“Dracula” on film (1931 adaptation)
It was a dark and stormy mid-afternoon when I sat down to watch this movie.
Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” has been adapted a billion times – into movies, failed Broadway musicals, TV shows, video games, you name it. (PS – If you don’t know about the “Dracula” puppet musical from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” you’re missing out on one of life’s great joys.)
I doubt any of them are as well-known as the 1931 Bela Lugosi film adaptation.
Let’s not pretend for a second that this movie is a spot-on adaptation of Stoker’s book. It’s not. To begin, it’s not Johnathan Harker who goes to Castle Dracula to help arrange the purchase of Carfax Abbey, but Renfield. And I don’t recall Stoker’s Renfield ever wandering into Castle Dracula looking like he stepped out of the pages of “The Great Gatsby.”
And here, Mina is Dr. Seward’s daughter, whereas Stoker’s Seward is one of Lucy’s multiple suitors. (Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris are nowhere to be found.) Oh, and she gets bitten and starts to turn into a vampire before even the halfway point of the film. But, you know, she gets fabulous and decadent costumes and she gets better from being a vampire in the end.
Whatever. All the changes — even the dumb ones — are totally irrelevant.
The Lugosi “Dracula” is, despite it’s age, a truly creepy horror movie. Lugosi’s iconic performance is the one all other modern vampire portrayals are based on, down to Count von Count on Sesame Street. Yes, some of the effects (bats on strings) would be considered cheesy by modern film audiences, but it all still works. When Dracula first appears, along with his vampire wives, it’s eerie and timeless. When Van Helsing realizes that Dracula isn’t appearing in a mirror, it’s a great cinematic moment. The sets are gorgeous and everything looks rich.
This is old Hollywood doing what they did best.
And it holds up.
Especially on a rainy fall afternoon.
[Note: Personally, I’m partial to the Francis Ford Coppola/Gary Oldman “Dracula” film, as it’s thrilling and gorgeous and was my first real intro to the story. Also, Gary Oldman KILLS it in the title role, and he’s supported by a dynamite cast of actors. Except Keanu Reeves, who is the strangest Johnathan Harker ever. That’s all I have to say about that.]