The following Dracula movie review is my take on the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi.
The quintessential horror classic and enduring adaptation of Bram Stoker’s masterpiece…
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye
Directed by: Tod Browning
Ratings: Internet Movie Data Base; 7.6/10 …Rotten Tomatoes; 91%
Our Rating; 9/10
Dracula (1931). The subtle eerie notes of the Oboe are played from Act 2 Of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as the movie’s title Dracula comes on screen.
Along with this is the vivid background image of a bat, it’s wings arched and eyes aglow.
The theme builds to a heavy crescendo as the film’s “players” are introduced. Then it descends…descends into a dark suggestion to what lies ahead.
It is, I think, one of the most powerful and evocative intro’s of any horror movie ever made!
In the first scene we are travelling via carriage through the Carpathian mountains with several passengers, a few of which are native to these lands. One of the travelers asks the driver to slow down over the rough terrain. With urgency he’s told, “No, it is Walpurgis Night, the night of evil…Nosferatu!”
The carriage approaches a small village who’s inhabitants are rejoicing its safe arrival. However one passenger is not staying. He’s going onto Borgo Pass to meet “Count Dracula”.
The locals are appalled at the idea and explain to him the reasons for their dread. It’s a matter of business for the traveler though and he is not afraid. On he must go to the lament of the mortified onlookers.
Arriving At The Castle…
Dracula meets Renfield in his castle in an incredibly powerful sequence of early horror cinema. The lack of music only adds to the overall eeriness. Wolves howl, creatures crawl, there are spiders, bats and the most iconic horror character of them all…
Bela Lugosi is Count Dracula! Was born to play the role. Hailing from the land of the vampire himself and having played Dracula for years onstage, his thick Hungarian accent and slow phrasing of the English dialogue gave us the essential example of what a vampire both looked and sounded like.
The following exchanges between Dracula and his “guest” are nothing short of brilliant. The apparent hospitality and old-world charm are but thinly veiled formalities as Dracula studies his visitor and fiendishly offers him some very old wine.
Upon leaving him the Count turns to say goodnight with a look of such sinister amusement, knowing that his guest’s visit has been monumentally foolish!
Renfield is, or was an Estate Agent and has secured a vacant manor in London for the Count. Dracula is moving there to prey on new blood and begins immediately. He sets his sights on two beautiful young friends, Lucy and Mina.
One quickly falls victim and is made like him. She apparently “dies” but not before some tell tale signs of foul play are noticed by a Dr. Van Helsing, a man with supreme knowledge of all things strange and unusual.
Van Helsing also begins to notice a connection between Mina and the mysterious stranger who has lately come visiting.
This, to my mind is the most potent, stunning piece from the period. By far! I personally feel this movie is miles ahead of Frankenstein which is generally considered number one.
Universal Studio’s had something totally new with Dracula. It was just so different and so powerful. I think much of this is due to it’s other-worldly feel and commanding lead actor.
The remote, foreign setting, Gothic sets, and ancient beliefs and customs give the film it’s substance.
There is an authenticity to Dracula which you don’t find to the same degree in other classics. Lugosi’s natural instinct to play his role so slow and deliberate, takes the movie into a total darker realm than it’s peers.
While other classic “monsters” deserve a certain degree of sympathy for not being entirely at fault, Lugosi’s Dracula is unique in that he’s deliberately evil. He is sinister, cunning and relentless and uses his victims until they are no longer of any worth to him. I think this is a major factor of why the movie’s so strong.
Dwight Frye as the unfortunate Renfield is magnificent! His part is played with enormous enthusiasm and diversity and he truly seems to revel in the role. Renfield is the flip side to Dracula’s charismatic presence. A poor soul that’s been completely manipulated.
The character of Van Helsing is fortunately played with depth and credibility by studio regular, Edward Van Sloan, and so too is the role of the lovely, vulnerable Mina (Helen Chandler). Cockney Orderly, Martin, provides a clever comic touch which doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere.
Thanks for reading this Dracula movie review. Please tell me what you think below.