Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been hailed by some as the definitive on-screen version of the story. In fact, Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the character serves as the origin of Dracula’s iconic Hungarian accent.
My recent watch of Dracula is actually my first time viewing one of the original Universal Monster movies, and as a casual fan of the Dracula mythos, I was excited to finally see the definitive Dracula film. Despite my anticipation, however, I was not impressed by this movie.
The opening of the film is fantastic, playing a segment of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake over the title cards. The superb opening got me quite excited for the rest of the film. Sadly, the opening sequence is probably my favorite portion of the film, and the only reason it is so is the use of Swan Lake, which ironically isn’t even an original contribution to the film.
The movie begins with Dracula moving to London from his castle in Transylvania along with Renfield, a young man recently turned vampire by Dracula. Once in London, Dracula turns Mina Harker, a neighboring young woman, into a vampire as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing attempts to decipher the situation, save Renfield and Mina, and foil Dracula’s plot.
The only real compliment I can award this film is that Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula is quite engaging. He portrays the character with a mysterious edge; everything from his mannerisms to his voice inflections are fairly interesting. Sadly, his performance isn’t good enough to save the film from the shallow, boring script.
This film’s interpretation of Dracula’s story is simply dull and monotonous. There’s little to no character development, and none of the characters are given sufficient motivation for any of their actions. When the film concluded, I was left asking myself why Dracula moved to London in the first place, or why he did anything for that matter. I understand that vampire’s need blood to survive, but when Van Helsing began challenging Dracula, why would he not simply move on to another victim? Perhaps these questions are answered in Bram Stoker’s novel, but this film makes no attempt to address them at all.
Despite the movie’s extremely short runtime of about 1 hour and 15 minutes, the film’s monotonous pace makes it feel far longer than it actually is. However oxymoronic this may sound, I would posit that Dracula would feel shorter if it were longer. If the script was lengthened and gave sufficient depth to the characters, the film would be far more interesting, and the viewing experience, therefore, may not feel so long.
In short, Bela Lugosi delivers a quality performance as the title character, but it’s not enough to save Dracula from a shallow script, boring characters, monotonous pacing, and an overall wearisome viewing experience.
If you want to see a good Dracula film, I would recommend Nosferatu (1922) with Max Shrek or Horror of Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee. Both adaptations are far superior to this one.