Dracula (Bela Lugosi) buys a house in London planning on gaining new victims. While there he meets Mina (Helen Chandler) and begins to prey on her.
Director: Tod Browning
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan
MPAA Rating: N/A
Fun Fact: Lon Chaney Sr., a silent horror film star in the 1920’s was slated to play the title role, but he died before production began. Bela Lugosi who played the title role in the stage play that the film was based on was chosen due to Chaney’s death.
I don’t know how or why it took me this long to review this masterpiece. This is the very horror film that had me fall in love with the genre. My Dad grew up loving it and he rented it from the video store one night when I was growing up. I was sucked in the very minute the opening title sequence started and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I must watch this every fall because it has been a tradition and because of Halloween obviously.
Now let’s talk about the film and not just my love for it because I will be clearly describing it through everything I talk about. The atmosphere has a genuine crepiness to it especially when Renfield is traveling to Castle Dracula. The fog and the stage lighting are so well placed that it feels cold and terrifying. The way the camera focuses on Dracula and the deep dark stare that Bela Lugosi gives to the viewers is unsettling. In fact, when the camera is at a different angle on Lugosi it looks unsettling. I read stories of people fainting in the theater when they were watching this. You might think it’s funny now, but back then it was totally different ball game. This was a true horror film and the atmosphere in the beginning sets it up. The point of a horror film is to scare someone, and director Tod Browning does just that by a magnificent set up. Once Dracula get’s to London, we get a lighter tone, but that doesn’t mean we get a lighter toned film, and I will need to give this next paragraph it’s justice……
Bela Lugosi’s performance is legendary and it’s so sad this is the only film most people reference him in. The way he walks, and talks is on point. For example, in some lines he give’s a pause and finishes the sentence. One good example would be “I never drink…wine.” It’s the little things that bring the character to life in a different way. Most people would see Dracula as a menacing monster, but in this adaptation, he looks just like a normal guy that you would see on the streets so that makes him blend in with society. That makes it even scarier if you don’t know who or what is making these attacks. Bela Lugosi brings that to life in the film and words can’t describe how much effort he is putting into the role.
While Lugosi is putting on a legendary performance the rest of the cast is doing the same. I’ve always thought Edward Van Sloan was a great Van Helsing. He shows no fear to Dracula and is a true advisory to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. I think the only person that can rival Sloan’s Van Helsing is Peter Cushing, but that’s for a different time. Dwight Frye’s Renfield is one of my favorite performance’s in classic horror films. He’s psychotic and he brings the mental breakdown of Renfield as a man that has been through a lot in such a short time span. He’s treacherous to Dracula and it brings out a shade of grade so to speak. Helen Chandler was a great choice as Mina and David Manners as Jonathon Harker. Since this adaptation is a little different then the book, it was nice to see the Harker character in a little different role then what we are used to seeing.
An interesting thing is that the only time there’s any music in the film is in the opening credits. Universal felt that if there was music it would take away certain elements to the film. To make the story short they felt it would be less scary if there was music going on at the same time as Dracula was on screen talking. I found a version that had music going through the film and I felt that it was a great addition to it. It made the film a little more eerie in a way as the score that was used had a haunting sound to it. Universal commissioned composer Phillip Glass to compose music for the film in 1999 so I’m not entirely sure if the version that I watched with music had the music from Phillip Glass or not.
Overall, Dracula is a masterpiece in film making. If you love classic movies and haven’t seen this one I would really hope you would check this one out. Bela Lugosi’s performance is legendary, and it made him a horror star in the time era. The rest of the cast is fantastic, and the atmosphere is genuinely creepy, especially in the beginning. It helped kick off the Universal line of monster films that to this day still get respect.