Video Vault: Dracula

1931 – Tod Browning
Not Rated: 75 minutes
Vault Rating: 7*

I’ll begin the discussion on the “original” film version of “Dracula” by recounting two viewing experiences that I think are relevant.

The first viewing was of Francis Ford Coppola’s splendid 1992 remake, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” which I saw at the Rowland Theater in Philipsburg with my then-84-year-old great grandmother-in-law.The second was a viewing of a DVD of today’s subject with my 9-year-old son last week.

In the first case, Cathryn Albert sat between the wife and I and she was full of anticipation. Near the beginning, a map of Europe slowly pans and settles on an ominously named country, the letters standing out in the gloom.

“Transylvania,” said Kate, leaning over into my ear in a conspiratorial way. “That’s where Dracula is from.”

This was a quaint moment for the missus and I. Who doesn’t know where Dracula comes from? I would wager more people know that than can name the last three presidents. Kate was, of course, unaware of the world-wide notoriety of the Bela Lugosi original and that there had been dozens of films on the topic since.

The point is that when she first saw the film in 1931 in a darkened movie house, no doubt on the arm of some beau her father didn’t approve of, it left an indelible impression on her that she hearkened back to more than 60 years later. This film, when it was released in a more innocent age, was a true shocker that helped shape the entire horror genre. Cathryn Albert could never forget it, and she wasn’t the only one.

Last week I got a copy of the DVD and put it in the grinder and the boy wanted to watch it too. Even a 9-year-old knows where Dracula comes from. But the point is, he, himself in an innocent age, also found the film effectively chilling even if the rubber bat effects were kind of funny. Kid wanted to know if Dracula makes other vampires by biting them, then where did Dracula come from?

Chicken or the egg.

The asterisk in our Vault Rating of “7” comes from the fact that we’re considering a movie more than 75 years old that still makes the cut. Back then we’re probably looking at a “9” or higher because it was a true trendsetter. It was the kind of chiller that you remembered forever.

Ask someone to imitate a vampire and odds are that they’ll put their arm over their face, obscuring all but their eyes, and they’ll say something like, “I vant to suck your bloooooooood!” That a person can mimic Bela Lugosi after all this time, whether or not they’ve ever seen this film, is testament to his iconic standing as THE count.

And Lugosi is marvelous in this film, delivering his unworldly dialogue in an utterly original way. (“I never drink… vine.”Mmmwah-ha-ha!) Dwight Frye, as the spider and fly eating Renfield, is perhaps even more creepy as he defines the grotesque lackey role as Count Dracula’s helpless thrall.

All of this is bound together by the matchless, for the time, cinematography of Carl Freund into a suspenseful, dense atmosphere of a kind that has been used ever since.One can clearly see where the Hammer horror films came from and can trace the effect straight through the late night reruns of Chiller Theater and on into the modern cinema.

Is “Dracula” a must see today? Probably not. Maybe not even around Halloween. Heck, it isn’t even the first “vampire” movie (see “Nosferatu”). But it is indispensable when talking about film history and also when considering the legendary monsters of filmdom.

And when it came to monsters, vampires were always the scariest for me because they looked like regular people, but something was obviously wrong about them. During sleep outs, my buddies and I would always try to come up with ways to deal with various monsters if they would suddenly appear. I mean, what would YOU do with a Frankenstein or a Mummy or a Wolf-man? Hmmm? As a kid, I could handle Frankenstein or Godzilla because those were obviously dudes in outfits. But vampires? Dude, there was something seriously messed up about Christopher Lee in “Dracula: A.D. 1972.”

Now on to this week’s new releases at Adventure / Silver Screen!

Inside Man: 2006- Spike Lee – All-Star cast (Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe) in a story about a perfect heist that, of course, gets out of hand.Crime / Drama – Rated R – 129 minutes.

The Lost City : 2005 – D: Andy Garcia – Director Garcia, himself a Cuban immigrant, hearkens back to the lush life in 1950s Havana before the rise of Castro. Stars Mr. Garcia, Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray. Drama – Rated R – 143 minutes.

Brick: 2005 – D: Rian Johnson – Noir meets “High School Musical” as a teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.The film seems to attract good popular buzz and lukewarm to good critical acclaim. Drama / Mystery – Rated R – 110 minutes.

Don’t Come Knocking: 2005 – D: Wim Wenders – A has been movie star decides to reclaim his wasted life when he discovers he may have fathered a child.For a better take on the topic, try “Transamerica,” but this one might be worth your time.Good cast. Drama – Rated R – 122 minutes.

The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb: 2006 – D: Russell Mulcahy – This B title concerns the search for King Tut’s tomb that becomes a life and death adventure for two archaeologists. One wants to protect the powers of the tomb for the good of man and the other wants to harness them in order to rule the world! Malcom McDowell co-stars.

Larry the Cable Guy:Health Inspector : 2006 – D: Trent Cooper – If  “Git ‘er done!” is the equivalent to “Know what I mean, Vern?” then Larry the pretty funny blue collar comedian is just the latest amusing person lucky enough to capitalize on a one line catch phrase and rocket into the firmament of bad films. Comedy – Rated PG-13 -89 minutes.

Bring It On:All or Nothing: 2006 – D: Steve Rash – You know, I really liked “Bring It On” but by the third go round all you’re likely to get is more gymnastic dance and some pretty good cheerleader routines. At least it only uses two cliches in its title! Comedy – Rated PG-13.

The Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther: 2006 – D: Curt Geda and Steven E. Gordon – The Marvel Machine is busy promoting its giant crossover “Ultimates” storylines.Animated sequel might be worth while to fans of the type.Animation/Action – Rated PG-13.

Hey! You’re welcome.And so are your comments. You can drop us a line with your thoughts at and perhaps you could include one of your favorite defenses against monster attack. And until the undead STAY dead … Enjoy!

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