In honor of Halloween, I decided to watch some of the old, original horror movies, starting with the one that started it all, 1931’s “Dracula.” Based on the Broadway play adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel, “Dracula” kicked off a highly successful run for Universal Studios as THE horror movie studio of the 1930’s. The movie was followed by such iconic films as “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” and “The Wolf Man,” as well as numerous sequels and monster-mashup films.
“Dracula” begins in Transylvania (part of Romania), home of the eccentric Count Dracula, who lives in a ruined castle, and about whom much is whispered by the locals. Everyone knows the basics of the legend. The undead Count sleeps in a coffin by day, emerging by night to suck the blood of mortals. He can turn into a bat or a wolf. He can be repelled by a crucifix or wolfsbane (no mention of garlic), but only killed by a wooden stake through the heart.
A lawyer named Renfield has been dispatched from London to assist the count in leasing an old abbey in England. The film never explains why Dracula wants to move, but one imagines that since everyone in Transylvania knows he is a vampire, he is moving for his own safety, as well as for a fresh source of victims. In any event, Dracula avails himself not only of Renfield’s legal assistance, but of some of his blood, which turns Renfield into Dracula’s slave. By the time they arrive in England, Dracula has killed off the ship’s crew. The hysterical Renfield is sent to an asylum, while the count feasts in the back alleys of London.
Dracula wastes no time in meeting the neighbors, who include Dr. Seward, his daughter Mina, and their family friend, Lucy. The Count first feeds on Lucy, killing her and turning her into a vampire, then he begins to feed sparingly on Mina, slowly bringing her under his control. The family turns to Professor Van Helsing, a student of the supernatural, to try to save Mina and free them from the curse of the vampire.
You have to cut “Dracula” some slack, considering that it was made in 1931. Hollywood was barely out of the silent film era, and in fact some of “Dracula” plays like a silent film. The sound quality is not perfect. Neither is the story, which has some sizable holes. The rubber bats are downright laughable, although a 1931 audience may have been more forgiving of bad special effects. Nonetheless, as a starting point for a genre, it’s not bad. Most of the acting is decent for it’s time, and Bela Lugosi set the bar high for smooth, accented, well-dressed vampires.
3 stars out of 5