Release Date: February 14 1,1931
Plot Summary: In a daparture from the novel, Renfield goes to Dracula’s castle to finish a real estate deal. Dracula then hypnotizes him, arrives in England and bites the necks of several women before being staked by Van Helsing. If you’ve read the book or seen another adaptation of this, you’ve pretty much got the basic idea.
Review: We’re digging into the vaults today people, so dust of your capes and put on some Bauhaus. I reccomend Bela Lugosi’s Dead, for obvious reasons. Just because this one is from the thirties and is lacking in color doesn’t mean it isn’t good. We’re looking at the grandaddy of all vampire films ( well, unless you count Nosferatu). The opening is wonderfully orchestral and the settings are deliciously Gothic. The castle scenes are delightful and the black and white enhances rather than reduces the atmosphere.
Let’s get the obvious praise out of the way. Bela Lugosi is wonderful in this. His portrayal of Dracula has just the right amount of allure and danger, which creates a compelling figure. As much as Lugosi would hate this role later ( he ended up being typecast), its arguably one of his best from what I’ve seen. Its easy to see why Lucy or any woman really, would find him alluring.
Not to be outdone, the actor responsible for playing Renfield is ridiculously fun to watch after he goes nuts. Nothing here will really terrify a modern audience, but Renfield can certainly come across as unsettling. Though there is a fair bit of silliness when it comes to his many escapes and the guards frustration at fly boy as they take to calling him.
Those of you have read the book may notice a lack of Mina, Lucy, and Jonathan in this film. Or rather a lack of them doing anything. Manly because roles were reduced of switched around. Renfield takes on Jonathan’s role of salesman and in fact acts as a conflicted hero throughout. Mina and Lucy get to do very little, and Lucy’s suitors don’t appear at all. Jonathan is in asshole mode for most of it and retains little of his book counterparts characteristics. Despite this, the film is enjoyable in its own right. Just don’t watch it with a friend who thinks the book is better.
Effects are a bit dated by today’s standards, but I find them charming in a cheesey kinda way. Sadly we don’t get to see the neck nibbling or staking, as this was the 30s, but you can imagine what they might look like.If you don’t mind a bat on a string or possums as rats, then you’ll find enjoyment here.
Highlights:Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye ( Renfield) are fleshed out more than the others and are fun to watch. The lighting and settings are wonderfully dark and while not book accurate, it still presents an interesting if rushed version of the story. It beats Coppola’s Dracula any day. Screw. That. Film.
Recommendations: If you don’t mind a black and white film from the thirties, give it a shot. Rent it, buy it, stream it. Just don’t expect any sexy vampire make out sessions or much blood and gore.
Now that I’ve sank my fangs into one of the classics, I want more. Next week, we delve into the wonderfully campy work of one Vincent Price.