"Dracula" (1931) starring Bela Lugosi is widely regarded as the classic movie version of Bram Stoker's vampire novel. This film was a major force in bringing the idea of vampire stories and horror movies in general into popular culture. Lugosi's portrayal of the title character is the most widely recognized and imitated, and was the first to present the character as a suave and handsome nobleman rather than the repulsive creature described in Stoker's book. Produced by Universal Studios and directed by Tod Browning, who would later go on to direct the controversial 1932 movie "Freaks" (which is now a cult classic), "Dracula" was the first true Hollywood horror film. Its resounding success at the box office would lead to the production of even more classic horror films by Universal Studios, such as "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Mummy" (1932), and "The Wolfman" (1941).
In a tale familiar to most by now, a British solicitor named Renfield (Dwight Frye) makes a harrowing trip through the Carpathian Mountains at the request of Count Dracula (Lugosi) to finalize the latter's lease of Carfax Abbey in London. Unbeknownst to Renfield, Dracula is a vampire, and once their transaction is complete the count puts Renfield under his spell, using him to get safe passage to London. Their ship barely makes it to England, and Renfield is discovered to be the only person left alive on the ship. He is by now a raving madman, and is sent to a sanitarium headed by Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), which happens to adjoin Carfax Abbey.
A few days later, Dracula meets Dr. Seward at the theater in London, along with Seward's daughter, Mina (Helen Chandler), her fiancé John Harker (David Manners), and her friend Lucy Weston (Frances Dade). Lucy in particular is fascinated by the count, and becomes one of his first victims. Mina is attacked next, and her concerned father asks old friend Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) to investigate his daughter's mysterious illness. Van Helsing and Dracula meet at the Seward home, and become adversaries almost immediately when Van Helsing notices that Dracula has no reflection in a mirror and deduces that the count is a vampire. A struggle of wills then ensues, with Mina's life and soul as the ultimate goal. Ultimately, Van Helsing is victorious and Mina, released from Dracula's hold, is free to marry Harker.
In 2000, this movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. While it may seem dated and overly melodramatic now, it is without doubt the most influential version of the Dracula story ever filmed, and is a must-see for any horror movie afficionado. You can watch the movie on YouTube.
Interesting Facts: This movie is the first authorized version of the Bram Stoker novel to be filmed. An unauthorized 1922 version called "Nosferatu" was made in Germany, but Bram Stoker's widow sued and won. All copies of this movie were supposed to be destroyed, but at least one copy remained and the movie, another cult classic, is still available today.
Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 0
|Bela Lugosi as the title character in "Dracula"|
(from Medill Reports)