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Dracula (1931)

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 71 mins . PG . PAL


Bela Lugosi plays creepy to the point of excess, giving this film way more appeal than the thinly veiled Dracula of nine years prior, 1922’s Nosferatu. I must confess to being a little wary of watching this movie with my modern film attention span so deeply ingrained, but found this production surprisingly watchable. I wasn’t too sure if I was supposed to be cheering for Dracula or not, but my Hannibal Lecter field was on I guess and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Dracula take his perverse pleasures.

"Dracula? I've never even heard of that name."

Our story sees our young hero Renfield (played magnificently by Dwight Frye) organising the lease of an abbey in London for the mysterious Count Dracula. Upon his arrival at the Count’s castle, he is greeted and promptly converted into a creature of the night by a sly nip from Dracula. He spends most of the rest of the story either insane or describing with joyful malice the joy of eating bugs. However, once Dracula, his wives and Renfield have all moved to the abbey, several young ladies are discovered to have died in mysterious circumstances. Renfield finds out the Count wants to sink his teeth into Renfield’s ex-partner Mina (Helen Chandler) next, and torn between his idolatry of the Count and his love of Mina, Renfield rebels. With the help of Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who is Renfield’s doctor in the Sanitorium, they race against time to save the girl.

Attention to detail is excellent; especially evident in the striking modelwork of the fated ship Vesta, lurching its way through a turbulent bathtub on its way to sunny England. I know it’s a model, but it heralds a bygone era in film making that computer animation is so quick to dismiss in this day and age.

For the modern moviewatcher, this film may seem to have too many shots that go on and on, even after the point of the scene has been reached, but this adds a historical value to the film that allows us to concentrate fully on the horror of Dracula. There are no subplots simmering away, there are no other horrors lurking in the dank corridors, there is just Bela Lugosi and the wretched evil he is portraying. Special effects are a little cheesy, but substantial for their time – I mean, fog entering a room through the French doors?

The malignance aimed for with the vampire bats is a little hard to grasp while they bounce on almost-visible string, and they cheapen the atmosphere considerably, but thankfully there aren’t so many scenes of this. On the other hand, lighting, set design and camerawork are equal to shots of today and keep the film interesting to the eye. They remain a testament to the art direction of Charles Hall and cinematographer Karl Freund. Tod Browning directs well, wringing exaggerated expression from his cast when words fail or are unnecessary. The vast painted sets are quite spectacular as well and convey a sense of size unequalled by most setwork today.

Finally, some of the politically incorrect actions and comments of police and asylum orderlies are so dated as to be funny, making the film’s age very obvious (if the pictures hadn’t already) as coming from a time long since and forever gone.


For a film of its age, Dracula has been transferred as well as could be expected. Film artefacts abound, but the scratches and film jitters add a certain charm to this classic horror film. I felt like (and even wished) I was a ten year old kid stomping my feet in the cinema, yahooing and yelling with my dirt-smeared pals like my Dad tells me cinema once was (although, it was probably an M15+ equivalent feature back then.)

There is also no widescreen format here, but it doesn’t matter. The sets were designed for a TV shaped screen and they work well in that format. Being black and white, there are no noticeable colour shifts or such, although lighting on Dracula’s manic eyes at times looks weird (but I think it was intentional with the limited effects of the day.)


An alternate ‘New Music’ score by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet is included, but for my money the original score is the better of the two on offer. Sound is actually really nice for a film this old. Occasionally, we witness the odd incorrect speed of the music, but it’s always fleeting and uncommon. A few old newscaster-type verbal deliveries might make you cringe in laughter, but again, they make for an historical quaintness in the production.

There are the occasional poppings and cracklings of noise, which you might hope could be removed with digital remastering, so it’s a little disappointing in that regard.


Bonus features abound, which is unusual even for a film half this one’s age. There is a plethora of excellent information included with the featurette, The Road to Dracula, as well as historical commentary and fabulous art from original posters released around the globe.

The monster gallery of posters, daybills and lobbycards from around the world is fascinating and also included are stills and comprehensive original photos from the production.

A theatrical trailer is also onboard, and this is fabulous, though a little cut-off at the sides, which is a low-down shame. Nevertheless, it’s great to watch for its kitschy schlock value and prelude to the horror films of the 1950s.


All up, this film still works in our modern movie-going world. Dracula has, of course, been made several times and sequelised and re-invented, but this version endures and still beats the majority. The transfer is pretty darn good for a film of Dracula’s age and well outweighs other versions. A must for the collector of horror films to begin with, but the extras and bonuses seal the deal. Classic stuff. Hook in.

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      And I quote...
    "Gasp as classic horror gets modern treatment and survives!"
    - Jules Faber
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