Children Of The Night: 90 Years Of ‘Dracula’ (1931) Retro Review

The vampire is one of Hollywood’s favorite monsters and has been played by countless actors over the decades, although none could reach the influence and magnitude of Bela Lugosi’s (The Wolfman 1941) performance in Dracula (1931). Released on February 14, 1931, Dracula has made our hearts yearn and bleed for 90 years now.

The first of 30 Universal monster movies (check out our review of the first 10-years of the Universal Monsters here), Dracula was an instant hit and would shape the horror genre for years to come. Directed by Tod Browning (Freaks 1932), the film reached critical acclaim almost immediately. Not only does the film star like Lugosi, who would eventually go on to become a household name, but it is actually full of reoccurring Universal stars.

Dwight Fry (Frankenstein 1931) and Edward Van Sloan (The Mummy 1932) are among the key players to make the film memorable. Van Sloan’s portrayal of Van Helsing is one of the best in film history. So many other actors have played the character, but he did it with a true hatred for the vampire.

Fry’s interpretation on Renfield is chilling, especially after Dracula hypnotizes him. His sinister laugh as he’s looking up the stairs is absolutely terrifying and one of my favorite moments in the film.

But the showstopper is Bela Lugosi himself. When you think Dracula, you think Bela. It’s second nature to horror fans use that clichéd Dracula voice and imitate him. That’s where the film’s charm comes in. Ninety years later, Dracula still impacts Hollywood in some way.

Dracula is a slow burn; it takes time to really get going. But when it does, it’s truly a masterpiece. German Expressionism heavily influenced Universal, and in the early days of the classic monsters, it shows. Especially with Dracula, the use of dark shadows and low lighting really help create the atmosphere.

One of my favorite lines in horror history is from this film. It comes when Dracula and Renfield are eating dinner. Dracula pours wine in Renfield’s cup. Renfield asks, Aren’t you drinking?Dracula simple, and slowly answers, I never drink… wine.I think it’s perfect and subtle, only heighted by Renfield’s nonchalant reaction.

The set design is also masterful. The wide shot of the staircase in Dracula’s Castle is incredible and shows the hard work that went into make a film like this. Even if the cobwebs look fake now, there is still an undeniable charm to it.

Dracula is an incredible horror movie full of terror with a hint of romance. It’s poetry in motion. Dracula comes off as this sensual being, giving his victims a false sense of security. After 90 years, this movie still holds up. Quite frankly, other vampire movies can’t hold a candle to Dracula.

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About Anthony Baamonde

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