• Dracula (1931) – Isn’t as enjoyable as its lofty reputation would suggest, 5/10.
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~~ Script ~~
Memorable moments, but dreadfully slow. One of the earliest picture’s in Universal Studios’ famed “horror line-up”, this vampire-themed picture was released in February of 1931. Directed by Tod Browning, the $355,000 picture focuses on the reclusive Count Dracula, who travels to England to prey upon a young woman.
Continuing the role he perfected in Hamilton Deane’s stage-version of this story, Bela Lugosi stars as the ancient vampire in perhaps the character’s most iconic portrayal. His clean cut hair, welcoming charm, and long dark cape provide an air of mystery and intrigue to the villainous character. When he’s tricked into looking at a mirror by Dr. Van Helsing (played by Edward Van Sloan) his violent reaction plays a bit childish and silly, but turns to frightening quite quickly. The oft-repeated close-up of Lugosi’s unblinking stare are a bit chilling as well.
During his introductory scene at his large and empty castle, he famously comments on the howling wolves roaming outside, “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” – a terrifically memorable quote that has remained a fixture in almost every adaptation of the story. The same can’t be said for the rest of the dialogue however, which feels kind of hammy; spoken between awkward pauses with decidedly stilted performances. I’m willing to give older black-and-white films like this the benefit of the doubt, but some of these line-deliveries really are inexcusable.
Even though sound had been married to picture four years prior, it’s evident that this film was produced during the early years of “the talkies”; besides the opening credits scored to “Swan Lake” there’s virtually no music throughout the short 74-minute film. The result is huge, unbroken sections of dead air. Even true ‘silent’ films at least have ambient background music. Allegedly, the reason for this is because it was believed the audience would not accept or understand non-digetic orchestration. So indeed, the only scene in the entire movie with music is during a visit to the theater.
Fortunately, what “Dracula” lacks in sound, it makes up for with sight – as every scene is impeccably, and beautifully lit, with the 4:3 frame shadowed by a vignette. The set design is especially impressive – with large examples of gothic architecture on display. Strictly speaking, this is a ‘horror’ film, but I have a hard time believing even those in the 1930s would have been scared by anything seen here. Disappointingly, the movie never actually shows the ‘deed’ – with each act of neck-biting proceeding at a comically slow pace before fading out to the next scene.
After a compelling first act, the remainder of the picture fails to deliver any more intrigue. Mandatory viewing for horror-fans, this pioneering effort may not be very entertaining or frightening, but it’s still quite memorable. “Dracula” isn’t as enjoyable as its lofty reputation would suggest – but it’s an ALRIGHT film.