“The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly… The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.”
‘Dracula’, directed by Tod Browning in 1931, is an American horror movie based on the stage-play version of the novel by Bram Stoker. Renfield, played by Dwight Frye, is a solicitor who travels to rural Transylvania to complete the sale of an estate near London. Once there, his client, Count Dracula, a vampire played by Bela Lugosi, enthrals him and together they return to England to wreak havoc on the streets of the capital. It’s strange to watch this (I saw it on the big screen as part of a run of the Universal monster movies) having become so used to Lugosi’s iconic performances. Lugosi is charismatic in the role, his lack of English serves to make each line of dialogue somehow sinister, but he isn’t really the scariest part of the film. For me, the transformation of Renfield from prissy solicitor to manic ghoul is the highlight. Frye’s performance, surely an influence in the creation of Batman’s adversary the Joker, manages to be both comic and unsettling. There are also moments where I could start to see where David Lynch drew inspiration for his main villain in ‘Twin Peaks’ from, which added to my feeling of unease. What this film does lack, however, is a consistency of plot (it is only a fraction of Stoker’s novel and ends curiously abruptly) and, most notably, a soundtrack. For a horror film, this is unusual – although I’m not sure if it detracts from the drama or somehow increases the sense of wrongness, much like the presence of armadillos in Dracula’s castle.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s the foundation of a string of films that gave rise to the modern horror movie genre. It’s also a primer for all future adaptations of Stoker’s novel and, perhaps more importantly, it’s short.