#68) Dracula (1931)

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#68) Dracula (1931)

OR “The Man Who Bites”

Directed by Tod Browning (and possibly Karl Freund)

Written by Garrett Fort. Based on the novel by Bram Stoker and the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston.

Class of 2000

The Plot: Bela Lugosi is Count Dracula, a Transylvanian vampire who must drink the blood of the living. Assisted by his servant Renfield (Dwight Frye), they travel to London to settle the lease on an Abbey next to the local sanatorium. The Count falls for the doctor’s daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) and plans to make her his next bride. But Doctor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) suspects Dracula’s vampire habits while studying the mysterious deaths that have happened since Dracula arrived.

Why It Matters: The NFR praise Browning, cinematographer Karl Freund, art director Charles D. Hall, and of course, Lugosi for “the ultimate vampire characterization”. Also included is an essay by Lugosi and Browning expert Gary Rhodes.

But Does It Really?: Oh of course. You cannot think of Dracula or any other vampire without thinking of Bela Lugosi’s performance. On top of that, the entire film has a wonderfully creepy vibe to it, thanks to its effective lighting and almost entirely absent soundtrack. 86 years later, “Dracula” can still elicit some serious chills.

Everybody Gets One: Actors Helen Chandler, Frances Dade and David Manners, the latter whom claimed never to have seen the final film.

Wow, That’s Dated: The film is done on such a cheap budget I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be the 1890s or the 1930s. So who’s to say what’s accurate and what isn’t?

Take a Shot: They say the Count’s name a lot. Don’t make this a drinking game.

Seriously, Oscars?: Despite its critical and commercial success, “Dracula” received zero Oscar nominations. The Academy gave a few nods to a similarly haunting film from 1931: Warner Brothers’ “Svengali” starring John Barrymore.

Other notes

  • Why Swan Lake at the beginning?
  • Ah yes, the native armadillos of Transylvania.
  • In addition to playing Renfield, Dwight Frye plays Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz in that Universal classic. There’s just something about the way he says “master” that just feels right.
  • Nope, definitely not a model of a ship, and it’s definitely being hit by regular sized waves.
  • The London newspaper is just called “The”?
  • Does Dracula not have eyelids?
  • When I die, please let it not be in an operating theater.
  • Special mention to Charles K. Gerrard and his bizarre comic relief performance as Martin, the sarcastic Cockney attendant at the sanatorium.
  • Can bats hover?
  • This film features very few special effects, but it gets the point across with clever editing and camera shots. Very effective.
  • Van Helsing kinda looks like Al Pacino in “You Don’t Know Jack”.
  • Helen Chandler’s natural South Carolina accent slips through a couple of times throughout the film.
  • In case you forgot, It’s a Universal Picture!

Legacy

  • Every Dracula you have ever seen is taking something from Bela Lugosi’s performance. Now that’s a legacy.
  • While helping establish the Universal Horror Series, “Dracula” only had two direct sequels; 1936’s “Dracula’s Daughter” and 1943’s “Son of Dracula”.
  • Dracula has been adapted for screen many times over the years, but the stage version this “Dracula” is based on got a Broadway revival and remake in the ‘70s with Frank Langella.
  • Last I checked, Dracula was dead…and loving it!
  • And of course, Blacula.

Further Viewing: It was common practice at the time for studios to film foreign-language versions of their films with different casts at the same time. The Spanish-language version of “Dracula” eventually found its own place in the NFR. Read my observations on that version here.

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