The first vampire film we saw was F.W. Murnau‘s silent horror film Nosferatu. Now that we’re hitting the sound era, you will now be introduced to one of Universal Studio’s earliest sound horror films. Tod Browning’s Dracula is pretty much the same plot where a dark, ancient vampire preys on the blood of any human within his brooding stare.
Yes, that stare! The one that terrifies you and hypnotizes you to do his bidding. The vampire of Count Orlok is completely different than Count Dracula in that Dracula has a pale face with dangerous eyes and a long cape to go with it. If none of you know anything about the characteristics of vampires, this is the perfect film to see in that you learn vampires can never go out in the sun, fear crucifixes, sleep in coffins, use hypnotism to lure his victims, and react to blood the same way a shark would. While originally, Tod Browning was going to adapt Bram Stoker’s (the author who sued Nosferatu for plagiarism and copyright infringement) novel in order to make a spectacular big budget film at the level of The Phantom of the Opera, the stock market crash and The Great Depression led him to adapt the stage version instead. I consider that a wise choice in order to avoid another potential law suit!
It is clear to see how theatrical this film is not just because of the adaptation but because Tod Browning was used to doing silent films. The close-ups and performances of the actors was very theatrical. Lon Chaney, The Man with a Thousand Faces, was about to play Dracula but his death from throat cancer led Tod Browning to give into Bela Lugosi’s begging that he, who played Dracula on stage, would do the film for as little as $500 a week. Write in if you find that a crazy request or if you sympathize with his yearning for the film. As much as Bela Lugosi played the role fantastically, I am curious how Lon Chaney would have been when I look back on his performance as The Phantom. As well as the acting, the sets of Dracula’s castle looked brilliantly Gothic and haunted.
My favorite performance of all was Dwight Frye’s and the character transition he makes. He first appears as a square and naive solicitor who is oblivious to Dracula’s undead-ness and then becomes a lunatic slave to him. How he would say his lines in a entranced, slow pace with such expression. I felt like his character haunted me more than Dracula himself as he raves on about his thirst for thousands of rats! Who terrifies you more? It’s also amusing how for a vampire flick, the only blood you see is a drop. All of the violence happens off-screen and this was before The Production Code. Scenes even were banned outside the U.S. such as the bug scene above and Renfield’s monologue of his urge for rat blood! Write in if that makes sense to you. I even find it funny how the introduction was cut because of religious groups in that a speech was made to scare audiences into thinking vampires were real!
Watch this classic vampire film that all horror film fans should see and don’t be too scared to let me know what you think: