One year, one film: 1931
Dracula, dir. Tod Browning
starring Bela Lugosi
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Bela Lugosi gives an iconic performance in the title role of this early-’30s Universal horror flick. Tod Browning, best-known for his work in the horror genre (Mark of the Vampire, Freaks, London After Midnight, etc.) directs.
What did critics at the time think of this spookfest? Our old pal Mourdant Hall of The New York Times, for one, was definitely a fan. Hall writes, “What with Mr. Browning’s imaginative direction and Mr. Lugosi’s makeup and weird gestures, the picture succeeds to some extent in its grand guignol intentions.” Hall goes on to praise the performance of Helen Chandler as “excellent,” and to call Dracula “the best of the many mystery films.” (February 13, 1931)
Variety praised Lugosi, stating that “It is difficult to think of anybody who could quite match the performance in the vampire part of Bela Lugosi, even to the faint flavor of foreign speech that fits so neatly.” The film as a whole is lauded for its “creepy atmosphere,” though the review points out that it differs from Bram Stoker’s novel and from the stage version. (December 21, 1930)
With Lugosi filling the legendary vampire’s shoes expertly, Dracula is a great watch, in my opinion. An effectively spooky atmosphere is built (thanks largely to Karl Freund’s cinematography), and the supporting performances are good. The film’s influence on the horror genre, and vampire films in particular, is undeniable. It’s not my favorite of the Universal “monster” flicks, but I do highly recommend it.