Pros:Entertaining movie with creepy atmosphere.
Cons:Some lighting issues at times. Some acting could have been better.
The Bottom Line: Dracula (1931) had a few small problems, but it is still worth watching.
I can't remember when I first saw a movie about a vampire. I have been enjoying them for years. I have seen a few different movies that have dealt with Dracula in some way. I had heard some about the original movie version of Dracula, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I finally saw it when it turned up on one of the television stations I get. I really enjoyed the movie and was interested in picking up the DVD when I found out one had been released. I recently picked up a DVD set that had several older Dracula movies and just watched Dracula (1931) again.
A British solicitor named Renfield was traveling through the Carpathian Mountains in a stagecoach. He was heading for Castle Dracula and refused to stay at the inn for the night like the local people advised him to do. They did warn him about vampires before he left. Once he arrived at the castle, the driver vanished before Renfield met Count Dracula, who was a vampire. They discussed business related to Dracula buying property in England. Renfield fell under Dracula's spell and traveled with him to England on a ship.
The crew was missing when the ship arrived. Renfield was thought to be crazy when he was found and he was taken to a sanatarium run by Dr. Seward. Dracula managed to meet Dr. Seward, his daughter Mina, John, the man engaged to Mina, and their friend Lucy. That night Dracula visited Lucy's room and she died the next day after a strange blood loss. Dracula then turned his attention to Mina. Abraham Van Helsing got involved in figuring out what was going on. He believed that Dracula was a vampire.
Dracula was based on a stage play by Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderston. The play was based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. I've never read the book or seen the play, so I don't know exactly what was changed for the movie version. I'm guessing that some things were changed since that tends to happen when movies are based on other sources. I have seen some other Dracula movies that had more scenes that weren't included in this one. The way the character looked and was portrayed in this movie became the standard for many future Dracula movies.
Dracula didn't have the polished look that newer movies have which is understandable since the movie was made in 1931. I thought that the picture quality was very good considering the age of the movie. I only noticed a few little specs while watching the movie. There were times when things were very dark which made it hard to tell exactly what was going on, but I think that was because of the lighting used during the filming and not from the condition of the movie. The sound was also good considering the age of the movie, though there was a faint static like sound throughout the movie. I wasn't bothered by that since I was still able to hear the dialogue, but other people might feel differently.
Compared to the newer vampire movies or horror movies in general, Dracula is a bit tame. Dracula was shown going after a few victims, but nothing too detailed or graphic was shown. There really wasn’t any violence in the movie, which could disappoint people who are use to the more violent vampire or horror movies. There were things that happened that were somewhat scary. I did think that the movie had a creepy atmosphere with the darker lighting and swirling fog. The way everything looked, along with the slower pace, helped to build suspense. I did think that there was a decent amount of suspense in the movie even though some things were predictable, probably because I've seen so many vampire movies.
None of the character were that developed, but I still thought that they were interesting. Dracula was a creepy looking vampire who was buying property in England. He had a way of staring at the other characters that was hypnotic and creepy all at the same time, with one eye opened slightly wider than the other. It was a very effective look that I don't remember ever seeing anyone else duplicate. Bela Lugosi was very good in the part. I think that other actors have based their portrayals of Dracula on what Lugosi did.
Mina was a young woman who gained the attention of Dracula. She was the daughter of Dr. Seward and engaged to John Harker. Not much of their relationship was shown, but they did seem to care about each other. John had some trouble believing what was actually happening. Lucy was Mina's friend who wasn't shown much. Lucy was fascinated by Dracula when they met, he bit her that night, and then she was dead the next day. I thought the acting was fine from Helen Chandler, David Manners, and Frances Dade in those parts.
Renfield traveled to Dracula's castle on business before he fell under Dracula's control. He seemed to go a bit crazy after that and became obsessed with eating insects. Dwight Frye was really good in the part. I saw things from his performance that have turned up in other versions of the character. Dr. Seward ran the sanitarium where Renfield was sent. Seward was Mina's father and was determined to protect his daughter. He called in Abraham Van Helsing to help deal with the situation. He was a professor who knew about vampires. Overall all the acting was fine, though some of the cast could have been a bit better.
Herbert Bunston - Dr. Jack Seward
Helen Chandler - Mina
Frances Dade - Lucy
Dwight Frye - Renfield
Bela Lugosi - Count Dracula
David Manners - John Harker
Edward Van Sloan - Professor Abraham Van Helsing
Tod Browning - Director
Dracula has been released on DVD a few times. I picked up Dracula: The Legacy Collection recently, the DVD release from a few years ago that also includes other older Dracula movies and some extras. I haven't taken the time to watch the extras yet.
Dracula is a very good vampire movie that is entertaining. I think it has held up well overall the years and is still entertaining. People who like vampire movies should definitely give this one a chance.
This review is part of CaptainD's 2008 Good Movie Write Off.
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