Dracula (1931)

Dracula (1931) – Despite hits like The Phantom of the Opera, Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle wasn’t particularly interested in making horror movies. Carl Laemmle Jr., on the other hand, was quite keen to bring Dracula to the big screen. History has kind of sided with Laemmle Jr., I am happy to say. Dracula was a huge success. It made a star out of Béla Lugosi. The film’s success led to the studio making Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon as well as the various sequels to those films. Dracula is a product of a glorious time when vampires did not sparkle. They were dark and mysterious creatures of the night, and while they may have a certain thrall, they were not sensitive misunderstood adolescents but creatures of evil.

Renfield (Dwight Frye) is an English attorney travelling to Transylvania to finalize the sale of Carfax Abbey in London to the mysterious Count Dracula (Lugosi). The next evening, Renfield is on a boat bound back to London. When the boat arrives, the entire crew is dead and Renfield is a maniacally laughing lunatic. He is committed to the sanitarium of Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), which is adjacent to Carfax Abbey. Dracula introduces himself to Seward, Seward’s daughter Mina (Helen Chandler), Mina’s fiancé John (David Manners), and Mina’s friend Lucy (Frances Dade). Lucy becomes quite taken the exotic Count. Then she winds up dead, drained of blood. Now Mina seems to be inexplicably drawn to the Count… Only Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) seems to know that Dracula is a vampire, and responsible for Lucy’s death. Now John and Dr. Seward need his help to keep Mina from suffering the same fate.

Dracula was made towards the beginning of the talkie era and has no musical score (except for part of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in the opening credits). It was thought that audiences would be confused by music that wasn’t coming from a certain source. In 1999 Universal commissioned a new score from composer Phillip Glass. I watched the film with that score, which I had never done before. The music is good and fits the mood of the movie very well, but Glass over-scores the film. Most movies have music but not EVERY MINUTE OF THE FILM. Plus the mix is a little off and the music comes close to drowning out the dialogue. The music picks up the pace of the film more than the music-less version, but the dialogue thing bugs me. Make your own choice on that. Director Tod Browning (who also did Freaks) and cinematographer Karl Freund (who went on to direct The Mummy) create a rich atmosphere that has helped define the look of horror films for over seven decades. Dracula is a classic and rightfully so.

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