Vampires creatures in search of fresh blood to feed upon have been immortalized folklore that stayed like a mystery awaiting to be unveiled. Just the name Dracula will burn into our minds even 90 years later from its first time on screen.
We begin as a stagecoach with weary travelers bounced around in their seats from the uneven roads, barely getting a moment to stillness. The nervousness of its urgency sets the mood to its passengers and the audience until they reach their destination. So much fear is shown on the faces of the small town of Transylvania; without any need of explanation, something evil has or will transpire.
The passengers made it safely to their destination, despite the driver’s reckless driving. Everyone gets out abruptly except for one. His name is Reinfeld, and he is to continue his travels to meet with Count Dracula at his castle for a business proposition. The village people cry and plead for him to stay, but Reinfield insists and believes them to all be superstitious of this folklore legend. After easily convincing the driver to continue, he is handed a necklace of a cross for protection to be wrapped around his neck.
Upon the arrival at the crossroads from one carriage to the next, the driver throws the luggage on the unpaved roads and leaves Reinfield to the horrors that await him in the foggy dark evening.
The eyes of the second coachman (Count Dracula) just stare at Reinfield as he enters, unsure of how this business transaction will exchange. The same reckless driving as the previous driver has brought the confused Reinfield to his final destination, to where he enters the massive unkempt castle. For the first time, we hear Bela Lugosi’s eerily broken English Hungarian accent greeting the weary traveler, which will become a staple for Dracula films even to this day.
“I am Dracula. I bid you welcome.”
His presence will stand the test of time. With his calm demeanor, smooth comb-back hair, long black cape, long crooked fingers, an amulet necklace. Dracula will forever now become the legend forever burned into minds, even to those that may never see this film (which in my mind is a crime against film watching).
Unfortunately for Reinfield, this will be his last night living with any form of sanity before he becomes an overly dedicated servant of Dracula, who craves the taste of blood from flies, other insects, and spiders.
Dracula, asleep in his coffin, and his now turned crazed servant, have arrived unharmed in a ship destroyed. The lives of the rest of the crew have been lost. Dracula has arrived in England.
The aristocrat vampire contains the power to control almost anyone. This Vampire would prey upon the innocence and weakness of a female victim just by looking into their eyes and with a single word. “Obey.” Dracula also holds power to change his form into a bat and sometimes into a wolf. This creates the uneasiness of pinpointing the creature’s exact location and form.
After an unusual similarity of murders with noticeable fang marks left on the neck of its victims, the search for this most unusual murderer begins. Here we are introduced to an unorthodox scientist, Van Helsing, as he will search for the truth and stop at nothing until he finds the Vampire to put an end to its terror in England.
Many, including myself, will argue to say this is not only the definitive version of Dracula but the best. The absence of music, while at its time is nothing unusual, adds to the film’s creepiness unintentionally. Sound in the film is actually new, so music wasn’t a necessity because these were more like permanent broadway plays on film.
Todd Browning was a well-known silent film director, and at the time was upset he couldn’t get Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera, London After Midnight, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). However, Lon Chaney would, unfortunately, die from throat cancer that same year. As a result, Todd Browning would never make another successful film in his career.
Bela Lugosi will wear his cape in many of his films, including his last film with befriended director Ed Wood Jr. Lugosi would be buried in his cape in 1956. Even though infamously best known as Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi will not reprise his role until 17 years later in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Many of the other actors and actresses didn’t take filming Dracula as seriously, which ended up in multiple takes due to them outbursting in laughter. Little would they know the impact this film will take on audiences even today, where Dracula has become that of a pop culture icon.
Even though I have watched this film over twenty times, there is something I always seem to spot more unintentionally, even the paper taped to the lampshade and certain things said.
The film does slow its pace down in the second half and may not be as strong as its mysterious first half, but it is still nevertheless something that hasn’t been imitated quite as effective for modern vampire films. I can only hope I can watch this film 20 more times in the years to come, just to hear Bela Lugosi one last time saying, “Listen to them, children of the night. What music they make!
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