Dracula (1931)

In 1931, the face of Horror would be changed forever as Carl Laemmle Jr. and Universal Studios introduced the world to two of their most famous monsters: Dracula and Frankenstein. DRACULA has secured its place in history not for its cinematic quality, but rather for being the first of a new era of monster movies that would dominate the genre for more than a decade. Its influence in shaping later films, however, can never be denied.

After acquiring the deed to a private estate in London, the vampiric Count Dracula sets out into the night to extend his own life with the blood of his innocent victims. Dracula soon becomes enthralled with the beautiful Mina Seward, whose father owns the neighboring sanitarium. Fearing for his daughter's safety, Dr. Seward enlists the help of the renown Professor Van Helsing, who comes to the conclusion that the recent rash of deaths are somehow connected to Nosferatu, the vampire. It is up to Van Helsing to identify the vampire and stop him from entering young Mina into a world of eternal darkness!

It was decided early on that DRACULA would be adapted for the screen from the Broadway play of Bram Stoker's classic novel. Its roots in the theater are ever apparent, given the rigid performances by the cast and Tod Browning's listless direction. After the first act, the pacing suffers dramatically up until the anticlimactic ending. The absence of music is also quite apparent throughout the film, although the deathly silence sends shivers down the spine as Dracula and his brides first arise from the ancient graves. Atmospheric moments such as this and Dracula's grand descent down the ruinous castle stairway have helped to define the Gothic Horror genre.

Edward Van Sloan is very good as the calculative Professor Van Helsing, whereas Helen Chandler seems entirely detached and disinterested as Ms. Mina. Dwight Frye's portrayal of Dracula's deranged assistant Renfield is the most entertaining of the bunch, often recalling the exaggerated performances from the German Expressionist era.

What truly sets DRACULA apart is the man behind the monster: Bela Lugosi. The Hungarian-born actor had already won critical acclaim for his portrayal of the character on the stage, and although he was not the first choice for Browning's filmed version (a role that was originally intended for the great Lon Chaney), his legacy will be forever linked to this performance. Lugosi's thick Hungarian accent and countless charm mesmerize the audience just as they do the characters on screen. He is equally terrifying and captivating at the same time.

While the 1931 version of DRACULA is far from perfect, its historical and cultural significance on world cinema makes it a true classic. Bela Lugosi has since become an icon in the eyes of the public, which will continue to feed DRACULA's eternal life for centuries to come.

Rating: 8/10.

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  1. Never my favorite of the Universal classics, although if the suspense and terror of the first act had carried into the other two, it may easily have been!