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Dracula 1931
Written by A.J. Hakari   

dracula_red_poster_-200.jpgFew actors are privileged to have a name fans associate with an entire character type. 1931's Dracula introduced Bela Lugosi as the world's most famous vampire, and it was a portrayal that would shape the bloodsuckers yet to come. The film inducted the beast into modern times, setting a creature of folklore on the prowl in high society. As an all-around experience, Dracula can drag a bit, but it's worth savoring for its pangs of genuine dread. Plus, with a cast comprising Edward Van Sloan, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Fryeand and Herbert Bunston it serves Universal Studios well as one of the initial bricks added to its house of horrors.

dracula_blhc_-245.jpg
Helen Chandler
& Bela Lugosi

The story is one thrill seekers can recite by heart. Real estate man Renfield (Dwight Frye) ventures deep into the heart of Transylvania to conduct business with its most notorious resident: Count Dracula (Lugosi). Ignoring warnings from the locals, Renfield presses on, only to be enslaved by the Count and enlisted to help infect the world with his evil. Dracula relocates to England, where he quickly develops an infatuation for the pure and innocent Mina Seward (Chandler). He aims to add her to his harem of the damned, until opposition emerges in the form of Professor Van Helsing (Van Sloan). With Mina's mortal soul on the line, Dracula becomes locked in a battle of wills with Van Helsing, a man of science forced to acknowledge that the unreal is anything but.

 

dracula_bela_l_-245.jpgDracula is good stuff, but it's sort of a victim of its own reputation. As with fellow horror classics, it's not really that scary; almost 80 years of parodies and copies have seen to that. The emphasis is on drama (like 1932's The Mummy), shirking the shocks sought by other Universal pictures (including its own sequels). Thus, Dracula's stride is a deliberate one, inspiring portions wherein some will soak up the atmosphere as others curse the absence of activity. I didn't take to it at first, and while it improved with a second watch, the later sections still felt a little weak. Generally, though, Dracula has you in its diabolical thrall, thanks in great part to Tod Browning's foreboding direction and spot-on casting. Lugosi's depiction of Dracula as an elegant predator is plenty praiseworthy, but lest we forget Van Sloan as the stalwart Van Helsing and Frye as the Count's mad manservant.

Dracula isn't a masterpiece, but there's much to appreciate about it. It contains so many images we associate with horror (from Dracula's cobwebbed castle to his endless supply of bats), yet it avoids giving off a cornball vibe. Dracula has its issues, but it's no less spooky of a voyage because of them.

Director: Tod Browning

Writer: Garrett Fort (based on the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, from the novel by Bram Stoker)

Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston

Rating: No MPAA Rating (spooky goings-on)

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Run Time: 73 minutes

Studio: Universal Pictures

Format: Black-and-white, fullscreen

Photo credits: Universal Pictures

 



                       

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