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.