Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The 218th review!
Hello everyone! Welcome to year 8 of “Mr. Pat’s 31 Days of Halloween.” For those of you new here, thank you for liking and following the page! You all have a near and dear place in my heart. Since we last left I now have an amazing son named Lincoln, who is peacefully, and adorably sleeping. Now that you’re up to speed, it was a productive first day of October, made a pot roast, went to the pumpkin patch and then came home to watch...
I had watched this when I was much, much younger. I honestly remembered almost nothing about it outside of Renfield and of course Dracula. Then after reading the book last month, I decided to give the movie another watch. By now you know the story, or at least know Bela Lugosi’s version of the character, so I don’t need to go too much into the plot. Some background, Bram Stoker’s estate refused to sell the rights for a movie. A studio ripped off the story for the silent film Nosferatu and was sued by the family and lost. Universal got involved and ended up with the rights. The director wanted to do a movie a lot more faithful to the original novel, but with the Depression in full swing, the studio didn’t want to spend that type of movie and decided to go with the version being performed on Broadway (starring Lugosi).
Now that that’s out of the way, the movie is good, but I think it would have been better if they followed the novel closer, and not in a, “THE BOOK WAS BETTER LOL!!!111!!!ONE!!” kind of way. For a 75 minute movie, there’s a surprising amount of plots that get hand waved away. The movie just keeps whisking by at a brisk pace and doesn’t give anything much time to breath. They wanted to jam in so much that everything moves too fast to get a good resolution. The best example is Lucy. Dracula kills her, then the next night you see her killing kids, it gets read in a newspaper and then it’s never mentioned again. Apparently there was supposed to be a scene where they take of her but it never got added.
Those are some minor nits to what really is a classic movie. The sets are great and the castles have a very gothic feel that goes great with the creepy mood throughout. Lugosi is wonderful as Dracula and is by far the best thing about the movie. Now, you have to understand movies like this were still a new thing when this was made so directors were still learning. There are several closeups of Lugosi emoting that last about 10 seconds, some are pretty effective, others are weird while others are kind of funny.
The other highlight is Dwight Frye, who plays Renfield. After reading the book, no version really tries to get him right. But outside of the very beginning this one seems to come the closest. The dude plays an unhinged psychotic so well, and his crazy eyes are perfect that he steals every scene he’s in. I mentioned earlier I only remembered the two performances, but the only actual scene I remembered clear as day was Renfield crawling over to a fainted nurse and his crazy laugh as he got closer to her.
I also have to take a moment to actually talk about the book. The novel and story are great and it’s unique because it’s told completely through journals, letters and newspaper clippings. With that said, I think Bram Stoker didn’t think too highly of women. There are two female characters of note in the book, and one of them has a, “Heh heh, what do I know, I’m just a girl!” vibe throughout, while the other is the opposite, smart and very capable. In an odd part Van Helsing explains it by saying, “She has man brain.”
The other thing in the book, Dracula can go out on in the daylight. There are scenes where he’s just chilling outside in the sun. In the book he loses his power in the daytime, and whatever form he was in (bat, human or wolf) at sunrise, he’ll be stuck that way until sunset. It wasn’t until Nosferatu that sunlight made him crispy. And no, he does NOT sparkle!
I think that’s enough history. It’s definitely a product of its time and the bat looks extremely hokey. It’s funny, the movie takes place in London, and outside of Van Helsing, no one tries to hide their North American accents. It would have been a lot scarier in the 30’s. Lugosi’s presence is great. His accent and general demeanor really make him stand out even today among the great movie monsters. There’s a scene (that isn’t in the novel) when Van Helsing and Dracula come face to face that is the highlight of the movie. They both know what the other is and the verbal chess match they play is really well done. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out.