Alice Oscura, Featured Writer
My inspiration for this review came with Universal’s releasing of their most famous horror films on their YouTube channel Fear: The Home of Horror for just one week starting from the 15th of January. Universal has been trying to revamp their classic monster movies that are commonly referred to as their Dark Universe, so I suppose this is their way of introducing the modern generation to the original films.
These classic horror films have laid the foundation for modern horror and it is with the utmost respect that I have decided to review these releases in order to assist in the promotion and education (so to speak) of the latest generation, and to encourage the appreciation of the art behind these films.
So, without further ado, we begin with the bloodsucking fiend…
Plot: A naïve solicitor named Renfield falls under the will of the vampire Count Dracula when he goes to the Count’s castle in Transylvania in order to formally hand over the papers for the purchase of Carfax Abbey in London. After the deadly Dracula arrives in London, a series of mysterious deaths begin to occur where the victims are found with extreme blood loss and two tiny punctures wounds on their necks. Eventually, Professor Abraham Van Helsing is on the case and becomes a worthy adversary to Count Dracula.
“There are far worse things awaiting man than…Death!”Bela Lugosi, Dracula (1931)
Review: Released in 1931, Dracula was directed and co-produced by Tod Browning who is also renowned for the 1932 horror movie Freaks. The film was based on a 1924 stage play of the same name which was originally inspired by the 1897 novel “Dracula” written by Irish author Bram Stoker. Sounds pretty familiar, right? Maybe because his name pops up again in 1992 in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Wynona Ryder and Gary Oldman, another movie that is near and dear to my heart.
Now for a little back story on the actor who played the titular role, Bela Lugosi. Lugosi starred as Dracula first on stage in 1927 and later won the role for this 1931 film adaptation. His strong Hungarian accent unfortunately led to him becoming type casted in the genre of horror. He stood at 6 feet 1 inch in height which definitely would account for his menacing size on his unsuspecting victims.
Back in the 1930s films were shot entirely in black and white. This meant that there was a great reliance on the dramatic use of lighting and shadowing at the key moments. The fantastic use of this brings to the mind the illumination of Bela Lugosi’s eyes. When the Count is meant to be turning on his hypnotic gaze upon his intended victims there is a dramatic bright light cast over his stare each time, and the camera also pulls us into his stare for added effect. Not to mention the creepy shadows being cast on the walls. Whether this was done intentionally or not, it added to the menacing atmosphere of something foreboding coming your way.
One of the elements that doesn’t stand up against the test of time is the fake vampire bats used. The way that they would flop and bounce up and down very quickly would incite a laugh from anyone. There’s also the over expressiveness in the actors’ faces. This was something inherent in that particular era as the film industry coming off from silent films where one had to be way over the top in expression so that the audience would be able to understand the emotion being transmitted during the particular scene.
But one such expression caught me a bit off guard, and was monumentally all kinds of creepy, was the scene where Renfield, played by actor Dwight Frye, is eventually found on the ship that sailed into Whitby harbor in London with Dracula. It is the scene when the doors to the quarters below are opened and Renfield is standing midway up the stairs and that creepy laugh is emanating from him (a laugh that was parodied in the 1995 satirical comedy horror Dracula: Dead and Loving It by actor Peter MacNicol, just to give you an idea) and you see his freaky looking eyes and stare. It’s enough to send chills up anybody’s spine.
Another element that stuck with me was how predatory Lugosi made Dracula seem. Take the scene where he murders a poor, defenceless flower girl when he just arrives in London. Lugosi looms over her tiny frame with the most sinister, hungry look on his face. He uses a lot of physical actions with his cape, and he crouches slightly with his hands in the position of perhaps wanting to wrap it around somebody’s throat…gulp!
I have had the great pleasure of speaking to someone who experienced watching this film in the cinema when it was first released. That person was my father. He described exactly how it felt to watch that film during a time when electricity and lights were still a luxury. The streets would be mostly dark except for a few sparse lights emanating here and there. Imagine having to walk home by yourself in that environment after seeing that movie in a time where people were still highly superstitious, and that is enough to send one’s imagination reeling.
In modern times we are blessed with so many luxuries and technological advances that would probably make Dracula even scarier. But my take on the original is that it is to be admired on what was able to be achieved without all the bells and whistles. It has the desired effect and will keep on inspiring many other Dracula film adaptations to come.
In the year 2000 the film was selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Alice’s Score: 7 out of 10
For Horror Head Writer Sommer’s review of 1936 horror film The Devil Doll you can click here.
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.
I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook, my Instagram is alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For more on me you can click here.