top of page

Dracula (1931)

So, considering my love for all things horror, I'm rather late to the game when it comes to working my way through the classic' Universal Monster' movies. After my enjoyment and shear admiration for 'Creature from the Black Lagoon', I figured next on the list continuing on my journey, I should go for the most iconic character of them all, Dracula. A movie that really started Universals golden age of iconic horror films from the 1930s to the 1950s era. And although I am aware that they're three movies prior to this one, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', 'The Phantom of the Opera' and 'The Last Performance', It is 'Dracula' from 1931 that is widely considered the birth of the 'Universal Monster' title.

Starting off with the biggest standout element to this production and that for me has to be the set design featured throughout, it is truly mesmerising. The gothic and fog filled backdrop of Dracula's Castle combined with the moody and atmospheric lighting, enhances every corner of this exquisitely created stage set. Not only this, but the external landscape shots of the castle itself are so captivating. I am always in awe of the use of artist painted backdrops from the Hollywood's golden age of movie magic. And once these incredibly detailed artworks are combined with miniatures and actors I always find myself in true admiration for the talent and creativity on display.

As for the casting, Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian born actor who portrayed the titular character on Broadway to great acclaim, would go on to play the character here once more for the Tod Browning directed and co-produced adaptation to film. Lugosi delivers and iconic performance, with his long piercing stir, overly accentuated charm and charismatic persona, I finally understand why his portrayal is a favourite amongst numerous fans. Another great standout performance comes from Dwight Frye, who appears to be giving everything he has got in his manic and wildly unstable portrayal of Renfield. The rest of the cast aren't really noteworthy, but given the strength of the two lead actors performances, it's easy to understand how everyone else involved can fade into the background when their presence is on screen.

One of the more disappointing and underwhelming elements of this production is the direction from Tod Browning. It is quite simplistic to say the least. Making 'Dracula' feeling very much like a stage play rather that a motion capture picture. Browning take a very static approach with his shots and the way he frames his camera work, there is very limited movement from a visual aspect and given the capabilities of what could be done with motion pictures at this time period, I feel like this unvarying approach is a wasted opportunity for such an iconic character and disservice to the amazing performances and set design from the cast and crew of this production.

This movie is rather faithful to the well versed folklore tale of Dracula and the Bram Stoker source material, albeit a more condensed and to the point take. It follows the standard plot of his story verbatim, with the exception to the change of Renfields more prominent role here. Unfortunately though, this is doesn't bode well for the more modern audience. And this is at no fault of the movie itself, as I'm more than aware this adaptation was one of the first. However, I have seen this tale retold time and time again, in a much more thrilling and engaging manner. This was something I never experienced during my viewing of 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' as I had no point of reference with that story. Going forward on this journey with 'Universal Monster' movies, I'm hoping this isn't something I'm going to find with some of the more well know Monsters.

I'm aware of the importance of this classic movie and one that I feel any horror fan should watch and experience at some stage or another in their lifetime. However, I don't think it's entirely as good as it could have been. It's held up solely by is captivating performances from Lugosi and Frye and let down sadly by its anticlimactic ending and unadventurous direction and cinematography. The safe and simplistic approach is something that unfortunately holds this movie back from greatness.



bottom of page