Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Movies To Avoid: "Dracula" (1931), starring Bela Lugosi

The other day, inspired by the approach of All Hallows' Eve, I had a desire to watch a horror movie. Lacking both money and a library card (I know, I know!), I decided to search you Tube for Bela Lugosi's world-famous 1931 performance as the infamous Count.

I have to say, was deeply disappointed. It started pretty early on; the acting was stilted and awkward, but that was only to be expected. After all, audiences back then expected something very different from their actors than they do today.

The first thing that jerked me out of the experience was the scene in which we first see Castle Dracula, and its inhabitants, both living and undead, which includes spiders (duh),bats (naturally), an opossum (Umm, okay...) and a nest of armadillos (WTF?!). It's like they didn't even think to research what kind of animals live in Europe, or that they might be different from the ones that live in California.

Speaking of uncertain locations, only about half the cast had English accents, despite the fact that the film was set in London, England. One particularly memorable performance, by Charles K. Gerrard, has one of the most gratingly fake Cockney-esque accents I've ever heard in my life. Furthermore, his character, Martin (a guard at Dr. Seward's sanitarium) is entirely useless as both a person and a character. He lets Renfield escape from his cell on several occasions, and is entirely ineffectual at restraining him. Also, his endless interjections ("'E's croizy! Comploitely looney!") are, as a rule, glaringly obvious, and largely ignored by the other characters.

Furthermore, Dracula's facade of normality is so laughably flimsy that it's a wonder that his own wives don't take him out, for his numerous and flagrant violations of the Masquerade. I mean, he doesn't make even the slightest attempt to hide what he's doing, and practically announces his next victims in public. It's a shock that it took Dr. Van Helsing himself to even notice that something wasn't quite right with this Dracula fellow.

Overall, the film entirely lacked any power to frighten, horrify, disgust, or even intrigue any modern viewer. I have a hard time believing that anyone was ever frightened by it. And don't give me any of that "It was a different time" crap! H.P. Lovecraft was still making a name for himself while this was being filmed, and his stories still scare the bejeezus out of me! And eighty years previous, Edgar Allan Poe penned The Tell-Tale Heart, one of the creepiest stories ever written in English. Hell, even Shakespeare told a few good ghost stories in his time. It's not as if no one had ever frightened an audience before 1931.

If you want a scary, classic vampire movie, watch F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. If you insist on knowing how this movie ends, watch Bram Stoker's Dracula instead. It's got basically the same plot, and it does what it sets out to do (i.e., it's actually scary) which is more than Tod Browning's film can say.


  1. I like that you include 'crazy' and 'sexist' in your labels.

    You've inspired me to never watch a movie I was never intending to watch anyways. Did someone actually say to you, "It was a different time!"? Cause movies WERE different then; I've got a date to watch His Girl Friday this Saturday, and that is INTENSELY different from a movie of today...for one thing they talk super-fast. For another, there's that whole off-screen suicide business. So I would say that's a reasonable point.

  2. Yes, they were different then. But that doesn't excuse the bad writing. It's pretty awful by modern standards, which is the only standards I can use to judge it. I can't go back in time and retrain my self to think like someone from the 1930's. I can do my best, but I'm afraid that I just can't see how anyone could every have been frightened by something so painfully cliche and childish.