Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Herbert Bunston, Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye
Running time: 85 minutes
Rating: No rating
Halloween is my favorite time of the year. I love the costumes, candy, decorations and especially the movies.
This year, I’m celebrating the holiday by reviewing the 1931 film “Dracula.”
There are two types of horror movies: ones that rely on graphic violence and bloodshed and those that focus on creepy atmospheres and ominous villains. “Dracula” falls into the second camp.
The film stars Bela Lugosi, who is up there with Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney as the best horror actors who ever lived. Before starring in this film, Lugosi played Dracula in more than 200 Broadway performances of the story, and his familiarity in the role shows in this movie. Despite spending most of his time talking, instead of inflicting chaos like most horror villains, he creates such a sense of uneasiness it is hard to stay still while watching the film.
The film follows Count Dracula as he travels from his monumental but dilapidated estate in the mountains of Transylvania to the bustling city of London. Along the way he feeds on various passers-by and eventually sets his eyes on Mina (Helen Chandler), the soon-to-be married daughter of Doctor Seward (Herbert Bunston), a famous psychiatrist and head of the Seward Sanitarium.
Dracula attempts to transform Mina into vampire, but the vampire hunter Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) intervenes and tries to free her from Dracula’s manipulation. Dracula needs only a few moments’ time with Mina to finish the deed, but to save her, Helsing and Seward need to locate the vampire’s resting place so they can drive a stake through his heart during the daytime when he is weak.
Dracula has the ability to control the minds of lesser beings, which creates a psychological drama as the Sewards and Van Helsing first try to identify the vampire. Then once Count Dracula is outed, they can resist his influence.
To illustrate the vampire’s leverage, filmmakers use a close-up shot of Dracula’s face, eyes glowing, as he tries to manipulate his next victim. It is one of the famous images from the movie.
It also demonstrates Lugosi’s dominate performance.
But he is not alone in the spotlight. Lugosi’s co-stars are also impressive.
Mina is no damsel in distress, but rather a reserved girl who becomes demon-possessed. Chandler makes that range feel genuine and dangerous.
Van Sloan’s Helsing is not the dashing hero he is in more modern movies, but simply an elderly psychiatrist who happens to know about vampires. Even still, his back-and-forth conversations with Count Dracula are some of the most interesting scenes of the movie.
Aside from Lugosi’s, my favorite performance is from Dwight Frye, who played an early victim of Dracula’s named Renfield. Frye is most often known for his role as Fritz, the mean-spirited hunchback from “Frankenstein.”
Renfield was an everyday business man who was contacted by Dracula via mail to lease a home in London and then charter a boat to carry the count from Transylvania to England. He eventually travels to meet the vampire in person, and Dracula drives the man mad. From there on out, Renfield is psychotic mess who is obsessed with blood and eating small critters such as spiders and flies. Once in England, he is confined to Seward Sanitarium, where he sneaks out at night to torment the Sewards at Dracula’s bidding.
“Dracula” is short, clocking in at just under an hour and a half, and it is an easy watch. Considering how influential “Dracula” has been on other films and the superb performances of Lugosi and his co-stars, everyone should see this movie at least once.
“Dracula” is available on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99-$7.99.
Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.