Released in 1931 by Universal, Dracula directed by Tod Browning is easily one of, if not the most iconic vampire movie ever made. Not directly based on the Bram Stoker novel, but on the 1924 stage play written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. The film stars Bella Lugosi in the titular role, who fought hard for the role, even taking a pay cut to help ensure he got the role.
If you’re not familiar with Dracula the story goes as such… Renfield (Dwight Fry) arrives at Castle Dracula after passing through a small hamlet. The people of the hamlet fear the castle believing that Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and his three wives are vampires, who rise from their coffins at night to feast on the blood of the living. Renfield unperturbed visits Castle Dracula as he has business there. The business in question is that of Dracula with to lease Carfax Abby in London. After their business is completed, Renfield is rendered unconscious and becomes Dracula’s thrall. The next night, Dracula boards a schooner bound for London under the care of Renfield, who is now quite mad. Dracula feeds upon the crew during the voyage until Renfield is the only survivor. After being discovered Renfield is taken away to a sanatorium and placed under the care of Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston). That night Dracula meets Seward at the theatre, who is attendance with his daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) along with her fiance, John Harker (David Manners) and her friend Lucy (Frances Dade). Lucy becomes fascinated by Dracula and that night her feeds on her. She passes away the next day mysteriously with only two small wounds on her neck. At the sanatorium Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) examines Renfield’s bloods and determines… along with the aid of some wolfsbane, that he under the thrall of a vampire. After a visit from Dracula where Harker and Helsing notice he casts no reflection, Helsing deduces that Dracula is the vampire about town and he and Harker set to protect Mina from the clutches of Dracula.
I know for a fact that there is nothing I can say about this film that hasn’t been said before. With that in mind, Dracula is a horror classic for a multitude of damn good reasons. With the primary one being Bella Lugosi owning the role of Dracula. By no means is Lugosi the first incarnation, as Nosferatu was so heavily plagiarized that they were sued for copyright infringement and lost. But it was Bella Lugosi’s calm, seductive portrayal of the quintessential vampire that became locked in the public consciousness. With his piercing eyes and smoothness that suggests that he’s not a just creature of shadow but also a social one. He craves for a comfort he can’t have, making him a very memorable character.
Now that I’ve praised Lugosi there’s a couple other people also in need of praise. Dwight Fry leads the pack as he plays perhaps the best madman ever, followed by Sloan with just an iconic portrayal of Van Helsing as Lugosi’s Dracula, and Chandler as Mina manages to make me fear for her well fare with every viewing, even though I know full well the fate that awaits her.
Filmed without background music, Dracula takes on a very sinister tone. One that weighs heavy throughout the film, only letting up once the film has reached its climax. But there are versions with an added score with many DVDs giving you the option between the two. Pro tip, choose the no score and enjoy as it was meant.
Final thoughts, I love it. Which isn’t surprising as I am a fan of vampires as a whole. I can even find the “good” in the ones that glitter. With a wonderful atmosphere, beautiful painted sets, and a classic story there’s no question how this film as become so loved. I would suggest this to everyone, while the pace might be slow for some it’s a ride that’s more than worth taking. Dracula (1931) gets a perfect score 10/10.