Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan
Directed by: Tod Browning
Released by: Universal Pictures
Synopsis: Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) is a charming but odd gentleman. He is able to steal the heart of any dame and be friends with men of all walks of life. There is only one problem… HE IS A VAMPIRE!
Review: For me, Dracula is a somewhat hard film to review. On one hand, it features some very fascinating elements, such as Bela Lugosi’s immortal performance as the legendary Count Dracula and the beauty of some of the scenes. On the other hand… it bored me out of my mind.
Dracula is not unlike any other horror film of its era (and even our own). Rather than creating fright through shock, it does so by providing us a very quiet, beautiful and brooding atmosphere. The European setting, whether it’s an ancient castle of an elaborate theater, gives us some absolutely beautiful scenery that just enhances the horror further. As I already stated, Bela Lugosi more than steals the show as Count Dracula. His speech mannerisms, cold but intimidating glare and frightening presence give justice to the legendary character. My personal favorite, though, is Renfield, played by Dwight Frye. He convincingly plays a raving lunatic that is both disturbing and unintentionally funny. It goes to show how Dracula’s power is so threatening that it can drive a man to madness.
Everything else just falls flat, in my honest opinion. The rest of the supporting characters are forgettable, and their performances are stiff and emotionless. Even when they are faced with the threat of vampires they fail to evoke the right emotions. This can be forgiven when Bela Lugosi does it because he is supposed to be a monster, an undead character. The other characters, though, aren’t human in their portrayals.
The one thing that does it for me, though, is the absence of a soundtrack. Due to the limitations of the film’s production a full soundtrack wasn’t created. This in many ways works as a double edged knife. On one hand, it can be seen as giving the film an even creepier and haunting atmosphere. But on the other, some of the emotions that could have been portrayed through music are lost, making some scenes very dry, slowing and downright boring.
Upon watching the film, I learned that a soundtrack was indeed created for Dracula. In 1998, composer Philip Glass created a soundtrack for the 1999 VHS release of the film. The DVD has both the silent and orchestrated version. Unfortunately, the version that I saw didn’t have the soundtrack. To me, it affects the film in many ways and hope to see the version with the music soon.
Still, to deny Dracula’s legacy would be to ignore filmmaking in general, and when the film works, it really works. If you can stomach the slow pacing and stilted acting you will be treated to some beautiful backdrops and the talents of an unforgettable Bela Lugosi.
Rating: 3 filmstrips out of 5