Pssst, want to check out Dracula in our new look?
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1931's Dracula with Bela Lugosi is worth seeing because it is iconic. However, it is at times painfully slow and theatrical. The latter is at least understandable given that it is more an adaptation of the stage play than Stoker's original novel, and Lugosi was cast precisely because he was in the stage play. But truth be told, while they do some interesting things with lighting to make his hypnotic tricks come alive, the possessed Renfield and Mina Harker are scarier than he is! But then, isn't that kind of the point? Universal more or less created the civilized, aristocratic, and suave Dracula with this picture, surely more insidious a villain than more monstrous portrayals. If it flags, it's in the middle once we reach London. While Edward Van Sloan is striking as Van Helsing, he's essentially an infodump device, making you realize we're too early for audiences to know all the vampire tropes by heart.
I will agree I enjoyed Frankenstein far more, but that's comparing apples to oranges. Like many classic - and it is indeed a classic - horror films, the atmosphere is really what makes it.
Also, the scene of Renfield's maniacal laughter below the deck is unforgettably terrific!
Lugosi is a classy Dracula, but I would take Klaus Kinski over him any day--although the nearly half-century gap does render my choice rather unfair to the former. Dwight Frye delivers a pretty good performance as Renfield. Great sets and atmosphere are weakened by some decidedly un-frightening critters--the bats seem particularly innocuous--and unintentionally (I assume) funny performances. Not to nit-pick, but I didn't know that Romania was inhabited by armadillos (although I found a brilliant and hilarious interpretation of that here: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/10/hoisted-from-comments-the-armadillos-of-castle-dracula.html). Kind of fun to watch, but really the whole thing is bloody cheesy by today's standards. It's a bit hard to imagine this scaring anybody, even in 1931.
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In 10 official lists
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This movie ranks #16 in Leonard Maltin's 100 Must-See Films of the 20th Century
This movie ranks #44 in TSZDT's The 1,000 Greatest Horror Films
This movie ranks #55 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #85 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills
This movie ranks #86 in Roger Ebert's Great Movies
This movie ranks #97 in David Thomson's Have You Seen?
This movie ranks #234 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #271 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #290 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry
This movie ranks #740 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown