A vampire is brought from Transylvania to England and preys on a young woman in Dracula.
In Transylvania, Renfield (Dwight Frye), a solicitor heads to a castle owned by Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) despite warnings from townsfolk that vampires live there. Later that evening, Dracula attacks Renfield and makes him his slave. Renfield stows the Count away on a ship to England, but as the Count is mysteriously feeding on the ship’s crew, Renfield is thought to be insane when he is discovered. As Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is tasked with analyzing Renfield, Count Dracula becomes fascinated by a young woman named Mina (Helen Chandler) but Van Helsing is quickly understanding the truth behind Renfield’s madness and other mysterious attacks.
As the premiere Universal horror film, it’s amazing that Dracula not only stands the test of time but has been so incredibly influential on horror films and vampires in general. Bela Lugosi is Count Dracula and even 80 years later, is probably the most recognizable vampire ever. While the vampire thing has kind of been done to death (pun intended), I can keep coming back to this version of the film and I get chills every time Lugosi stares at the camera, he really has a way to seem supernatural and menacing with just a look – modern vampires take note!
The weird thing about Dracula is that Tod Browning created a film that is almost a hybrid of silent film and “talkie”. It was made in an era that sound films were still fledgling and as a result, there are long periods without dialog and one scene uses a close-up of a newspaper to fill in critical plot points. Apparently, the film was even modified to be silent for some theaters. Another interesting factoid about the production of Dracula is that a Spanish version was shot simultaneously using the exact same sets with Carlos Villarias in the lead role as Count Dracula. This film was also restored and while I don’t care much for Villarias compared to Lugosi, the film seems tighter in some spots and is considered the superior version by some.
Dracula was recently restored and released as part of the Universal Classic Monsters: Essential Collection blu-ray set and I have to commend Universal for producing such an incredible set. Dracula is the first film I have watched (since it was the first film of the set to be released) and if the other films have been treated with the same amount of care it is a must-own for horror fans or fans of early cinema. The quality of the picture for Dracula is nothing short of stunning, with no noise or distortion and the richest blacks I think I’ve ever seen in a movie of its age. In addition to an amazing restoration, the special features on the set are the icing on the already delicious cake. If you don’t own a blu-ray player yet, this set may be worth considering for an upgrade.
Dracula is a film that, like its namesake, may never age. It is quintessential viewing for all movie fans, as far as I’m concerned. Some may not like it’s somewhat slow, deliberate pacing, but I found it only added to the tension of the menacing presence of the Count himself.
I give it 5 film restoration processes out of 5.