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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 318: Dracula

Don't call him "Drac"

Dracula. The Mummy. Frankenstein. The Wolfman. Call them “classic monsters” or “cinema monsters” or the “Universal Four”. These four are the ones you think of when you hear the words “monster movie”. Their main stories come from literature, but the basic premise from each come tales passed down from generation to generation. Each theme, whether it's man battling the beast within or man versus the unknown, has played out for centuries. It's this ability to reach out across generations that has allowed these characters to be reused and remade over and over again across literature, entertainment and pop culture. The most popular of these Universal monsters is Dracula. Need proof? Next Halloween, count how many vampires you see with black capes and fangs. Kids aren't going around like sparkly vampires with emotional problems. At least, let's hope not.

Dracula is a 1931 vampire horror film starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula (Son Of Frankenstein, Bride Of The Monster). The film is based on the play Dracula by Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderstonr, which was based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Renfield (Dwight Frye, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man) travels to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula to settle a business deal. He is dropped off at a small village and informs some people that he is going to Dracula's castle. He is warned that vampires inhabit that castle, but insists on having a carriage take him. An innkeeper's wife gives Renfield a crucifix for protection. The carriage ride is particularly rough and when Renfield sticks his head out the window to ask the driver to slow down, he is shocked to find the driver has disappeared and a bat is now leading the horses. Once inside the castle, Renfield is greeted by the eccentric Count Dracula. Through Renfield, Dracula has purchased Carfax Abbey in London and is planning to go there the next day. Dracula turns Renfield into his slave who protects his coffin as they travel by ship to London. When the ship arrives, a raving mad Renfield is found to be the only living person on board. He is committed to Dr. Seward's (Herbert Bunston, Cardinal Richelieu, The Enchanted Cottage) sanitarium. At the same time, Dracula meets Dr. Seward at the theater, along with his daughter Mina (Helen Chandler), her fiance John Harker (David Manners), and family friend Lucy Weston (Frances Dade). Dracula charms them and later that night, drinks Lucy's blood, eventually killing her. Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan, A Shot In The Dark, The Mummy) is brought in to treat Renfield, and after studying his blood, begins to suspect a vampire is in their midst. Dracula then bites Mina with plans to turn her into a vampire. Will Professor Van Helsing and John be able to stop him before it is too late?

Can you smmmeeeeellllllll what Dracula is cooking?

This movie is over 80 years old. Let that sink in for a moment. Some movies barely hold up 5 years after they've been released. Dracula is completely timeless, still capable of striking fear into the audience while maintaining an exciting story. Though the run time is shorter than modern movies (a little over 70 minutes), the story has a steady layout. The film has a great atmosphere thanks in part to keeping the aesthetics from the play it was based on. Simple tricks like lighting and fog add to the overall creepiness of the story. One interesting thing that I noticed was that there wasn't a lot of music throughout the film. Maybe I'm just so used to movies blaring strings and telling the audience when to be scared, but it was refreshing to see a movie that didn't assault my ears. Instead, we are free to focus on the fluid dialogue and, even better, Bela Lugosi's performance.

There are few actor's who so perfectly define a role than anyone playing the character after them will never come close to their greatness. Bela Lugosi is Dracula. His unblinking, steely glare and hand motions truly give the character a supernatural feel. He is both charming and dangerous throughout the film, making it difficult to root against him. The supporting roles are played well, adding credence to the story. While there were a few scary movies prior to this, Dracula was one of the first to completely embrace the supernatural themes. There was no wink-and-nod at the end saying it was just a work of fiction. Nowadays, the special effects may seem quaint with the giant rubber bat on a string, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I love his invisible puppet trick

Dracula is the quintessential classic horror movie. It takes a classic character from literature and brings it to the big screen with the effort and respect it deserves. Bela Lugosi is fantastic as Dracula, creating a timeless character that is enjoyable to watch while still being scary. The story has a fast pace but hits all the important parts of the story. For the time, it has good excitement and even a bit of action. Dracula can be enjoyed by both young and old, though I would suggest waiting to show this one to the very young. You're better off with Hotel Transylvania or a box of Count Chocula. Dracula is still thoroughly enjoyable despite being over 80 years old and well worth your time.


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