Dracula [1931] (10/8/12)

Dracula [1931]Movie Two Hundred Twenty Eight

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.

Links:

Rotten Tomatoes

IMDB

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47 responses to “Dracula [1931] (10/8/12)

  1. Good write up, Andy. I’m glad you love this film as much as I do. I hold it in very high regard. I’m looking forward to seeing the restoration on it. I liked that you pointed out the silent/talkie angle of the film’s production. Very good point.

  2. I’ve never been the biggest Dracula fan but I do love it. Bela Lugosi’s performance still scares me today. Nice review. Also it’s cool that you have the Universal Horror blu-ray edition, I need to get that.

    • I think so too, it’s not something I really took notice of when I was younger. I could also see that being a negative point for some people that like having lots of things happening on screen, but for me it creates an unprecedented tone.

  3. Great write up Andy. I like Dracula,,but don’t love it. I prefer the Universal Frankenstein series as well as the Wolf-Man. Great performances by Lugosi and Van Sloan and Browning was a great director,,but I still find this about average.

    Dave

  4. I really hope this collection will be available in Holland as well! As a horror fan it’s a must have indeed!
    And I love Bela Lugosi. He’s been such a huge influence.

    • I hope Universal has plans to release it there! I just looked at the case and it looks like the discs are region-free, so if you’re not opposed to import it from the US, it should work just fine on your player.

  5. I didn’t like this film because of it’s slow, deliberate pacing when I first saw it when I was 16. But, like Mickey said about that slice of Key Lime pie, “I was a completely different person back then”. I’m giving this one a second chance.

  6. Thanks for reminding me that I still need to see the Carlos Villarias/Spanish version for myself. Tod Browning’s film is timeless. And your estimation of Bela Lugosi as The Count is warranted. HOWEVER Blood for Dracula (1974, with Udo Kier) is still my go-to Dracula movie. 🙂

  7. one thing i loved about this movie was the silence. instead of dramatic music when the count is lurking around, there’s just silence. fabulous. and of course, renfield is terrific. i’ve loved this movie for more than 40 years. however, it wasn’t until recently that i read the book, and it gave me a greater appreciation for the movie.

    the book is written in the form of a collection of interviews and news clips. it was also probably a great influence on stephen king, because “carrie” was written the same way, and it was also very effective and must have been difficult to write. if you haven’t “read” dracula, i suggest you do.

  8. I watched this in its entirety for the first time recently, and several things struck me. One was how good Bela Lugosi really was, despite the caricature of himself that he degenerated into later in life. Another was how entertaining Dwight Frye is as Renfield. The third was how disappointed I was in Tod Browning’s direction. For someone with the reputation of being essentially the Tim Burton of the ’30s, his camera angles were fairly flat and uninspired. Also, the movie really felt the impact of the budget being slashed during production, as the story seemed to play out in just a few sets. Regardless, it’s still an entertaining film and one that has a long-lasting impact on film history.

  9. Yeah I still haven’t seen this movie. The closest I’ve seen to an old vampire flick would be the Nosferatu bits from Shadow of a Vampire. *secret shame*

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