Dracula (1931)

DRACULA (1931)
Article #39 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-24-2001
Posting date: 9-6-2001

Dracula (Bela Lugosi), a vampire from Transylvania, moves to London in search of fresh blood with the help of a realtor who becomes ensnared in his web (Dwight Frye). There he tries to seduce Mina Seward (Helen Chandler) to his dark ways, but is challenged by Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) who knows what he is.

As the movie that turned Bela Lugosi into a horror star as well as the initial film in Universal’s horror cycle of the thirties, there is no doubt that this is an important film. There is also a number of things to admire in this movie. Tod Browning chose to direct the movie in a static, otherworldly fashion that is actually quite hypnotic, and it works beautifully for the first ten to fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, the magic dissipates once we reach London, and what was once hypnotic becomes sleep-inducing, its stage origins all too apparent in this directorial style. For many years, I was never able to sit through this movie without nodding off; it was only when I watched it with the Philip Glass soundtrack that I was able to last through the whole thing (which is not to say the soundtrack was great; it merely kept me distracted enough not to fall asleep). This helped me to admire some of the good performances in the movie; Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan and Helen Chandler are all very good.

I can’t help but touch a little on the Tod Browning debate; was he a great director or a talentless hack? If this had been the only movie of his I’d ever seen, I know which one I’d pick, but after seeing some of his other movies, I tend to cut him a little slack; this is the only one that really drags me into a slumber. And the interest in freaks and circus people in his works have certainly contributed to a wealth of common horror themes over the years.

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