Halloween Movies: “Dracula”

First of all, this is my sixtieth blog entry! Hooray!

Anyway…

When I wrote about The Monster Squad, I made it very clear just how much I love the Universal Monster franchise. It’s amazing to me that one studio was responsible for bringing so many iconic monsters to the big screen.

So, of course, no series of entries on Halloween movies that I write would be complete without one of the original Universal Monster movies rearing its head.

Grab your crosses and stakes and put on your turtlenecks, because we’re about to face…

Dracula (1931)!

I do not own any of the following images or videos!

Here’s the trailer…

I first saw Dracula on Svengoolie, and boy, was I excited to see it! (I’m always excited for Svengoolie, but that’s beside the point.)

If you want to see the film, you have a couple of options: Sven recently showed it again (with a new score), and it will rerun Saturday, October 31, on WCIU. Also, Turner Classic Movies is showing it in theaters on Wednesday, October 28, in a double feature with the Spanish-language version of the movie (with English subtitles), which was filmed at night with a different cast and crew using the same sets. I went to the double feature on Sunday, and I loved seeing all the similarities and differences between the two films.

Here’s the basic, spoiler-free rundown…

Dracula (1931)
Plot: Mr. Renfield travels to Transylvania to close a real estate deal with Count Dracula, who plans to move to London, but all is not as it seems…
Villain(s): Really?
Scare Factor: The scares are very different from what you’re used to seeing in horror films, so it’s hard to predict how scary you or any kids you know may find this one.
Gore Factor: You see blood once in the entire film.
Family-Friendly Factor: There’s no swearing, and any minimal suggestive content that adults may infer will go way over kids’ heads.

Quick! Run while he’s stuck in the web!

Quick! Run while he’s stuck in the web!

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK! Spoilers lurk beyond this point!

The story of Count Dracula has been adapted, remade, reimagined, paid tribute to, and parodied countless (Get it?) times. Even other film versions, such as the Hammer films starring Christopher Lee or Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, have their own parodies and tributes.

But it all comes back to this one. If you want to know where the accent, the widow’s peak, and the cape came from, look no further.

If you’ve never seen this version of Dracula, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Does it deserve its reputation and influence?”

Yes.

Dracula’s definitely done very differently than how we’re used to seeing horror movies done. Unless you see the version with the Philip Glass score, the only music in the film is during the opening credits and a scene at an opera. As you may have guessed based on the year it was released, the gore is very, very minimal. The only blood you ever see is when Renfield, pre-insanity, cuts his finger on a paper clip. And yet, the film is still very effective. It’s chilling and suspenseful.

As for how the Spanish-language version compares to the English-language version… I am the last person you want to ask to compare different movies. But I’ll give it a shot. On an objective level, the Spanish-language version is longer, and gives some more depth on certain characters and plot elements, such as Dracula’s possible origins, and what happened to Lucy/Lucía after she became the “Woman in White.” This version also shows the bite marks left behind after a run-in with Dracula, though it still doesn’t show his famous fangs.

The English-language version, of course, has Béla Lugosi’s relentlessly intense portrayal of the title character. It also has a short scene in which Dracula drains a woman selling flowers on the street, which isn’t present in the Spanish-language version. (And he didn’t even buy a flower!)

One of the differences that stuck out to me the most was when Dracula confronts Van Helsing alone. In the English-language version, Van Helsing directly opposes Dracula’s attempt to control him (with some difficulty); in the Spanish-language version, Van Helsing appears to be under Dracula’s control… until you find out he’s just faking it to trick Dracula into thinking he discarded his cross.

When it comes to which film is “better”… does it really matter? If you have a favorite, great! But it doesn’t have to be a contest. We have both films. We can watch and enjoy them both.

Thank you for reading, “children of the night,”
Jamie Lee

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