DRACULA (October 4th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
One of the eras of horror that I could still do with a bit of swatting up on is the post WW2 era of the genre. The thirties in particular was a decade rich with some of the most iconic names and characters (still to this day) such as Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Mummy and The Invisible Man. Whilst I've seen most of these (and the majority of the recent iterations) there is one classic that I seemed to have missed and it pains me to say it. I don't think I've ever seen Tod Browning's 'Dracula'. Now before you condemn me too harshly, I must say that I think I may have watched most of it when I was a kid – and have seen clips of it over the years whenever it's been referenced on TV shows about vampirism or the horror genre in general. I've seen most versions of the story too in their modern form; everything from Bram Stoker's Dracula to the horrid Dracula untold. But the simple fact remains; I haven't seen 'Dracula'...until now!
It's difficult to properly critique a film that's nearly 90 years old to be perfectly honest. I could sit here and make comments about how the practical effects are decidedly dodgy (the spider!), the lack of any real violence or 'scares' is unfortunate and that the ending is rather limp. But what's the point? Film-making and society in general was a completely different kettle of fish back in the 30's so to bitch about the aforementioned would be entirely ignorant. The bottom line is that this film is wonderful.
The main reason for that is Bela Lugosi. I have obviously seen countless (heh, get it?!) images and clips of Lugosi as Dracula but to watch him for a full 80 minutes in the role is different. I used to think of Gary Oldman's version of the immortal bloodsucker as the most powerful and affective but Lugosi matches it in terms of power and memorability. He's quite a different vampire to Oldman's – who was a really sinister and horrific imagining of the character. Lugosi's Dracula oozes class and charisma. You almost feel yourself being glamoured by his hypnotic stare whenever Browning does a close up of his piercing eyes. It's a timeless performance that undoubtedly set the standard for every other reprisal of the character. His languid mannerisms are jus iconic as is his European drawl. To think this was his first leading role in a movie makes it even more impressive. The Hungarian would go on to play a number of film villains in his time (with those eyes there was no way he was ever really going to play a good guy). It's a bit of an insult to learn that Lugosi only got paid a quarter of what David Manners (who played Harker) did.
The mood and atmosphere of Dracula, although rather mesmerising and creepy, is obviously tame compared to modern versions of the story. Much of the morbid sexual tension that we've come to associate with the count and his bloodlust is not really there. The whole thing almost feels as if someone had a camcorder at a stage play, with most of the action taking place in the Seward residence (that seems to double up as an asylum for some reason) and involves a lot of talking heads and little action. But it's part of the charm. The 'scares' and bloodsucking are either off screen or suggested through audio cues, like wolves howling in the night.
Other things I loved about this movie;
- The amount of fog in the film is ridiculous - Dwight Frye's over the top, wide eyed portrayal of Renfield is a perfect foil for the ice cold Lugosi - The scene where Van Helsing realises Dracula has no reflection is great. How many times do you need to keep checking it!? - Dracula literally puts up no fight at the end and doesn't see the risks of just taking a nap in his coffin whilst people are pursuing him with the intention of ramming stuff into his heart - Finding out that Lugosi was married five times during his life. Did any of these wives go mysteriously missing or...