Dracula (1931) Review

Dracula is a 1931 monster movie directed by Tod Browning and Kan Freund and stars the great Bela Lugosi as the titular vampire. The film is considered one of the great monster classics and made Count Dracula into one of the great horror movie icons.

An English lawyer travels to Transylvania in order to help Count Dracula purchase a plot of land. The Count takes the liberty of turning the hapless gentleman into a mindless, deranged man-servant to help him spread death and chaos throughout England. A doctor named Van Helsing deduces that this must be a vampire and tries to stop him. That's pretty much the entire setup and honestly that's all the film needs.

I can honestly see why this version of Count Dracula is such a favorite: he's elegant yet over the top and he's got that great voice everybody loves to imitate. His mind-melted servant is entertaining, to say the least. Most of that comes from the performance, which I'll talk about later.

Since this was before they started employing the rule of thirds to the film world the cinematography isn't the best in that regard. However, everything else is pretty solid. The wide shots get a good look at the scenery, the medium shots give us a good look at the actors expressions as well as their body language and thank God they know how to use their close-ups to fullest effect. They mostly only use them when they cut to Dracula's face and when they do, it's very unsettling. They also use them for emphasis on important things the audience should pay attention to, which is good, because that's what they're supposed to be used for in the first place.

Part of the reason the close-ups are so effectively eerie is because the lighting is so good. Whenever we close in on Dracula's face, we get this great shot where all of his face except his eyes are kept in shadow. I can't describe why, but it's very creepy. Most of the backgrounds are kept in total darkness, which helps the film's gothic tone a lot.

The set design really adds to the atmosphere, especially Dracula's castle. Ancient rubble and spider webs mix with long staircases and massive fireplaces. I'm not sure if it counts as set design, but the fog, which should be cheesy and campy, helps with the spooky feel.

There's barely any score to this film. I honestly think the only time there was music was in the opening credits. However, the lack of music actually improves the movie. When we first see Dracula, he isn't accompanied by sinister music, but heavy silence as he glides from his coffin and up the stairs to his unsuspecting victim/house guest. Unfortunately, the silence can backfire and make moments that would've been silly enough on their own absolutely ridiculous.

And that transitions into the part I'm most looking forward to discussing: let's talk about the acting, specifically from Bela Lugosi and his servant (Dwight Frye). These performances are all over the place; on the one hand, Lugosi's dramatic flair and exaggerated motions can be threatening and serious, but other times they can be silly. At times Frye's wide-eyed insane expression and laughing can be genuinely unnerving, but other times it's just hammy. However, I think that's what makes them so memorable. Due to the strange choices made by the directors and their actors, we were able to get so many memorable moments and classic quotes, even the silly ones.

Summary I can totally see why this movie was a classic and how it's still remembered fondly. It's not something I'd watch everyday, but once a year on a certain special night seems like the perfect time to me.



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