The Month of Spooks is something I do every year as a celebration of the spookier side of entertainment. However, I have seldom looked back on the REALLY old stuff, the big classics. So this year I sought to change that ever so slightly. This means that every other review you’ll see this month will be of a film from the Universal Monster Classics blu-ray set. So there… variety!
Ladies and gentlemen… “Dracula”!
Transylvania. A real estate agent named Renfield (Dwight Frye) finds himself a guest of the enigmatic Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), only to succumb to the Count’s will and become his servant. The two then set out for London, where Dracula will continue his reign of terror. We all know the basic setup for this story, let’s not kid around with that. But how does it hold up in terms of storytelling here? Pretty good, actually (fucking anticlimactic, I know). It’s a simple gothic tale with occasional hints towards more nuance within certain developments, and I like that stuff. I do however have some issues with it. Those issues pertain mainly to the pacing throughout. Sometimes it rushes through parts and sometimes it drags a little. It doesn’t completely break the film in half, but it is noticeable enough that it should be mentioned. But overall it’s still an enjoyable little tale.
The characters in this are fine, they serve the story decently enough. Bela Lugosi plays the titular vampire in this. A silver-tongued, polite gentleman who also occasionally gives people a nibble or two on the neck. I enjoy his presence, he’s a good villain/monster for this story. And Lugosi’s performance is of course great, a wonderful mix of quiet menace and mildly campy flamboyance. The other one I wanna go into some detail with is Dwight Frye as Renfield, the poor fool who becomes Dracula’s pawn. A seemingly decent dude turned madman. He’s probably the most interesting character in this, as we see he’s seemingly both intelligent and crazy, making for a surprisingly nuanced character. And Frye is great in the role, really selling Renfield’s recent insanity in a way that genuinely creeps me out. And the rest of the cast, including people like Helen Chandler, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, and more, all do really well in their respective roles.
What’s fascinating about this movie’s score is that it doesn’t really exist. The movie does use excerpts from one or two stage shows at certain points (mostly notably one from “Swan Lake”), but for the most part this film lacks any real score. But that’s okay. Not every film or scene needs music.
Based on the book of the same name by Bram Stoker, “Dracula” was directed by Tod Browning (with uncredited help from Karl Freund), and I think the craft on display here is terrific. While we’ve seen many homages and parodies and references to the visual style of this movie in tons of other projects, there’s something truly special about seeing this original take on the classic gothic visuals. The visuals in this are fucking breathtaking, from the sets to the lighting to the framing, it all just looks amazing to this day. Sure, some of the effects don’t look as good today, but I think that adds to the charm of it. I just love that old school gothic aesthetic.
This movie has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 92% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 71/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.5/10.
While its occasionally wonky pacing drags it down a little, “Dracula” is still a really good gothic horror flick. It has a good store, okay characters, really good performances, and great directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Bleh*. My final score for “Dracula” is an 8,77/10. So while a little flawed, it’s still definitely worth buying!
My review of “Dracula” is now completed.
Bela Lugosi, legend. Dwight Frye, MVP.
2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Dracula (1931)”
Nice review! I did the same thing last year where I went back and watched a lot of horror classics, including this one. I thought it was pretty good, but I liked movies like The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde much more.
Lugosi was a good choice in this version, but I would go further back in time if you want to see the definitive vampire. ‘Nosferatu’ (1922)
The year after Lugosi’s version, Dreyer directed ‘Vampyr’, which is very haunting.
Best wishes, Pete.