Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dracula (1931)

Whaaaat? Dracula? But Halloween is over, you might say. And I might say you're right. I planned on watching Dracula in October, but I missed my arbitrary deadline by a week or so. I did, however, finish reading the book before Halloween, and holy crap, it was good.

As those scant few followers of this blog surely know, I've been watching all the Universal monster movies over the course of the year. I've enjoyed the lot of them, especially the James Whale ones, so I went into Tod Browning's Dracula with reasonably high expectations. Sadly, it was not able to live up to them.

The movie opens with Renfield visiting Dracula's castle in Transylvania, right away a huge departure from the novel, where it was Jonathan Harker's duty. Dracula uses his hypnotic powers on Renfield to turn him into his lacky. He comes along on the boat to England, where Dracula abandons him to be committed. While in England, Dracula uses his powers to seduce and transform Lucy Westenra and begin the same process on Mina (now Dr. Seward's daughter), while they try to hunt him down and prevent Mina's transformation.

There are some inspired scenes and moments that were sufficiently creepy. I loved the way the lights would only shine on Bela Lugosi's eyes when he was using his hypnotic power. And there was a great shot of the dead captain of the ship that brings Dracula to London. But despite the expressionistic style and moody atmosphere, I felt the movie suffered from being too cheap. Yes, I know all these Universal movies were made on a shoestring, but some were able to work around it and hide it more creatively than others. This movie has a scene where they're watching a wolf (Dracula in wolf form), and since they couldn't get a wolf, they just stand there and describe to the audience what the wolf is doing. I felt a little cheated.

Bela Lugosi, is of course, magnetic in the role. I can see why he is iconic. I think it's weird the way people paint such a pointy widow's peak on their forehead when they dress as Dracula, because his isn't that pronounced. I also liked Dwight Frye as the lunatic Renfield a lot. He was awesomely over the top and really fun to watch. I don't think the rest of the cast deserves much mention, though. They were for the most part forgettable, if not kind of bad. That's too bad, too, because in the book, Professor Van Helsing is every bit as iconic as Count Dracula and Renfield, and Mina Murray/Harker/Seward is a fantastic character, too.

Maybe it was because I had just read the book and they left out a lot of my favorite parts, I don't know. I thought Dracula was a pretty slow movie and was kind of bored. You know what? Besides Monster Squad, I'm pretty sure this was the first movie I've seen with Dracula in it. I would like to see other adaptations, but I hope some of them are more faithful to Bram Stoker's story. What's the best Dracula movie? Is the Coppola movie worth watching? Keanu Reeves as Harker worries me a bit. Hey, I like Keanu in things, and am willing to defend him, but even I have my limits.

I seem to be rambling, so I guess it's time to go. Final thought? Dracula has its moments, but if given the choice, watch Frankenstein or The Invisible Man instead. Blah!

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