The atmospheric opening is the best part--moody and full of sinister potential. After that, it's stilted drawing-room talk, variably acted, except for the cultish over-the-top dementia of Dwight Frye. Still, DRACULA is the film that started the 1930s horror cycle, secured Universal's
position as the horror studio, and made Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi a worldwide curiosity.
Following the successful stage play rather than Bram Stoker's classic novel, the film opens in Transylvania, where Renfield (Dwight Frye), a British real estate salesman, arrives to arrange the sale of a deserted English manor house to a strange nobleman, Count Dracula (Lugosi). The mysterious
count turns out to be a 500-year-old vampire, and Renfield is bitten and made his slave. Arriving in London, Dracula becomes smitten with Mina Seward (Helen Chandler) and attempts to make her his bride, but her fiance, John Harker (David Manners), and vampire expert Prof. Van Helsing (Edward Van
Sloan) try and put a stop to the undead count.
While the first part of the film is quite cinematic (mainly due to the brilliant cinematography of Karl Freund), the movie bogs down once it gets to England, after which it appears that director Tod Browning was intent on making a documentary of the stage play. Originally released with no music at
all (except for the portion of Tschaikovsky's "Swan Lake" played over the opening credits and, later, a snippet from Wagner's "Der Meistersinger"), DRACULA was scored in 1999 by modern composer Phillip Glass. Though the original version's eerie silence sets a uniquely uncanny mood, Glass'
ominously repetitive compositions, performed by the Kronos Quartet, genuinely enhance many scenes.
Universal, looking to continue exploiting the lucrative Latin markets they feared losing with the coming of sound, also made a Spanish-language version of DRACULA starring Carlos Villarias in the lead role and featuring a completely new, all-Spanish-speaking cast. Directed by George Melford, the
Spanish-language version was shot simultaneously with Browning's, using the same sets once the other cast and crew had gone home for the night. The result was surprisingly more fluid and less stagebound than the better-known English-language film, and, due to some provocative costuming, Medford's
version carries a more noticeable sexual charge.
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