US (dir. Tod Browning)
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Charles Gerrard, Joan Standing, Moon Carroll, Josephine Velez, Eduardo Arozamena, Daisy Belmore, Carmen Guerrero , Tony Isbert
Synopsis: After a harrowing ride through the Carpathian mountains in eastern Europe, Renfield enters castle Dracula to finalize the transferral of Carfax Abbey in London to Count Dracula, who is in actuality a vampire. Renfield is drugged by the eerily hypnotic count, and turned into one of his thralls, protecting him during his sea voyage to London. After sucking the blood and turning the young Lucy Weston into a vampire, Dracula turns his attention to her friend Mina Seward, daughter of Dr. Seward who then calls in a specialist, Dr. Van Helsing, to diagnose the sudden deterioration of Mina’s health. Van Helsing, realizing that Dracula is indeed a vampire, tries to prepare Mina’s fiance, John Harker, and Dr. Seward for what is to come and the measures that will have to be taken to prevent Mina from becoming one of the undead.
Review: I was really excited to see the Universal Pictures version of “Dracula”; so much so, that I kicked off my Universal Monsters Month by watching it before anything else. Some of the first horror movies I watched were of the vampire genre, which is no surprise considering the mid-1990s were rife with vampire related movies, TV shows, books etc. I guess every decade or so the vampire craze pops up, and today’s decade is no exception (I won’t even bother listing examples… ah, what the heck: “True Blood”, “Twilight”, “The Vampire Diaries”, “Daybreakers” etc.). However, interestingly enough, the 1930s weren’t exactly aplenty with vampire films, in fact besides the now classic Universal “Dracula” picture, there wasn’t really anything of note until the 1970s came along with all those Hammer vampire films.
“Dracula” turned out to be everything I expected it to be: moody, atmospheric, and elegant. Unfortunately, it also suffered from being a bit of a bore and the long gaps in between conversations really became tiring after an hour of viewing (they couldn’t have filled some of the long periods of silence with music?). The plot follows Bram Stoker’s novel a bit haphazardly; characters from the book are not present in the movie or their roles are flipped or merged with other characters (i.e. Jonathan Harker and Renfield’s characters merge into one) and the events of the novel are abridged to the point where certain plot points are either shortened, to allow for the movie to progress at a quicker pace, or are scrapped altogether.
The unexpected merger of the Jonathan Harker and Renfield character allowed for the creation of a super weird Harker/Renfield hybrid character who virtually ends up stealing every scene. Renfield’s overall creepiness becomes the exact opposite of Dracula’s elegance and mystery, and something about his creepy face kept me mildly unnerved.
For all the acclaim I’ve heard regarding Bela Lugosi’s performance in this film, I was surprised to find it to be less than what I was anticipating. I was expecting to be riveted or enthralled by his performance as the suave, mysterious Count Dracula, but by the end of the movie I was mildly disappointed (note that I’ve highlighted the fact that my disappointment was mild). Lugosi has a commanding on-screen presence, and his accented voice is perfect for the role of a Transylvanian vampire Count, but his performance just felt a little weak to me, or to put it more bluntly, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Chalk it up to my high expectations going into the film, but I felt Lugosi could have been better.
This film is essentially a “get what you see” film. Anyone looking for any depth to the characters would be better off looking somewhere else. I was fully expecting to come away from this movie with a greater appreciation for it over “Nosferatu”, but even with “Nosferatu”‘s gross divergence from Stoker’s novel, it still ends up being a more entertaining, more frightening, more exciting film than “Dracula”. However, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this film. Quite the contrary really, since I did quite like it – though not as much as I had expected. Classic scenes of Dracula welcoming Renfield to his castle or preying on virginal ladies were excellent, and though this was my first time seeing this movie it seemed as though I’d seen it all before due to pop culture references or even imitations in more current films. Of course, it goes without saying that this is highly recommended viewing for vampire genre enthusiasts or those looking to check out a classic Universal monster movie, but those looking for thrills and chills would fare better looking elsewhere.