Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dracula the society vampire

What would Christmas be without a DVD box set? I asked for and received this lovely blu-ray set of the Universal monster movies. I know I have seen some or all of each film in the past but can't recall when I last watched any of them from start to finish, so here goes with another movie marathon. Eight films to see and first up is the one that started it all: Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula. The film that cemented the image of the nefarious Count that has stuck with us for over 80 years.

Bela Lugosi eats up his role with relish although interestingly we don't really see his teeth at any point. Certainly this is a very demure version of Stoker's novel with the camera cutting away whenever Lugosi nears a victim's neck. There is no blood at all apart from the moment when Dwight Fyre's Renfield pricks his thumb on a pesky paper clip much to Dracula's interest. And although there is plenty of discussion of puncture marks on necks we are never shown them. Even Van Helsing's staking of Dracula happens off camera while the insipid Jonathan Harker is reunited with his darling Mina.

It rattles along in a mere 75 minutes and the main action is nearly all over before we notice it. Along the way we have much more of Dracula walking about old London town than I remember. The surprisingly tall Lugosi in his top hat and cloak cutting quite the dash as he visits the theatre, and then the drawing room of Dr Seward. Which, of course, is where he first encounters Van Helsing with Edward Van Sloan trying to outdo Lugosi in the weird European accent stakes, and with other more wooden stakes as well.

The performances are of their era and are very theatrical which is fitting as this followed on from a successful stage play. Dwight Fyre is perhaps the most impressive and surprising turn as the demented and wretched Renfield. Most of the rest of the cast fade into insignificance compared with Lugosi, Van Sloan and Fyre. And there are a couple of odd moments of vampire lore which rapidly drop out of the canon, notably Dracula's ability to walk through spiders' webs with disturbing them (worst super-power ever), and the use of wolf's bane to repel the Count instead of the more familiar garlic. I wonder when that particular change happened?

Overall it is a fun 75 minutes although it doesn't really deliver many thrills for modern eyes. Of course with Dracula's easy access to bedrooms and sleeping beauties it is not hard to see why it had the impact it did at the time. Sex does indeed sell more than horror when it comes to this particular vampire tale. I'll rate it a middling 3 out of 5 black cloaks. Next up is the original mad scientist and his creation.

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