorite cohort Lon Chaney Sr. to take the lead, but his passing opened the door for the stage actor Bela Lugosi. His stage training allowed him to conquer the set and envelop any room he walked in, commanding attention, delivering a truly fascinating performance with a thick accent, and a natural emphasis of speech, infliction of tone, and poise position, the count, at his core an aristocrat. His movements convey a painful walk, and agonizing journey, this shows the internal hatred for the disease he is, the struggle to hold himself away futile as he needs to conquer and feed. Again, the movie Dracula and the lead Bela, still carry lessons to the actors that seek to learn their craft, exceptionally well, to take points from all the great performers regardless of the era. The other central character, Renfield, portrayed magnificently by Dwight Frye, for his maniacal laughter and smile, all with the slave mentality for his Master, Count Dracula, and a hunger for the most disgusting six and eight legged critters. Many historians of cinema tend to agree the roles of Bela and Edward Van Sloan (Dracula’s Daughter ) as Van Helsing have powerful and dramatic performances that it appears as they are symphony of words and actions, overwhelming and dwarfing everyone in the surrounding scenes. The lack of blood and violence disturbs others, though censors at the era frowned at such displays of violence, as it was seen as a perverse sexuality and bestiality with necrophilia exposes themselves to the public, a forbidden taboo, shunned immediately. It extends the violence of to the desecration of the corpse, and the plunging a stake into the Count, show off screen and only heard what happens, vastly different to Christopher Lee’s Dracula’s death in Horror of Dracula (1958) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). The hints of sexual conduct did translate through to some extend a viewed today as unequal and sexist, it is hard for anyone to place themselves into an era where so much was wrongly allowed, but the movie the men hold themselves as the protectors of all unsavory sexuality.
The downsides to the movie, come from the lack of music in the original movie, as audiences were naïve and required understanding for the reasoning of the music, and the point it played, the times were much simpler than. Aside from the music and camera movement and a stationary position due to the oversized sound record equipment, unlike the silent era with films such as Nosferatu (1922) the camera operators moved with camera, in a slow waltz, perhaps a very early form a Steadicam, but some inventions come with trial and error, and for time neither were acceptable. In addition the lack tension, becomes a troublesome nuance, along with some challenging campy dialogue effecting pacing issues, all prevail with a triumphant finished movie that spawn the monster era and never looked back in everything it achieved for so many. Bela, while stereotyped as the villain, for his 40 horror film credits, he never once won the Oscar, however Martin Landau did for his portray of him in Ed Wood (1994).
Count Dracula and this 1931 film, have achieved a milestone, 88 years, in 12 more celebrating 100-years of horror history, with a movie achieving the heights of notoriety it tends to acclaim more followers and returns to theaters often in the month of October, captivating fans for many generations. Alas, the movie looks definitely out of place of personal 60” high definition television set and a Blu-ray, while aficionados tend to watch it on a small television and with a VHS version, adding the aging process of the movie itself. The icon has graced more movies than anyone else, and continues to have his and Bram’s stories played out endless, with passion whether serious or a parody it never ages, only to know that it has eternal life.
This review was originally published on the now defunct Rogue Cinema website in February 2016 with a view count of 2,064.
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IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Baron’s Rating: 8.0/10