Monday Morning Movie Review: Dracula (1931)

My local library has been screening the classic Universal Monster Movies every Saturday night this month, which is just about the greatest thing any library has ever done (besides, you know, storing all of that knowledge).  They kicked off the month with 1941’s The Wolf Man, but I think they saved the best for last—1931’s Dracula (this weekend they’re showing a non-Universal Monster flick).

The film version is based on a popular stage play from the time, which was a smash hit on Broadway.  That version, of course, was based on Bram Stoker’s chilling Gothic horror.  The filmmakers also pulled inspiration from the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, which was used the novel as source material without authorization from the Stoker family.

As much as I love vampire movies, I realized while watching Dracula that—much to my discredit—I’d never actually seen it all the way through.  It’s amazing how well it holds up after ninety years.  That’s right—Dracula, which spawned the title villain’s popularity on the silver screen, is ninety-years old.

But, again, it really holds up.  It’s not terrifying by today’s standards, but watching it I could easily see how it would terrify audiences in 1931.  The atmosphere of Dracula’s castle; Dracula’s ethereal brides; and, most of all, Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance all combine to make for a suspenseful opening.

In a formula we’ve all come to expect by now, but which this film established, a Londoner (in this case, Renfield), shows up in an Eastern European village and inquires about meeting Count Dracula’s midnight stage coach.  The villagers are scared, and warn Renfield against the meeting, but he ignores their pleas and heads up to meet the Count.  Dracula’s castle is dilapidated and covered in cobwebs, which clearly freaks out Renfield, but he continues on with his business.

There’s a great scene—apparently lifted from Nosferatu—in which Renfield pricks his finger on a paperclip.  The small bit of blood draws Dracula in, practically licking his lips, before a crucifix falls across Renfield’s hand from his coat pocket, causing Dracula to recoil dramatically.  All throughout this opening, the camera work focuses on Dracula’s eyes, which are cleverly lit to suggest the hypnotic power of his gaze.

I’ll confess that I spent a good bit of the flick chatting with my neighbor, but I still loved this film.  It was fascinating seeing the inspiration for so many other Dracula flicks, and done in such a simple but effective way.  Van Helsing, who has become something like an undead-hunting super hero in some adaptations, is just a white-haired, bespectacled professor working at a sanitarium.  Despite his humble appearance, he’s tough, confronting Dracula with a mirror box, which the villain bats away in disgust (because there’s no reflection, of course).

Dracula’s enchantment-seduction of Mina is spooky, too, as she becomes callous and indifferent to her doting fiancé, John Harker.  She can apparently communicate with Dracula in his bat form, too, which confuses Harker to no end.

What I found really interesting about this flick is how Dracula is so close to his enemies, and vice-versa.  That’s pretty bold—he’s pretty much begging them to pick him off.  He is incredibly confident in his power, but that hubris ultimately becomes his downfall.

All in all, I heartily recommend checking out the “original” Dracula.  It’s obviously not a scene-for-scene adaptation of the novel (as it is adapted from the play), but it’s the quintessential film version of the Dracula mythos.  The way we think about this character is probably shaped more by this film than by Stoker’s novel itself.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but it doesn’t matter—it just is, and no one ever saw Dracula the same after this flick.  Bela Lugosi’s portrayal is the version of Dracula we see in our nightmares, even if we haven’t seen the movie.

Check it out—and Happy Halloween!



43 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Dracula (1931)

  1. Nothing like an original. I love Nosferatu as well and if you’re looking for a modern equivalent, try Shadow of the Vampire starring Willem Dafoe as the Max Shrek. An excellent film.

    Did you draw the above? Brilliant, so much better than my own miserable offerings.

    Off topic, but for anyone interested in a serious piece, TCW writer Tom Penn is keen to plug his own blog site so I told him I’d share the odd article where I could.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I will definitely check out the Dafoe flick. He is such an unusual actor, he’s gotta make for a good vampire.

      I did doodle the picture! I have to confess, I drew him in church yesterday morning, haha. He’ll show up in this Sunday’s 103rd edition of _Sunday Doodles_ on the SubscribeStar site as well.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Finally skimmed through this piece. This last paragraph is particularly damning:

      “The normalisation of Governments’ increasingly cocky despotism is a sign that this winter shall, for them, be naught but a playground of opportunity to pummel the citizenry further into submission; who if the last 20 months are anything to go by, shall perceive the assault as little more than commendatory thumps on the back for their patriotism.”

      This is the way the world ends—not with a bang, but with a commendatory thump.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a child I was terrified of vampires and was afraid to go to sleep in case one flew in through my bedroom window. I have never been able to read horror or vampire stories or to watch films of either genre. I am such a baby.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, but you’ll never be bothered the sounds of the house settling. I, on the other hand, look around disquieted by the idea of what may be causing that sound … lol!

      Funny story; my cleaning lady, Ruth, enjoyed my horror story on NEO. There’s a little door in the wall between my computer room and the bathroom and sometimes, noise comes from it, lol. She’ll be mopping the floor and hear it and start laughing, thinking of the story, lol!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Audre, when I was ten my family moved into a Queen Anne-style home that my parents lovingly renovated over the course of a year (and then for many years after we actually moved in). When my parents bought it, it was dilapidated and falling apart, to the point people thought my parents were crazy for purchasing it. It also looked haunted—like, the quintessential haunted house. We even called it that.

        For years, I was convinced it WAS haunted, and attributed bad occurrences to the house. Now I think that was just childish superstition, but if you saw pictures of it then, you’d understand why I thought that!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I should add that I’ve posted a link to yours and DA’s sites on neoconscription. If I’m going to share Tom’s articles, I should at least do a tit for tat. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. LOVE this post! Probably because I agree 100% that Bela’s Dracula is the goat. As a youngster seeing it on tv for the first time, there is one scene and one scene only that horrified me so badly it has stayed with me. Oddly enough, it’s my favorite scene. I just watched the clip to make sure it’s the right one and I have to confess – at my advanced age and after decade upon decade watching horror movies, it still gets me! When they open that hatch and you see Renfield at the bottom of the ladder looking up – and that chilling laugh … omgosh, I get a little freaked and laugh uncomfortably all at the same time. Yikes!

    Liked by 3 people

    • It is such an effective scene! Obviously, as it’s been imprinted on your mind all these years. Renfield’s character is particularly fascinating, as is his lust for the blood of vermin. So creepy! So many excellent horror elements in a film so old. We recognize a lot of these as conventions of the genre now, but what must it have been like seeing this flick in 1931?

      Liked by 3 people

      • 1931 was a banner year for horror movies. My dad was born in 1920; he used to love to talk about the first time he saw the Frankenstein movie. Dad had four brothers and on that day, three of my uncles were with him. He said (I’m laughing now at the memory of watching dad’s face as he told the story) when the part of the movie came where the monster’s hand began to move, lol, he and his brothers slid out of their seats and onto the floor, lol!!! Can you imagine? It’s so very tame to us but in those days – wow!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Ha! That is such a wonderful story. I almost wish we could get back to that level of innocence, to where a monster’s moving hand could terrify us so completely. I’ve become so desensitized to horror movies at this point, it takes the weird and macabre to spook me.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Alys – did you notice I used your word ‘yikes’??? It’s a great word and we don’t use it here anymore. Maybe it’ll become ‘a thing’ again, lol.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Apropos of nothing but it just occurred to me. I’m going to watch the Abbot and Costello movie, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s the only movie – that I’m aware of at least – where the Frankenstein monster, the wolfman, Dracula, and the Invisible man are all in one movie!!! And then … I’m going to watch their Hold That Ghost – I think Costello’s best work as a scared man is portrayed. The scene with the candle moving across the table is absolutely hilarious and worth the price of admission.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to tell you, 39 – I’ve often thought that I would have trouble staying in England. Your history is so old, and there’s so many old-old homes reno-d for modern convenience that I’ve thought the whole country must be haunted, lol! Of course, I’m also guilty of watching videos of “the most haunted place/castle/town/grave yard in England’, too, lol! If I were to visit, I’d have to find a Motel 6 to stay in, lol!

    Liked by 3 people

    • The villages are the best.

      If you did find your way to England, head up to my old stomping grounds in Saddleworth and find a pub called the Church Inn, Uppermill (it may also have rooms – if it doesn’t, the neighbouring Cross Keys does). Behind the pub is one of the creepiest graveyards I’ve seen, home to the graves of the victims of the Bills o’Jacks murders.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Well, you would not want to come here to The Old Hospital/ex Wells and District Lunatic Asylum, with its underground room where allegedly the inmates were given electric shock treatment. A lot of people think it would be weird to live here but the atmosphere is very benign and I have not heard of anyone having unpleasant or ghostly experiences.

      Liked by 3 people

    • It’s part of the fascination, I have for England. Out Ponty’s way, in Norwich is a hotel where you can rent the very room Elizabeth I stayed in A few years ago the house where Henry VIII stayed before walking the last mile (barefoot) to Walsingham on pilgrimage was for sale. And so many more.

      Liked by 3 people

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