AWESOME-tober-fest 2011: Universal’s Dracula (1931)
Continuing the final week of AWESOME-tober-fest. This week contains all Dracula movies. Next up is one of the most famous Dracula movies, the one that defined the image of Dracula today. Universal’s 1931 Dracula.
Universal’s Dracula was directed by Tod Browning and starred Bela Lugosi in the title role. The movie wasn’t based directly on Bram Stoker’s novel, it was actually based on a 1927 theater production of Stoker’s book. Bela had played the Count in that production and actively lobbied to get the movie role as well. However, Universal, after acquiring the rights to the play, wanted Lon Chaney to play Dracula. Unfortunately, Chaney passed away in 1930 before production could begin, so Universal agreed to let Lugosi play Dracula.
The stage play changed much of the detail to Stoker’s novel, but left much of its structure intact. The beginning of the movie is much the same as the novel, however it is Renfield that visits Castle Dracula, not Jonathan Harker, to attend to the Count’s real estate dealings. Renfield is at first attacked by Dracula’s brides, but is then bitten by Dracula himself. Dracula uses Renfield to get himself and his coffins to London safely. When the ship crashes in London, an insane Renfield is found to be the only living person on board. Renfield is sent to Dr Seward’s sanitarium (where he is in the novel). Dr Van Helsing studies Renfield’s blood and talks to him about his obession with eating insects and, of course, vampires.
Several nights later Dracula meets Dr Seward, Jonathan and Mina Harker and their friend Lucy at the theater. Lucy becomes fascinated with the Count. Dracula enters Lucy’s bedroom and drinks her blood. Lucy dies the next day after several blood transfusions to try to save her life. Dracula visits the Sewards, Harkers and Van Helsing for dinner. When it is discovered he has no reflection in a mirror, Dracula reacts rather violently and leaves. This is where Van Helsing deduces that he is a vampire.
Jonathan discusses with Mina about certain changes he’s noticed in her (that she’s turning into a vampire). Mina attempts to kill Jonathan but Van Helsing shows up just in time. Dracula kidnaps Mina later that night and takes her to his lair under Carfax-Abbey. Harker and Van Helsing chase after him. Dracula kills Renfield by throwing him down the largest stone staircase I’ve ever seen in my life. The sun begins to rise which forces Dracula to his coffin. Van Helsing and Harker discover the coffins and Van Helsing stakes Dracula (off camera, of course) as Jonathan and Mina walk off in the distance.
This movie is a classic for a reason. It’s fun to watch. Lugosi definitely plays the Count to the hilt. It’s a fun ride, if it does tend to drag a bit in the middle. It’s defnitely worth a watch to see where a lot of the modern ideas of Dracula began. Universal released three sequels to Dracula. Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula and House of Dracula. Unfortunately, none would star Bela Lugosi.
Even though Dracula was Lugosi’s signature role, he would only play Dracula in one more movie, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lugosi would play other vampires in movies like Mark of the Vampire which was a remake of a famous Lon Chaney “lost” film called London After Midnight. Lugosi would also star in Return of the Vampire from Columbia Pictures. Columbia intended Return as a direct sequel to Dracula however they were sued by Universal and had to change all the character names to avoid paying fines. But the plot is obviously the “unofficial” sequel to Dracula.
Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.