Thursday, March 12, 2015

Before I Die #542: Dracula (1931)

This is the 542nd film I've watched of the 1,162 films on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working my way through.

Awesome poster.
Underwhelming movie.
Director: Tod Browning

In a word, disappointing.

I knew going into this one that the vampire story has been told and retold so many times that an early adaptation was likely to seem hackneyed, despite being the source for so many tropes. Still, I have watched several very old horror movies and found them quite good, especially the Murnau version of Nosferatu and James Whale's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The Browning version of Dracula I thought rather dull.

There's very little need to give a synopsis. Anyone who has read Bram Stoker's book or seen the extremely popular 1992 adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola knows the basic story of an undead Transylvanian count infiltrating London in order to leech a few upwardly mobile virgins. Browning's 1931 version is really the same story, but done with the visual and special effects limitations of his day.

I give the movie credit for being reasonably faithful to Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, including several of the grimmer and darker aspects of the tale. Of course the movie is nowhere near as graphic or grisly as anything we 21st-century viewers are accustomed to, but the implied horrors are strong enough. There are a few decent performances, as well. Bela Lugosi, of course, became an icon after playing the title terror. Also, Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan, who play Renfield and Van Helsing, respectively, do solid work in their roles.

Ah, the helpless virgin. Even a  suave, superpowered
creature of the night can't resist.
Still, there were far too many elements that have since become the stuff of caricature. The ridiculously fake bats. The shrieking, helpless damsels in distress. The idiotic fiancee who refuses to believe the horrors on his doorstep, despite overwhelming evidence. This is not to mention the overblown, melodramatic acting. Aside from the three actors mentioned above, the rest of the cast is completely forgettable, including Helen Chandler as Mina Harker, a key role. All of these things led to me either rolling my eyes or having my attention drift at several points in the film. This is pretty sad for a movie which is only 77 minutes long.

An iconic movie it may be, but I'll take the Murnau, Herzog, or Coppola versions any day.

So that's 542 films down. Only 620 to go before I can die...