Sunday, October 17, 2010

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17 - Movie 1



Of all of Universal's landmark horror movies, Dracula (1931) has always been my least favorite. So much so, that it's probably been close to ten years since I last watched it. Other than Bela Lugosi's defining portrayal of the vampire count, and Dwight Frye's inspired performance as Renfield, I've typically found little to enjoy in this flat, stagey adaptation of the popular stage play which moves forward at a snail's pace. I far prefer the Spanish language version made at the same time, on the same sets.

I was surprised by how different my reaction to Dracula was as I watched it today compared to how I expected it to be based on my recollections of the movie from prior viewings. It's still very stiff and stagey and David Manners remains possibly the most boring man of all time, but my interest in the movie extended beyond the highlights mentioned above. The print I watched this time was a restored print included in the 75th Anniversary Edition DVD, and it is a really striking print, even though it still has some flaws. The atmospheric sets and matte paintings are truly breathtaking, as if Gustav Doré had designed everything. I also found Helen Chandler's performance as Mina to be pretty compelling to watch and you really feel for her character. Lugosi and Frye really do shine in this movie, but Edward Van Sloan as a more formal and distant Van Helsing seems to hold the center of the movie and pull everything together.

Compared to Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man, Dracula feels like a creaky rehearsal, but it still has much to recommend it.


  

5 comments:

Ken H. said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I've never seen this. I've been wanting to for ages but I'm terribly cheap so I hemmed and hawed when the Legacy collection came out, then when the Anniversary Edition came out I found myself wondering if it'd be better to hunt down the Legacy collection instead... so.. yeah. I really need to grab one and watch it!

Robert Pope said...

I always watch with the fast-forward at the ready. There are some amazing bits, and some damned boring (and sloppy) things as well...the castle scenes are very nearly derailed by that damned rubber spider and wacky armadillo. But Mina IS swell, and the the way that Lugosi holds it together by sheer force of will is pretty damned amazing. And on a totally geeky note, even though the Spanish-language version IS superior in nearly every way, I still like the cut-away better than seeing Drac stand up from his coffin by way of carrier nimbus.

John Rozum said...

Every vampire movie I can think of, except Nosferatu, cuts or pans away once the vampire's hand slides open the coffin lid, and every time, I can't help but visualize the awkward climb out of the coffin before we pan back to see them standing there cool and composed.

Robert Pope said...

Point well taken (I'm forever battling my imagination with the line from Claude Rains' rant in "Invisible Man" where he says "The nation that wins my secret can sweep the world with invisible armies!" which immediately brings to mind a battalion of floating rifles manned by naked soldiers (probably not a very practical army, but, oh, well, it's STILL my Universal fave!)

alleyesandears said...

All right, here's my dirty little Halloween secret: I not only don't care for the Lugosi Dracula version, I don't even like the novel enough to have gotten past the first chapter. And I was an English major with my specialty in Victorian Lit!