Dracula (1931)

Unfortunately it really doesn’t improve much with age however many times I watch it and hope I’ll like it better than I did the last time; as the man says, historical importance is no necessary guarantee of quality. This Dracula is, nonetheless, of vast importance; for the first time American cinema took on a supernatural theme and took it seriously rather than just writing off the monstrous goings-on as a perfectly human hoax, and though it’s hardly the first horror film as such it arguably did open the genre floodgates for good thereafter in a way that none of its predecessors did. Apart from that, however, it’s hard not to view it through the filter of its various problems, most notably the way in which it starts brilliantly and then rapidly goes downhill… Apparently the book was considered for adaptation many years earlier, but was deemed too problematic (on censorship grounds) and too expensive, so the stage play (a couple of bastardised generations removed from Stoker’s original) was deemed an acceptable alternative. The end result is that the film can’t escape its theatrical origins (is that why the Transylvania scenes work, cos apparently they weren’t in the play?), nor the apparent lack of enthusiasm of its makers; Wiki suggests Tod Browning was somewhat despondent at the recent loss of his old mate Lon Chaney (the original contender for the lead role) and so was content to let cinematographer Karl Freund handle most of the directing duties, as has long been suggested by its nominal “hero”, David Manners, who was no fan of the material either. Just as well Bela Lugosi, in the role that made him famous and typecast, gave it his all even if some others couldn’t be bothered; like Max Schreck in Nosferatu, he’s pretty much the prime reason for still watching the film other than for the historical considerations. It’s a stiff like many of its contemporaries, but it should still be seen.

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