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I don’t think there are too many more iconic images in the genre. Even for non fans, if asked to describe Dracula, I am sure about 3/4s will describe the pic below, Bela Lugosi.
He was, and always will be, my perfect Dracula. I am certain a lot of people share that feeling as well. In terms of inspiration and innovation to the genre, there are very few films that come close to matching it’s impact.
First off, It was one of the first talking horror films. Originally silent star Lon Chaney was chosen for the part, however after throat cancer from his amazing, but sadly toxic make up work, claimed his life, Universal was left without a lead. Lugosi had been portraying Dracula in a very successful broadway version, at first not even knowing how to speak english, but merely memorizing the lines and the phonetics of them. Lugosi brought a sophistication to the role, an air of sexuality even. Let’s face it, he was perfect. The look, the accent, the gesture. All made for this role.
This incarnation of Dracula, story wise, is not very faithful to it’s source. It’s abridged a lot, there are characters and even plot points, that are discarded, and even Dracula himself has been radically changed from Stoker’s novel. In this case, it doesn’t matter.
I actually prefer the direction this film took. With a youthful appearing Dracula, instead of a reptilian like old man, with poor grooming and hygiene. The story starts us off in Translyvania, with realtor Renfield, despite numerous warnings, procuring a coach to Burgo Pass, for his meeting with the count. Dwight Frye was perfect as Renfield, at first a sympathetic, unwitting victim, then after succumbing to Dracula’s influence, a raving, cackling mad man. From there we follow Dracula and Renfield across the ocean, to Carfax Abbey, where the mayhem ensues.
The casting in this, is nothing short of perfect. Other than Lugosi, and Frye, you also have Edward Van Sloan, absolutely perfect in his role of Dr Van Helsing. His interaction and confrontations with Lugosi, are some of the most memorable of all time. The atmosphere in this is spot on. From the dark, dank, cold walls of Castle Dracula, to the fog filled streets of London, you can’t ask for better. Sure the effects are dated, there is basically no violence at all, but that was unnecessary, and a product of it’s time.
If you somehow haven’t seen this, by all means, seek it out. It’s very easy to find in many different formats and releases. It is classic film perfection, as well as one of the reasons that I fell in love with this genre in my childhood.
PROS: A great cast with great chemistry, eliminates some of the pointless parts of it’s source and even surpasses it, atmosphere is phenomenal, one of the reasons the genre has excelled.
CONS: There really isn’t too much, unless you are not a fan of black and white horror. Maybe the only real fault is that it wraps up too quickly.