Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dracula (1931)

Rich guy moves to town and starts biting all the chicks. Boyfriends get jealous, nail stake through his heart. Body count two. Three if you count the Count.

I was a Dracula fan back in the day. Werewolves were cool too, but Dracula resonated with me. I saw this film for the first time as an adult, maybe eight years ago. The UHF channels back in the day never showed the big movies. It was always Crab People and Rodan stuff. When I saw it I was more than a little underwhelmed. This was my reaction again. No soundtrack to speak of (they thought it would confuse the audience), clumsy editing, overdone dramatic pauses, mediocre acting, and more liberties with the original story than anything short of Forrest Gump.

In a scene, the camera focuses on the casket, moves to a window showing the full moon, the comes back to see Bela straightening up. Oh, he must have come out of the casket. Really people? Maybe Todd Browning wasn't really all that good. Freaks, for all it's shock value, was a clumsy mess.

Ok, enough with the disappointment, here's what I found interesting. Lon Chaney was slated for the title role but died. Oh, what could have been! There was a Spanish language version filmed on the same set at night. I must get a hold of a subtitled copy.

Dracula never displays fangs nor are bite marks ever seen. He never says "Good Evening!" or "I vont to bite your neck", but that should come as no surprise. Bela would appear as Dracula one more time in an Abbot and Costello movie. Bette Davis was considered for Mina but was not considered pretty enough. They were right. The movie is based on a stage play, not the book. That play starred Bela in the lead role. They did not film where Dracula attacks Renfield, because that would be so totally gay. Totally. The movie that made 48 year old Lugosi a star came out on Valentines day, two years after the massacreCarla Laemmele, niece of studio head Carl and cousin of producer Carl Jr, appeared briefly in the movie. She turns 104 next month.

This is an unbelievably iconic film. It is so strange to realize how ... pedestrian much of it is. The classic lines still resonate: "Children of the night ...", and the creepy, gothic atmosphere frequently worked, but it could have been so much better. It came out just before Frankenstein and set the standard, then was quickly surpassed.

Before I finish, lets say a word about Dwight Frye, who played Renfield. His comic but creepy portrayal was the highlight of the film. Every version since would be a tribute to him and a somewhat failed attempt to out over-the-top his performance. He also played Fritz in Frankenstein. And Karl in Bride Of. And maybe in a crowd scene in Son Of. He was in a pile of movies before dropping dead at age 44. I used to be 44. Nothing sadder than a Christian Scientist with a heart condition.

Required viewing for classic horror fans. For all it's faults, still creepy and iconic. And delightfully short. AMRU 3.
"Rats. Rats. Rats! Thousands! Millions of them! All red blood! All these will I give you if you will obey me."

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