Dir. Tod Browning; Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners
#39 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top 100 Horror Movie List
Dracula (1931) is the classic tale of the undead horror from Transylvania’s trip to London, England. Here, Count Dracula (Lugosi) meets Mina (Chandler), a woman with whom he would like to spend the rest of his eternal life.
The movie opens with Mr. Renfield’s (Manners) trip to Transylvania. The major problem I have with this movie resides in the opening scenes. Mr. Renfield is sharing a carriage with a few others, who stop in a little village in Hungary for the night. Mr. Renfield, however, must continue on his journey, as he must reach Borgo Pass by midnight. The major issue that I have here is that there is no way he would make it to Borgo Pass between sundown and midnight if he was in Hungary. It would make more sense if they had had the carriage stop in Klausenberg, Romania (like Jonathan Harker does in the book), as Borgo Pass and Dracula’s Castle are on the opposite side of Romania from the Hungarian border.
The movie is in black and white, which makes the darkness of the story a little creepier. Dracula’s castle – as well as the Abbey in which he lives in England – is covered in giant cobwebs, with furniture in disarray and crumbling stonework. There are giant spiders, opossums and armadillos everywhere. Surprisingly, no rats. My main issue with this is that, yes, it looks creepy and creates an atmosphere, but are we to believe that Dracula doesn’t want a night of R&R in the parlor every once in awhile? I mean, he’s super old.
The atmosphere is also created by complete silence, sounds of running water and howling animals. There isn’t much of a score to this movie, other than the occasional dark undertones to create emphasis. Also, something that confused me in the beginning was that the overture was a song from the ballet Swan Lake. You all know which one I mean. It’s the main song. We all heard it in Black Swan.
Of course, the dialogue in this movie is iconic. Not only is the dialogue used for exposition – such as when the Hungarian locals are warning Mr. Renfield about Castle Dracula – but also used to set the atmosphere. The way Dracula speaks is iconic in it’s own right – slowly and with that oh, so familiar accent. There are also amazing lines in the film, such as, “There are far worse things awaiting man than death,” spoken by Dracula himself, and “The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him,” spoken by Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). The script is just amazing in its own right.
The acting is also spectacular. The way Mr. Renfield goes from calm, collected businessman to raving lunatic is just superb. And Dracula’s creepy air of superiority is so well done. Not to mention Van Helsing, how he comes off as some bookworm professor, but becomes exactly what is needed to defeat Dracula. And the hospital staff are all just so funny.
Apart from the film’s amazing script and superb acting, this film did have another flaw. The ending was anti-climactic. After all that build up about how Dracula is dangerous and has lived hundreds of years, he was so easy to kill. Van Helsing just waltzes right into Dracula’s Abbey, finds his box in the basement and just stakes him right in the heart. And then it’s just over. We don’t know what happens to Mina. We don’t know what happens to Dracula’s undead wives (Dracula was a player). It was just done. But maybe that was the style back then. I haven’t watched enough old movies to really attest to that.
Despite my two misgivings about this film, I highly recommend it. It’s a classic. Give it a watch and tell me what you think!