Friday, October 31, 2014

The MONTH of HORROR - Day 31: Dracula (1931)

The granddaddy that started it all! Not to say that there weren't other successful horror flicks before Universal rolled out its spooky masterpiece in 1931 however this one really kicked off an all new terrifying genre in Hollywood, whose creaky wheels would continue to keep on spinning to this day.

Based on the classic Bram Stoker novel of the same name, it's important to recognize that this is an adaptation, and not a literal translation of that classic 19th century tome, as some of the story, and character motivations have been altered but the themes remain the same. If you're looking for something more akin to the source material then I would highly recommend Francis Ford Coppola's version, starring Gary Oldman as the iconic blood sucking Count, but if you want to see the one where it all began, where all other sequels, prequels, remakes, and homages got their inspiration from, this is it.

Our tale begins in the mountainous eastern European country of Transylvania. The lawyer, Renfield (Dwight Frye) is on a journey to Castle Dracula to meet with the mysterious, and reclusive Count in order to finalize some real estate paperwork back in the bustling metropolis of London. Arriving at the nearby village at sundown, he is begged by the local townsfolk to reconsider venturing further until at least morning light, that death will surely meet him if he goes anywhere near that cursed medieval fortress during nightfall. Renfield has a schedule to keep though, and onwards he goes, eventually meeting up with a spooky horse drawn carriage that will take him the rest of the way. Wolves howl in the distance, bats flutter and squeak as they pass overhead, and a creeping fog develops out of nowhere, enveloping everything in sight--the doomed lawyer has arrived. The castle interior is a fixer-upper to say the least, as the main hall is one big dirt floor, and the massive, spiralling stone staircase is covered in thick cobwebs but what exactly do you expect a centuries old dead man's house to look like? Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) appears as a haunting spectre out of thin air, his black cloak swaying behind him as he slowly, yet gracefully makes his way down those stone steps, remarking upon hearing yet another distant howl on the wind, "listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make".

Old fashioned spook stuff here, and I love every minute of it. I love the black and white. I love the grandiose sets, the feeling of staged scenes which makes it feel like you're watching a play unfold through the screen, and the performances are all spot on, each actor belting out their lines all the way to the back seats. Bela Lugosi IS Count Dracula, the monster that many to this day will continue to emulate on Halloween night, throwing their capes up in front of them, eyes leering out, all to appear that much more menacing. We can joke about a character like that now because the classic Dracula look is such a staple of costuming but you can't deny it is as iconic as iconic gets, and we still enjoy dressing up as the classic Count because it's legendary in appearance. The slicked back hair, the dangling amulet over the white tuxedo shirt, complete with the black jacket, and black cape--you can't help but approach someone and utter "I vant to suck your blood!".

All from this one, 1931's 'Dracula', it is the movie that triggered all of that. Respect has to be given no matter what because without it, horror, and even Halloween would not be what it is today--without this, the most classic of classic fright flicks there ever has been. Nosferatu as a character may be scarier looking with his disjointed, claw like hands, hunched posture, and piercing dead eyes but he's not the original movie monster. That honour solely belongs to the Count himself, the undead ghoul who can cast you under his spell with a single piercing look, who can transform at will into a creature of the night, and who creeps into your room while you sleep to drink your blood--Dracula.

Happy Halloween!

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