Horror Review: Dracula (1931)

The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. 

The word ‘classic’ gets thrown around too easily these days, to me this film is the definition of a true classic and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, any Horror fan worth their salt will know the name Tod Browning, the man was a genius in his time. This film is only one of many, that is proof of that. He knew all about making a great atmosphere and the fact his films are stilled loved and talked about today is a huge achievement.

Then there’s Bela Lugosi’s performance, and what a performance! I always feel honoured to see him on screen, especially in this role as he gets every characteristic down to a tee and you find it very hard to draw your eyes away from him, the fact he played Dracula on stage over 200 times helped that.

We also can’t leave out Dwight Frye who played Renfield. Who can forget that menacing laugh he has, it’s so creepy that even now it gives me goosebumps. It’s such a shame he died so young, he had so much talent to entertain people with for many years.

The film maybe short compared to today’s running times, a shortish 75 minutes, but it didn’t need to be any longer. In that whole time the story never feels rushed, it flows so smoothly and even when it finishes you feel like it’s longer, but in a good way. Also I can’t not talk about the beauty of the film, the set displays are truly breathtaking and it’s something I miss in today’s films.

If you have never seen this then hang your head in shame, you are missing out on a TRUE classic Horror.

To watch the FULL “Dracula” film, click here


Miscellaneous facts about the film:

  • When Universal purchased the rights to the 1927 Broadway play, Lon Chaney was considered for the title role. However, Chaney died on August 26, 1930, and the role went to Bela Lugosi. 
  • A Spanish-language version, Drácula, was filmed at night on the same set at the same time, with Spanish-speaking actors. 
  • Cinematographer Karl Freund achieved the effect of Dracula’s hypnotic stare by aiming two pencil-spot-lights into actor Bela Lugosi’s eyes. 
  • The Royal Albert Hall sequence of the movie was filmed on the same stage where The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney had been filmed. 
  • The large, expansive sets built for the Transylvania castle and Carfax Abbey sequences remained standing after filming was completed, and were used by Universal Pictures for many other movies for over a decade. 
  • Bela Lugosi played the role of Dracula on Broadway in 1927 before touring the country with the show. The American performance of the British stage actor Hamilton Deane’s adaptation of the book was a smashing success. Soon after the play began touring Universal started to express interest in the script. 
  • Bela Lugosi was so desperate to repeat his stage success and play the Count Dracula role for the film version, that he agreed to a contract paying him $500 per week for a seven week shooting schedule, an insultingly small amount even during the days of the Depression. 
  • The spider webs in Dracula’s castle were created by shooting rubber cement from a rotary gun. 
  • Due to studio demands to cut costs, the film was shot in sequence. 
  • Similar to the prologue in Frankenstein, the original release featured an epilogue with Edward Van Sloan talking to the audience about what they have just seen. This was removed for the 1936 re-release and is now assumed to be lost. 
  • While it is rumored that Bela Lugosi, could not speak English very well, and had to learn his lines phonetically, this is not true. Lugosi was speaking English as well as he ever would by the time this was filmed. 
  • There was no real musical soundtrack in the film because it was believed that, with sound being such a recent innovation in films, the audience would not accept hearing music in a scene if there was no explanation for it being there (e.g., the orchestra playing off camera when Dracula meets Mina at the theatre). 
  • Several famous elements often associated with Dracula are not visible in this film. At no point does Dracula display fangs. Also, the famous vampire bite mark on the neck is never shown either (though it is visible in the Spanish version). 
  • Although it was his most famous role, Bela Lugosi played Dracula only once more on screen, in the comedy Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein. However, he played Dracula-like characters in movies such as The Return of the Vampire and Plan 9 from Outer Space. 
  • This Universal production became the most famous and successful film to pair David Manners with Helen Chandler. The pair had made two films at Warner Brothers/First National and one at Fox. 
  • The peasants inside the inn are praying The Lord’s Prayer in Hungarian. 
  • Bette Davis (who had a contract at Universal at the time) was considered to play the part of Mina Harker. However, Universal head Carl Laemmle Jr. didn’t think too highly of her sex appeal. 
  • The opening music to this film is from Act 2 of Swan Lake. 
  • In the scene where Dracula and Renfield are traveling to London by boat, the footage shown is borrowed from a Universal silent film called The Storm Breaker. Silent films were projected at a different frames-per-second speed from that later adopted for sound films, accounting for the jerky movements and quicker-than-normal action of these shots. 
  • In the first scene, the young woman reading from the tourist book was played by Carla Laemmle, niece of Carl Laemmle, founder and head of Universal Pictures. 
  • When Carl Laemmle moved Universal to California in 1914, a version of “Dracula” was one of the first projects being considered. It was over fifteen years before this version was produced. 
  • The movie’s line “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” was voted as the #83 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100). 
  • When Bela Lugosi died in 1956, he was buried wearing the black silk cape he wore for this film. 
  • Universal’s original plan was to make a big-budget adaptation of “Dracula” that would strictly adhere to the Bram Stoker novel. However, after the stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression, Universal chose not to risk an investment on such a sprawling film. Instead, it adapted the much less expensive Hamilton Deane stage play. 
  • Universal acquired the film rights to “Dracula” from Bram Stoker’s widow and the play’s writer Hamilton Deane for $40,000. 
  • Before he was cast as Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi acted as an unpaid intermediary for Universal Pictures in negotiating with the widow of author Bram Stoker in an attempt to persuade her to lower her asking price for the filming rights to the Dracula property. After two months of negotiations, Mrs. Stoker reportedly lowered her price from $200,000 to $60,000. This, however, further demonstrated to Universal how desperate Lugosi was to repeat his stage success as Count Dracula and secure the film role for himself. 
  • Apparently morose over the loss of friend and collaborator Lon Chaney and in the midst of severe alcoholism, the normally meticulous Tod Browning was said to have been sullen and unprofessional during the shoot. Among his actions were to leave set, leaving cinematographer Karl Freund to direct scenes. He would also recklessly tear pages out of the script if he felt them to be redundant. 
  • The original Broadway production of “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi opened at the Fulton Theater on October 5, 1927 and ran for 261 performances. Also in the original cast was Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Doctor Seward. These three were the only actors from the original 1927 Broadway production to repeat their roles in the film. 
  • Although he lived for 67 years after the film was released, David Manners (John Harker) claimed he never watched it. 
  • Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye also appeared in the horror classic Frankenstein. They are the only 2 actors to have appeared in both films. 
  • Among the living creatures we see in Dracula’s castle in Transylvania are Opussums, Armadillos, and an insect known as a Jerusalem Cricket (Stenopalmatus Fuscus). This insect was common in Southern California, which may explain its cameo in the film.

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