Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Vampire Week Day 1: Dracula (1931)

“I am Dracula.”

Eighty-five years later and those words still have the power to send a chill down your spine, spoken with cool confidence as Bela Lugosi descends a long flight of stairs to meet Renfield for the first time, it is a great scene that really sets the tone of the film.

Though as many may already know the film is not based on Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, at least not directly, instead it is mostly an adaptation of the 1924 play adaptation, as well as taking some inspiration from F. W. Muranu's unofficial silent adaptation of the book, Nosferatu, in particular a scene not from the original book nor play where Renfield pricks his finger and Dracula almost loses control and gives into his blood lust.

But really what can I say about this film that has not already been said a hundred times over, this film is a classic, the image of Lugosi as Dracula standing tall with his jet black hair is the most recognisable image of the character, replacing the novels description of an old man with beard, moustache and pointed ears. Lugosi, a Hungarian actor has a presents about him when he plays the roll, been able to seamlessly switch from the eccentric and charming Count to the monstrous creature full of blood lust that will captivate you with his hypnotic stare before killing you.

But for me the real show stealer is Dwight Frye as Renfield, at first a young and eager solicitor meeting Dracula to discuss business, but he is soon attacked by the vampire and his brides becoming a mad slave to the count. Frye steals every scene he's in with a laugh that the Joker would be jealous of, he seems to be fearfully loyal to Dracula but on a few occasions fights his masters control, warning people, trying to get them to flee, but one sight of that bat or the sound of leather wings flapping and his fear takes over and he becomes a loyal once more.

The film is iconic, the first sound horror film it uses no music outside of the title screen but you soon get used to this as the silent moments, along with every other scene of the film bleed with atmosphere and mood the way only a black and white picture can. One shot I particularly loved was when Dracula’s ship the Vesta (Demeter in the novel and most subsequent adaptations) washes up in England, the crew are dead and we hear men discuss the find while our only image is the shadow of the ship's wheal with a crewman hanging limply off it, we are informed that his hands had been lashed to the wheel, to me this is a more effective image than if we had actually seen the body.

(Special Thanks to my friend Derek Tate for sending me this awesome picture of a 
Kentucky cinema playing Dracula)

You already know this is a classic, if you haven't already you owe it to yourself to see this film!

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