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Friday, September 2, 2016

Dracula: 85 years later the vampire is still revered

On Sept. 4, 2016, that's this Sunday, Turner Classic Movies will air Tod Browning's masterpiece, "Dracula," with Bela Lugosi as the iconic Count Dracula. Watch it scores of thousands of others ...
But before then, read these two Plan9Crunch reviews of the 1931 Universal "Dracula" by your bloggers, myself, Doug Gibson, and Steve D. Stones.
On with the reviews, and don't forget to watch "Dracula" on TCM this weekend.



Dracula, 1931, 75 minutes, Universal, black and white. Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, Dwight Frye as Renfield, David Manners as Jonathan Harker and Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

By DOUG GIBSON

As a film, Dracula too often appears like a stage play. Most of the actors aren't particularly strong, and the climax of the film (Dracula's death) foolishly takes place off screen. Nevertheless, thanks to Bela Lugosi -- and to a lesser extent Dwight Frye -- the film remains a classic, a true cult film that brings viewers back for repeat visits to Transylvania, foggy London and Carfax Abbey, the lair of the Count. The plot: Dracula prepares for a move to London. He drives Renfield (a Londoner in Transylvania to help him move), mad, and then arrives in London. He soon ingratiates himself with the Seward family, and lusts for the blood of two ladies. He is foiled when a family friend (Van Sloan) suspects he is a vampire, and pretty Mina Seward (Chandler) is saved when Dracula is destroyed.

It's safe to say that first half hour of this film is perfect, in atmosphere, Lugosi's Dracula, etc. After it moves to Carfax Abbey and the Seward sanitarium, it dips a tad in quality, but returns to perfection when Lugosi is in a scene.

Lugosi's performance is magnificent. He is truly the Count, with his urbane charm, his sly humor (I never drink ... wine.), his greedy eyes sighting blood, his melodramatic answers to questions, and his artful fencing with vampire hunter Van Helsing. However, few critics capture another personality of Lugosi's Dracula: His desire to die. In a poignant scene at an opera, Dracula expounds in melodramatic fashion the peace of death. One realizes in that scene the Count wants to die, that he's as much a prisoner of fate as his victims. He simply lacks the will power to end his long existence.

Frye's Renfield is marvelous. He succeeds in convincing viewers that the secret of the Count -- discovered first hand -- is so horrible that it would drive anyone insane. His mad chuckles when discovered on a deserted ship are chilling. Frye also conveys terror and adoration when pleading with Dracula late in the film. Manners and Chandler are barely adequate as two lovers threatened by Lugosi's Dracula, but Van Sloan is pretty strong as Van Helsing. He manages a sense of humor despite the seriousness of his task, and reminds me of Donald Pleasance's slightly crazy psychiatrist who pursued monster Michael Meyers in Halloween.

Lugosi's eyes, used to seduce victims, are hypnotic. He knew this character -- he'd played Dracula on Broadway. Director Browning conveys atmosphere early in the film with scenes of a coach in the wilds of Transylvania and a ship tossed at sea. Unfortunately, the last two-thirds of the film is often too static and talky. But every scene with Lugosi is a pleasure, and he turns an ordinary film into a classic of the genre.

(WATCH THIS SCENE FROM THE FILM BELOW)





By STEVE D. STONES

Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” — Dracula

Creeky castle doors, thick spider webs, a fog-infested cemetery and coffins filled with earth from Transylvania. These items stir up images of one of the greatest screen villains in cinema history — Dracula. The vampire Dracula has appeared on screen and stage more than any other fictional character in the history of literature and films.

What would Halloween be like without Dracula and vampires? We have Irish writer Bram Stoker to thank for the count's immortal image. Considering the fact that Stoker's novel was thought by many critics to be nothing but a trashy, late-19th century exploitation pot boiler that many readers didn't want to know about, it's amazing to think just how long the story and image of Dracula have lasted.

From the moment Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi emerges from his coffin in Tod Browning's 1931 “Dracula,” Hollywood history was made. Lugosi's old-world mannerisms, receding hairline, thick Hungarian accent and flowing cape set the standard for every vampire movie that followed. No actor who portrayed Dracula after Lugosi has been able to top him.

Seeing Dracula on the big screen is a sight you will never forget. Close-up shots of Lugosi's face show just how menacing the immortal count can be. His image both attracts and repels the viewer. He is the ultimate boogeyman who will stop at nothing to leave behind a trail of victims. When Dracula says “there are far worse things awaiting man than death,” we believe him.



Dracula's contribution to popular culture cannot be overestimated. He appears on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs, action figures, comic books, Halloween masks, postcards and lunch boxes.

After the success of “Dracula,” Lugosi became a victim of the fickle Hollywood industry who typecast and pigeonholed him as an actor who could only play Dracula. He appeared as a vampire a total of three times, which included the hugely successful  “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” in 1948. Lugosi was never able to obtain the riches of his rival, Boris Karloff. Today, sales of merchandise associated with Lugosi surpass those of Karloff’s.

May the story and image of Dracula live on for centuries.

Originally published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper.





1 comment:

Theodore Trout said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOp_wiClgYE