Monday, October 3, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Dracula” 1931

  Maybe Tod Browning’s “Dracula,” from 1931, is my favorite of the Universal Monster films. Picking between them is a bit like picking a favorite child, I’d imagine— but, just maybe, “Dracula” is my favorite. I have long loved the myth of vampires, especially Bram Stoker’s masterpiece “Dracula” which popularized so much of the vampire mythology we have in current pop culture. And Browning’s film is a large part of that. 

 Last night was “Dracula’s” turn on the stage of 31 Days of Scary movies. This film is another I watch many times a year, and always, without fail, in early October. There is just simple perfection in the black and white crackling world of Renfield’s travel to Transylvania, where he meets the locals who fear Count Dracula— and then the count himself.

 And what a Count he is. Bela Lugosi’s performance will live as long as film is remembered, and rightly so. The performance he mastered for years on the stage is at full, captivating, haunting and frightening power here on film. 

 Things of note that stayed with me after last night’s viewing. The power of the direction. The scene where Dracula is first seen, rising with his brides from their coffins; in silence, among the rats in the cavernous crypt. The camera pans so expertly, and creates such a sense of unnatural and macabre dread that works as well today as it first did decades and decades ago when it was shot. 

 Also, while no adaption of Stoker’s novel has ever been quite faithful on film— and most vary wildly— for all the liberties Browning’s film takes, it works so well as a film, while keeping the main story beats. Yes, Renfield takes Jonathan Harker’s story in the beginning and is the one to travel to Transylvania, but the journey to Transylvania happens; they travel to England aboard the Demeter in a storm; arriving at Whitby. Lucy dies, and Mina is threatened; and Dracula, and his evil, eventually is defeated at the end. The changes the film makes just work, and are a large part of the reason this classic endures.

 Happy Halloween, “Dracula.” Maybe my favorite child of the night. 

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