A brilliant film adaption of a magnificent novel, this is the Dracula film that most people tend to think of. The 1931 film Dracula starring Bela Lugosi a black and white marvel that is atmospheric, nicely shot, and has a subtle romantic element amongst its scenes of unparalleled weirdness.
The film has a strange opening act. Rather than Jonathan Harker going to Dracula’s castle it is Mr. Renfield who journeys there and is driven insane. It’s strange because that was part of the novel, but was only mentioned by the main characters and never actually shown. After Dracula’s arrival in London the story moves away from that of the novel and forges a new one of its own. Renfield is given the spot of one of the main characters, and the characters all play slightly different roles in the narrative than they did in Bram Stoker’s novel. In the end though, it doesn’t really matter.
It has to be said that the effects though primitive and old fashioned do provide the above mentioned moments of weirdness. Scenes like this include Dracula, passing through a wall of cobwebs without touching them, his transformation from bat to normal form, and the two lights that were used to make Dracula’s eyes appear almost hypnotic. It’s just a pity that how close ups of the bat model make it quite obvious that it is just a model and the same goes for the spiders in Dracula’s castle. It may come as a surprise to know that we never see a drop of blood or flash of a fang.
The cast led by Bela Lugosi all fit well into their character roles. Lugosi is an amazing Dracula, who’s drawn out delivery renders the dialogue rather ponderous. The charm and charisma he brought to the character is quite reminiscent of how Dracula seemed at first in the novel. Dwight Frye portrays Renfield rather differently. His moments of madness seem rather tame compared to those in the novel which were rather frightening. However, he does speed up the film’s pace if you feel that the story is lacking a bit. The vampire hunter Van Helsing appears through actor Edward Van Sloan who is almost just as good a Lugosi. His big scene in which he shows his acting power comes when he scares off Dracula with a crucifix after some quite powerful dialogue. A bit of very minor comic relief comes from the character Martin (Charles K. Gerrard), but its down to the audience whether or not he is actually meant to funny or not.
Though the story doesn’t exactly do the novel any justice Dracula is a chilling take on the spectacular book by Bram Stoker. The acting is all good and the supernatural element meshes well with the film right from the moment Lugosi makes his introduction as the evil count. A classic film from the 1930’s.