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Dracula (1931).

October 31, 2008

The Scoop:
What would Halloween be without the king of the vampires?

An iconic milestone of horror cinema, “Dracula” made Bela Lugosi a star, made Universal Studios a mint and established the archetypes for all vampire movies to follow.

The script, by Garrett Fort, is a loose adaptation of the immensely popular Hamilton Deane/John L. Balderson play, which in turn was a loose adaptation of the classic Bram Stoker novel. The end result bares little relation to the source material, but that’s beside the point. What makes this film a legend is Lugosi’s threatening, sexually-charged performance as the undead Transylvanian count who wants to move to London to continue his bloodthirsty ways. Lugosi reprises his performance from the play here, as does Edward Van Sloan, who plays Dr. Van Helsing.

This film marked the high point of Lugosi’s career (in only his first American movie) and would dominate his psyche for the rest of his life. It also (along with Boris Karloff’s performance in “Frankenstein” that same year) firmly injected the horror genre into the modern consciousness.

Despite its legendary reputation, though, “Dracula” has sequences that are as stagey and talkative as any creaky melodrama of the period. It is considered the crowning achievement of director Tod Browning’s career, although it is reported that his drinking problem got so out of hand during the shoot that cinematographer Karl Freund had to step in to do much of the direction. This is evinced best by the contrasts in quality between the moody, gothic atmospherics of the Transylvanian scenes (attributed to Freund) and the stodginess of the London scenes (attributed to Browning). By this point, all of Browning’s best work was behind him, left behind in the silent film era, while Freund would go on to be a successful genre director in his own right.

Despite its flaws (armadillos, anyone?), “Dracula” remains a landmark of the genre and a must-see for any serious film fan.

Best Line:
Either “I never drink… wine,” or, “The children of the night — what music they make!”

Side Note:
In spite of being a runaway success and matinee idol for starring in the stage version, Lugosi was the last choice to play the role of the bloodsucking count on film. The producers and other studio executives thought Lugosi did not have the star quality to carry the movie and went through several alternatives, thoroughly ignoring Lugosi’s active petitioning for the role. The actor who was finally chosen to play Dracula was Browning’s frequent collaborator, the great Lon Chaney, who died just before filming began. When the other contenders weren’t available on such short notice, Lugosi was finally given the role simply to keep the production on schedule. Despite playing the title character, Universal wound up paying him only half of what they paid the other principal actors.

Companion Viewing:
“Dracula (Spanish Version)” (1931) and “Frankenstein” (1931).

The Broadway production, from the Internet Broadway Database.
Bram Stoker’s novel.

Take a Look:
Dracula’s entrance — keep your eyes peeled for those famously anachronistic armadillos:

Dracula vs. Van Helsing:

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