“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”
Justin’s rating: He’s gone batty, I tell you
Justin’s review: I wanted to do something a little special for this year’s Halloween week, both for me and for all of you readers. So I figured that I’d check out the original cinematic universe by watching five of Universal’s classic monster movies from the ’30s and ’40s for the first time. We’ll be touching on the first appearance of each of the five core monters, starting where it all began with 1931’s Dracula.
Dracula kicks off with a solicitor named Renfield who visits the infamous Transylvanian count and finds out that he’s a little odder than even the locals described. Living in a legitimate haunted mansion with his three “brides” and a whole lot of unexplained animals (including, why not, armadillos), Drac couldn’t be more suspicious if he tried. He talks with all sorts of pregnant pauses, walks through spiderwebs, and seems to have a fetish for lawyers with papercuts.
This doesn’t scare off Renfield, the idiot, which means that he soon becomes both a light lunch for the vampires and a raving lunatic who leads the Count back into society. Over in England, Dracula works his way up into high society. By that, I mean, “drinks” his way up, one virgin at a time. One of these victims is Mina, the fiancé of John Harker, who then becomes pulled between the world of the living and that of the undead. Harker enlists the help of Professor Van Helsing to form the first anti-monster squad in movie history. Will Harker be able to kill Dracula and save his beloved before time runs out? We shall see!
There’s something weirdly refreshing when you go back before post-modernism and the Hotel Transylvania films to see movies that dealt with these creatures without a lick of irony in their DNA. With a minimal soundtrack and leisurely pace, Dracula has to be enjoyed with a great deal of patience. Fortunately, the visuals and general creepy tone are worth the visit, illuminating the viewer as to the source of all of the subsequent vampire and Halloween tropes that we’ve enjoyed for generations.
Bela Lugosi as the hypnotizing count is absolutely iconic. He’s all-in with this role, drawling out a Transylvanian accent while giving everyone the most intense stares they’ve ever received in their lives. He’s so dang weird and eccentric, yet as a high society monster, he is more a source of fascination to the wealthy than anything else. It gives him plenty of leeway to wheedle his way into these homes — and if his hypno-charm doesn’t work, the fact that he can transform into a bat and flutter his way into windows helps.
But I actually had a favorite above Dracula, which was the insane Renfield. With wide eyes and an “Igor” voice, we see a man who is under the vampire’s thrall, half-becoming a vampire himself, and absolutely crazy. Every scene he was in testified to the power of Dracula, and I could not keep my eyes off of him. We don’t often get an all-out lunatic like this who grins and laughs like he really wants to cry.
With occasional bursts of inspired horror, atmospheric sets, and a role-defining turn by Bela Lugosi, Dracula still offers enough dark bounty to overcome the languid pacing and constantly hissing soundtrack. Will you believe in vampires after watching? “The superstitions of yesterday,” Van Helsing argues, “become the scientific discoveries of today.”
- I love that Dracula has a Batman-like logo
- Mention “Count Dracula” and you’re going to get a lot of signs of the cross in return
- The vampires slowly coming out of their coffins is an eerie moment
- Count Dracula likes to moonlight as his own coach driver for some reason
- Super duper fake bats!
- Who gave Dracula his medal, I wonder
- The shadow of the captain of the ship tied to his wheel is downright creepy
- Don’t throw his spider away!
- Van Helsing not seeing Dracula in the mirror
- This is the weirdest breakup ever