74 min., 1931
Written by Hamilton Deane/John L. Balderston
Directed by Tod Browning
My rating: ★★★★
Renfield wins again.
* * *
The story begins with Renfield (Dwight Frye) heading to Castle Dracula, to meet…you guessed it, Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi). The count is ready to buy Carfax Abbey in London and is ready to move right away. Dracula turns Renfield into a ghoul, who is obsessed with eating bugs. Then we turn to a boat that is ripe for Dracula to pick clean, which he does. The boat, now with no crew, ends up in London where Renfield is picked up and brought to an asylum. We meet the rest of the cast, including John Harker (David Manners); Mina (Helen Chandler), John’s fiancé; Dr. Sweard (Herbert Bunston), Mina’s father; Lucy (Frances Dade) Mina’s friend; and Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), the supernatural expert.
The acting is okay. Most of it comes off as stage acting, which is understandable, but it also makes the film suffer. With the more fluid acting that is going on nowadays, it is almost painful to see their whole body move while giving out the simplest lines. The greatness of the acting lies with Dwight Frye, and his take on Renfield. He plays the crazy man perfectly and leaves everyone else in the dust. Lugosi does a good job, but every time they close up on him about to bite someone, it looks like he is getting fucked in the ass with a baseball bat. Just really bad facial expressions.
Now the sets are just great, with most looking like they could have been shot on location. They are lit extremely well, making the Abby and Castle Dracula, look colder and uninviting, while making Dr. Sweard’s look bright and welcoming. The shots are also great, with the camera work at Dr. Sweard’s being very close and personal, until Dracula appears, then the camera pulls out and shows the uncomfortable distance between him and everyone else. The same is done with Castle Dracula and the Abby, with almost all the shots being from a distance, with Dracula almost blending into the surrounding.
Like most movies from this era, you have to be prepared for what you are going to see. The hammy acting, the lack of effects (except bats on wires), and a story that leaves out a lot of the little bits that is important to the continuity flow. But that aside, it’s still a great movie from it’s time, hitting on most of the important things, while skimming over most of the rest. If you’re in the mood for a good classic, check this one out.
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