by Corinne Rizzo
Backward down the number line of chronology, Dracula, released on Valentine’s Day in 1931, is not the first in the series of Universal Monster Movies, but it certainly is one of the most refined.
Beginning not unlike the last two films reviewed this week, Dracula begins with a grand arrival, much like the arrival of the gypsies in The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man’s entrance into the pub, Renfield arrives via horse and carriage to a small valley town just below the mountain top where Dracula resides. The townspeople are hurried in their actions and are surprised to see someone new arriving so late in the evening. In an attempt to warn him at once, the villagers encourage Renfield to stay for a night and begin his travels again in the morning. When the tale of Dracula is told, Renfield laughs it off and reminds the village that he is not scared and must continue. Little did Renfield know that his arrival would give way to his enslavement.
When the audience meets Count Dracula, a slow and cautious character is introduced. His actions are calculated and lack confidence, though he knows what he is capable of. The Count’s character traits almost mimic the action within the film and just as his movements are akward and slow, the film continues in a calculated though anticlimactic way. For instance, each one of Count Dracula’s victims is visited by him in the form of a bat before they are taken down. Then, they almost casually fall unconscious, while Dracula slowly goes for the jugular. The audience can always tell when a victim is about to fall, though the viewer never sees the blood, leaving a much desired horror effect.
It is easy to write off nuances like this and chalk it up to the film being dated and that the viewer may just be used to a certain standard by now, but honestly, the story told by the villagers in the beginning seemed more menacing than the villain in this film. Think about it. Assuming you’ve seen Dracula and are reading this review to support the site or for whatever reason, every night The Count comes creeping out of his casket where he keeps native soil to rest in and he brings his three lovely assistants, whom he only calls upon to show off in front of, and there is smoke floating all around the caskets, a slow creep out with those gangly awkward fingers and then…there is no smooth and casual way of showing it, but all of the sudden Dracula is standing up! It’s enough to turn the audience giggling every time the scene is repeated. The camera shot is panned away from the casket for just a moment and suddenly, without a trace of dirt or a hair out of place, Dracula is on his feet and ready to roll.
Things like this within the film are rampant. The only way to tell if someone has been affected is that their eyes get really big, the bat that Dracula turns into to spy on his victims is super hokey and Dracula almost has too many weaknesses against him to be menacing. The guy can’t tolerate light, is spooked by mirrors, wolf vein, and crucifixes. There are so many ways to keep Count Dracula out of one’s life and the film really felt like it was stretching to find ways around those ideas.
This is not to say that it wasn’t a valiant effort on Universal’s part to depict such a character, the film was enjoyable enough to watch, though fell short of certain expectations one could develop after being exposed to The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man. There are many parallels within Dracula to keep an avid Monster Movie buff interested in the entire series, the incorporation of things like wolf vein and evil being equated with wolves, the repetition of scenes and the noticeable calculation of scenes, even the token female character—all across each film so far could keep a campy crowed happy through marathon, though taken alone, Dracula falls short in this best of three.
Top Five Reasons You Should Watch Dracula
1) Bela Lugosi is Dracula! The same gypsy werewolf in The Wolf Man!
2) There are way more dames in this film than the others so far.
3) Bats, usually a frightening creature, are the size of small pigs and hilariously nonthreatening.
4) An actual quote about these pig bats is “Watch out, it will get in your hair.” Leading the viewer to believe that whoever wrote the script believes that the everyday woman of the twenties and thirties has bat/hair issues.
5) It makes Twilight less sexy (not in that “Oh, I want to do you way, but in that overexposed American way) and more pervy (and even more awkward).
Posted on October 12, 2011, in REViEW and tagged 1931, bela lugosi, classic horror films, classic movie monsters, halloween, horror, horror films, the invisible man, the wolf-man, twilight, universal movie monsters. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.