One of my favorite films of all time, plus the film that influenced my love of horror movies the most, is Tod Browning’s Dracula. However, it was not until I watched the movie recently that I realized just what made this movie a great film instead of just a “classic” film.
Dracula was not the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel of love and the undead. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was an unlicensed adaptation of the text. However, it is Lugosi’s portrayal of the vampire that clearly stands out for me. Before the movie was made, Lugosi portrayed Count Dracula on stage. This is clearly evident with his slow, methodical movements and drawn out dialogue that makes Dracula such a creepy, and even seductive, character. Browning made exceptional use of Lugosi’s stage presence with close up shots of the actor as he hypnotized his prey.
By no means is this story a complex one. Count Dracula, with the help of a newly enslaved victim named Renfield, sets sail to England where he stalks Mina Seward, the daughter of Doctor Jack Seward, the head of a nearby insane asylum. Seward, with the aid of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, begins to see the mysterious count as a menace. However, it is the good professor who sees Dracula as a creature of the night.
Mina’s betrothed, John Harker, sees Dracula as a threat to his relationship first, and a threat to Mina’s life second. He is the perfect character to drive home the moral undertones that this storyline evokes. Harker and Van Helsing risk life and limb to do battle with the undead to save Mina’s life…and her very soul.
Dracula is a great film with excellent pacing. The character of Count Dracula has been portrayed by many, but it is Lugosi’s interpretation that is the longest lasting. His slow stalking of his prey before he goes in for the kill creates suspense. His very mannerisms (for example the scene where he raises his arms and curls his finger allows the cape to drape over his elbows, creating a bat-like outline is a subtle, but highly effective theatrical ploy. It is this performance that has captivated the hearts of filmmakers looking to evoke the horror of the original novel.