1931 / Tod Browning, Karl Freund / Amazon Prime / TV-PG
"The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly. The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield."
Quick Rundown of Dracula
In 1931 Universal Studios were in the midst of their monster hayday, so what monster is there better than the notorious Dracula? This film brings a fresh take to Bram Stokers classic horror novel, first published in 1892.
We follow Renfield who has been hired to accompany Dracula to his newly purchased estate in London England. From the start of the film, we're told by the locals that there are vampires in Dracula's castle. Despite the warnings Renfield carry's on with business as usual. It doesn't take long for the audience to realise there's something wrong with Renfield's blood hungry host, yet Renfield ignores every sign (he must really need the money). After a single glass of wine Renfield gets way too crunk, and faints. We then cut to their stormy as hell journey to London, and surely Renfield is not doing well. His eyes bulge from his head, and a creepy grin doesn't leave his face. Upon arriving, Renfield is discovered to be the only surviving passenger on the boat. What plays out for the rest of the film is Dracula pursuing a young English woman who is being being watched over by doctor Van Helsing, and every so often Renfield shows up to be creepy as hell.
The Creative Team Behind Dracula
Mr. Tod Browning is also the director of 1932's Freaks which would be great to cover in the future. It's a divisive film, but the fact that it just exists, and is directed by the same guy to do Dracula, is intriguing. Tod didn't direct this one alone, his counterpart is Karl Freund who was also prolific for the times having directed 1932's The Mummy and 152 episodes of the hit TV show I Love Lucy. Dwight Frye isn't just known for being Draculas servant, but also plays as the hunchback minion to doctor Frankstein in the Freankstein adaptation that came out the same year (1931). Another reoccurring actor in these Universal horror films is Edward Van Sloan, who is Van Helsing.
There's no question who is front and center in this film, Bela Lugosi is all eyebrows, and body language. Before hitting the big screen Bela had played the part of Dracula on stage. Unfortunately the world would never look past this spectacular performance, which made him easy to typecast. Bela fell into deep despair and depression in life due to his career not panning out as he'd have liked. According to Lost Magazine Lugosi had played Dracula over 1,300 times.
Jake's Take on Dracula
This film is fantastic. I adore films such as this. They feel simple, quaint, and genuine. This film makes one term come to mind "Mise en Scene". In the early acts of the film, each shot is so deliberate, and these shots allow the viewers to feel the terror of Dracula's castle, or the journey to London. These sprawling shots return at the end as we enter the catacombs, but the middle portion of the film feels more like a a drama/play.
Dwight Frye's performance is truely remarkable! He's so composed before succumbing to Dracula, but once he's been turned his talents shine. Dwight shakes like an addict, his make up makes his eyes haunting, and there's a scene where he crawls across the floor that you just can't miss.
1931's Dracula is a classic film for horror movie lovers or not. There's so much to learn about the portrayal of the characters, the shot composure, the gothic style, and the acting in this film that I think we can all learn from. Not to mention the pacing, this is not a slow film.