Movie Report: Dracula (1931)

Book coverAfter my recent spate of cartoons and cartoonish films (interspersed with a romantic comedy), I decided to watch a serious piece of film.

Just kidding. What happened is that I started handling videocassettes that I’d bought where the previous owner had not rewound them. I have been treating them as though they’re stuck and unable to rewind–with some older videocassettes, the spring inside develops some trouble so that if you try to rewind it, it will get up to speed and rewind for a second and then stop because it thinks it’s completely rewound. To fix it, you can open the videocassette and remove the spring (I think–it’s been a while since I’ve done it), or you can simply let the film play all the way to the end, which resets the spring or something because it will completely rewind then. So I’ve been feeding videocassettes into the player with the television and sound system off to trigger the full rewind, which means a number of old videocassettes are sitting atop the cabinets now, which means I will likely be reporting on a number of old movies in succession.

So: This is a 1999 videocassette version of the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula. To a contemporary viewer, it looks like it hits the tropes of a vampire film, but this film pretty much established the tropes. A man, Renfield, travels to the Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania even though the local villagers think it’s a bad idea. He’s got papers for the count to sign to take possession of a property in England, and he becomes the count’s thrall. The count travels to England and takes possession of the new property next to a sanitarium/asylum (where they have put Renfield whom they think is mad because the ship carrying the count had something kill its crew). Once there, the count sets his eyes (and teeth) on the daughter of the sanitarium….owner? Manager? When people start to disappear/get ill, including the daughter’s close friend, they call in a specialist, Van Helsing (not played by Hugh Jackman) who learns that Count Dracula is the vampire whose presence he suspected.

The film makes its use of simple sets (and, apparently, some reused footage from an old silent movie for its shipboard scenes), and we get, like I said, things that we would come to expect (the vampire coming in the window, the leaning over the sleeping woman’s form, and so on). I know, some of it had been seen before, but we get Lugosi doing it. We get a lot of close-ups of his mesmerizing eyes. We get Dwight Frye as Renfield, chewing up the scenery and hamming up his madness.

And we get Helen Chandler as Mina, the daughter of the sanitarium owner who is presumably saved from becoming a vampire (or is she?) and Frances Dade as her friend Lucy who does become a vampire (and whose ultimate fate is not mentioned in this movie). But if the Internet had been around in 1931 (I mean, that is, if it was not around but hidden from us by the government, like giant robots and powerful cubes hidden under Hoover Dam), ahem, if the Internet had been around in 1931, perhaps we would have Mina versus Lucy arguments on newsgroups.

I dunno, but I think I’ll take Frances Dade as Lucy (right).

Do we even still have those kinds of versus arguments on the Internet any more, or is our society too completely fragmented for it? Or are they happening in places I don’t frequent, like Reddit? Because I’m not seeing them on the blogs I frequent (generally too serious and sturm und drang) nor on Facebook (given over to “suggested posts” and the same three or four people’s days’ old posts every time I log in). I dunno.

So: You know, I’m glad to have seen this as an adult because it is a bit of cinematic history, something part of the Universal monster movies back in the day that were exciting and thrilling and then devolved into self-parody after a couple of decades. The Dracula story was retold in 1992 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Rider, and Keanu Reeves–I saw that film, but given its date, I might have seen it with college friends, with the girl who preceded my beautiful wife, or with my beautiful wife. Eesh, I cannot remember with whom I saw the film. Isn’t that awful? It would partially retold in 2004’s Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman as the title character as an action hero. Fortunately, the timing of that film lends certainty yhat I saw it with my beautiful wife.

What’s next, Brian J.? A Godzilla movie, for crying out loud? You never can tell, can you, gentle reader?

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