Dracula (1931)

Dracula is a horror movie. Count Dracula is a vampire. He has a castle in Transylvania. He can turn into a bat or a wolf. Hates crosses, sunlight, garlic and mirrors. Sleeps in a coffin and wears a nice cape. He is a handsome man.

hey cool
Bela Lugosi
but YUCK
van Helsing

I'm probably of the very last ever generation of humans for whom the Universal classics were the first experience of horror. Not that I was alive in 1931, but these movies were so powerful and iconic that they were the default definition of "horror movie" all the way into the 1970s. Karloff, Lugosi and the Chaneys were still the faces of horror, plastered in the pages of every monster magazine or comic book and the staple food of midnight movies and creature features back when I was a brat. In fact I actually had this (mine came with the glow in the dark bits!).

And for me Dracula was the first of the big three (Frankenstein Dracula Wolfman); I vaguely remember seeing it somewhere, somehow, when I was short enough to worry it might be scary. Ha no. By then this thing couldn't scare a rabbit. Hell Dracula doesn't even wear Dracula teeth in it. But I had seen a horror movie, and I liked it.

But nowadays we can see Draculas in colour and full of bloody naked chicks, computerised monsters and cuss words. Can this old thing still even sit at the big
people table?

Yeah kind of.

Bela is still the greatest Dracula, and wild eyed Dwight Frye the greatest Renfield. They sure don't lock his cell good. And while I hate to grade on a curve, these movies invented horror as popular genre, their Gothic influence echoing through Hammer, A.I., Amicus, and thus all the way down to whatever fucked up thing you just saw on Netflix. For me that does actually make them more enjoyable to watch. That carriage rattling through the storm isn't just the opening scene of the movie, it's the opening scene of horror, the very "Call me Ishmael" of our sick obsession. Gives me a chill.

And the movie itself is still a decent watch. There's an eerie quiet to it. The last time I saw it I felt something strange during the scene where Dracula is looming over a victim's bed as she sleeps. At first I couldn't place it but then I realised, no music. He's just hovering there silently. Directors back then didn't yet feel the need to drench every scene in muzak, which is odd considering they were barely out of the silent film era when an orchestra played through the entire thing. I guess they figured hey these are talkies so people can actually just listen to what's happening. Modern filmmakers for god's sake please take note.

A lot of film buff types claim Frankenstein is a better movie, and yeah maybe it tells a more complex story, but I'm a Dracula man when it comes to the Universal classics. It's more a horror movie. More skulls, cobwebbed castles, howling wolves, bats, rats, coffins, that sort of thing. And um, armadillos. Even a glimpse of the rare Transylvanian North American possum.

There is however one big braying negative. The aforementioned sparse eerie quiet is only in effect when van Helsing shuts it, which he almost never does. Movie's called Dracula but the parts that aren't van Helsing talking are few and far between. Sonofabitch hogs most of it in what almost amounts to a filibuster, delivering a constant stream of expository dictation and scolding Dracula with much sanctimonious rolling of r's. Kind of reminds me why I don't watch many really old movies.

But Bela Lugosi's quiet dignity makes van Helsing look like the self-righteous clown
he is - a lesson not lost on my beady young mind. Horror 101 passed.