Before the Mummy, Wolfman and Frankenstein Monster, there was one character that launched the Universal Monster series into full gear- Count Dracula. Although it wasn’t the first film to feature a vampire, “Dracula” cemented vampire culture deep into cinematic history; making it the best film to represent Thirsty Thursday’s.
Bela Lugosi, a name to forever withstand the test of time. As stated before, Dracula was not the first vampire to be showcased on the silver screen, yet Lugosi’s mesmerizing performance set the bar for all vampires in pop culture. From the black cape to his accent, just about every aspect of Lugosi’s portrayal has been mirrored in countless renditions of the character.
The first shot of Dracula will send chills down your spine, as the cinematography really nails the look of evil. The light is carefully placed to illuminate the eyes as the camera zooms in, almost as if he is hypnotizing the audience. No matter who he shares the camera with, Lugosi’s eyes are focused on others like a hawk watching its prey. The interactions themselves vary depending on how many people are in a given scene. When faced with a group, Dracula flourishes with life as he talks in a faster more welcoming manner; while seeps back to his sinister collective ways when one on one with another.
Dwight Frye, whose found in several Universal Monster films, also gives a stand out performance. Playing Renfield, connects the bridge between vampire and human given he is a slave to Dracula. Renfield’s demeanor screams insanity. His posture alone is off putting, as he hunches slightly and leads with his head; almost as if his eyes are trying to bulge towards his target. Renfield also has one of the creepiest laughs in cinema. It literally sounds like his lungs are deploying just about all oxygen. His dialogue of insanity, which is performed with demeanor and skill.
The legendary studio wouldn’t be anything without these classic films; as their production values paced the forefront for future blockbusters. Locations like Little Europe, which is still present on the Universal lot, are featured in “Dracula”; giving a sense of awe to the viewer through their magnificent designs. From top to bottom, each set piece is unique in its own write and help tell the story. The Castle in Transylvania for instance has enormous entrance way filled with high ceilings and props to make the audience not second guess where they are- an astounding achievement for the 1930’s.
The film restoration on bluray is just as beautiful. Details of black and white can be difficult, but the restoration showcase dozens of shades of blacks, greys and whites. Even closeups give great detail, as you can see wrinkles form on faces.
Being the first Universal horror film with sound there is a lack of ensemble music, excluding the credits. At first it may seem like something is off, but the hissing of the microphones create a real eerie feeling.
Like many Universal Monster films, “Dracula” created a an iconic character that is still as relevant today. There are little to no modern day scares like jump scares and gore, however the Golden age of horror wasn’t know for that. Instead we have a more grounded film that sparked imagination leading to nightmares around the world. There have been countless sequels and reboots of the Dracula franchise, but “Dracula” remains the go to film when being introduced to the world of Vampires.