Dracula is such an iconic cinema villain that it is hard to imagine a time when that wasn’t the case. Bram Stoker may have created the character, but it was Universal who created the image we have not only of Dracula but also of all vampires. Dracula is an oddly compelling character, somewhere between romantically terrifying and ridiculous, and yet he and his brood of characters are what we continue to return to time and time again.
Overview: The most famous vampire story ever told.
Iconic: Much like James Whale’s Frankenstein, Tod Browning’s Dracula is the version of the vampire we’re most familiar with. Bram Stoker describes him as a tall, thin, old man with a white mustache dressed in a black suit, but when I was six-years-old and went trick-or-treating as Dracula I wore a cape, white make up, and my hair shaped into a widow’s peak. Consider the Count on Sesame Street or Grandpa from The Munsters — those are clearly Dracula-types but there’s not a mustache between them. Bela Lugosi’s depiction, right down to his Romanian accent, is how we think of Dracula now.
Lugosi: Much like Karloff in Frankenstein, Lugosi’s performance as Dracula is the central beam that holds up the entire movie. His Dracula is so iconic because of how perfect it is. He is a chilling character from his slow, purposeful movements, to his long unblinking stares. Dracula, like Frankenstein, is based upon a play that is based upon the original book, so while there are changes, much of Stoker’s original dialogue remains, and Lugosi relishes in saying things like, “I don’t drink . . . wine” with his rich, Eastern European accent.
Music and Silence: Originally the movie was mostly movie free save for an opening piece of classical music and off-screen music when the characters are at the opera. In 1998, Philip Glass composed a whole new score which was added to releases. It is a fantastic soundtrack of stirring strings and disconcerting harmonies that help to create a sense of atmosphere in the movie. The music helps with the fact that the movie is sometimes staged too much like the play it was based on, and the silent movies that were only just going out of fashion. There are long slow scenes throughout in which there is no dialogue and glacially paced action, and the music helps to make these scenes feel like they’re doing something even if they’re not.
Today: Obviously, with our knowledge of Dracula, this is movie holds few surprises. In fact, it’s actually quite funny to watch these characters talk to and about Dracula as though he’s just some foreign nobleman. Dracula is clearly a villain from the way he’s dressed and the odd things he says, but people seem awfully accepting of him throughout the movie. Then again, they probably haven’t seen a Dracula movie yet.
Overall: While a gorgeous movie with an incredible central performance, Dracula can get quite boring. The hangover from the silent age means there are a lot of long, dialogue-free scenes that would have worked in the decade previous, but in Dracula they feel as though the editor just didn’t know when to cut a scene short. It’s worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it, but it’s not as sharp as Whale’s Frankenstein movies.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures