Halloween Scene: Dracula (1931)

I’m starting to see the formula behind these Universal Monster movies. Show the audience the monster, so they know it’s real. Then introduce a new person into the monster’s circle. That person will start feeling crazy because people don’t really believe monsters exist. Bad things happen. People talk a lot about those bad things. An investigation begins. More people get in on the action and start believing. More talking about things. Good guys fight monster. Bad guy loses (mostly). At least that’s how the few I’ve seen recently are, which basically equal The Invisible Man and now Dracula.

As you probably know from being a human being on this earth for the past 100 years or so, this story of Dracula — which is based on the stage play which is based on the Bram Stoker book — follows the titular vampire as he makes his way from Transylvania to England only after putting the lackey Renfield under his spell. From there it’s some skulking around and looking creepy, hanging out with some vampire ladies and lots and lots of old white guys talking about what’s going on. Ultimately, it wasn’t a very thrilling viewing experience.

The biggest problem with watching Dracula is having seen so many Dracula adaptations and riffs over the years. Even if you’re not a horror fan, you probably know at least fifty to sixty percent of the story just from seeing sitcom or cartoon take-offs. Since I am a horror fan, I’ve seen all the more. As such, it’s kind of boring to watch this movie, specifically when Bela Lugosi’s not on screen as Drac.

However, I still enjoyed a specific part of this movie a lot: the beginning. Set in Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, there’s a real ephemeral quality to the proceedings that draws you way into the movie. Part of that is because the version I watched on Netflix still has scratches and some of the lightness that comes from old films, but part of it is because his castle looks SO FREAKING COOL. It’s gigantic and run down and has these giant cob webs all over the place. Fun fact: I read on the IMDb Trivia page that they were created “by shooting rubber cement from a rotary gun.” Isn’t that a hundred kinds of awesome? I love finding out all these old movie magic secrets from the old days when people really had to think about how things were done.

So, no, this isn’t the most exciting movie around and I’m a much bigger fan of Tod Browning’s next effort Freaks, but it is an important piece of horror fiction to check out. If you’re just getting into horror, I do recommend watching the Universal Monster flicks early on before everything else comes in and taints your view of the story.

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