“I bid you welcome.”
Dracula is one of the OG monster horror films from Universal. By today’s standards it’s really not that frightening. At all, really. I’m not sure that it was ever considered a film likely to induce terror in the viewer. On the whole it seems much more calculated to be creepy and cause dread.
A young Englishman named Renfield, too modern and scientific to heed superstitious warnings about vampires, travels to the eastern half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to close a deal with Count Dracula. The Count is leasing an old ruin of an abbey in England. Instead of being killed Renfield is enslaved to the Count’s will and becomes both the most pitiable as well as reprehensible character. If one were to learn Gollum was based on Renfield it would utterly fail to surprise. Dracula encounters his compatriot and implacable foe Professor Van Helsing in London and a struggle ensues as Van Helsing attempts to halt the vampire’s predations.
The key to the enjoyment of this movie, because it is nearly 100 years old, is to be able to enter into the story. One must understand that the way people behaved and, more importantly, thought was very different from today. The cliché of the past being a different country exists for a reason.
Bela Lugosi is magnificent as the supremely suave, urbane, sophisticated, and evil Count Dracula. The frisson of dread when he introduces himself to Renfield is undiminished by the passing of time. Renfield himself is astonishing and threatens to steal every scene he’s in. It’s the shame of the world that he was typecast and never achieved the success he deserved for his acting ability.
The cinematography is excellent, the use of light and shadow in black and white is stunning. It’s astonishing when one considers the technology of the day. The translation from a stage production is tolerably apparent in places, but it’s certainly no worse than its contemporaries. All in all a marvelous early work of a still young art form.