With Hallowe'en not that far away, I'm in the mood to watch some horror flicks.  Since I have the six Universal Legacy collections for Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, I decided to have a look at them all again. However, instead of just plowing through each one individually, I'm going to watch them all in the order in which they were released, at least as best as I can determine they were.

 

I'll begin with:  Dracula!

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Dracula (1931)

Released: 2/12/1931.

Directed by Tod Browning

Starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Helen Chandler as Mina, David Manners as Harker, Dwight Frye as Renfield, Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing, Herbert Bunston as Seward, Frances Dade as Lucy and Charles Gerrard as Martin.

 

1)The first thing I notice are the backdrops - totally noticeable as backdrops today, I remember completely buying into them when I was a kid. They are quite good, they manage to make the scenes in Transylvania quite atmospheric and creepy.

 

2)One thing I think Lugosi achieves is to make his Dracula seem superficially charming while also seeming rancid. One imagines that his Dracula drenches himself in eau de Cologne but still somehow smells like sour milk. The thing I've found I have to do to enjoy this is to put myself in the frame of mind of setting aside the countless parodies and imitiations I've seen of his performance here, and trying to remember that this is where it started.  I will say that Lugosi's staring/hypnotizing routine is somewhat variable - sometimes it looks menacing, but sometimes it looks as though he's just been goosed and is desperately trying to contain his reaction.  In general, Lugosi stays on the right side of the line between "creepy' and "goofy", but he does cross it from time to time.They do a good job of conveying the whole "Dracula as sexual predator" thing without ever directly mentioning sex.

 

3)The bats in this somehow contrive to be more convincing than the ones in Dark Shadows more than thirty years later. 

 

4)I've always wondered why there are opossums and armadillos in Dracula's castle. Aren't those native to the Americas?

 

5)Why doesn't Dracula take his wives to England with him? Is he dumping them? Or is he franchising? "You stay here and keep the home office running, while I get the new branch going."

 

6)Renfield goes completely crazy real fast, doesn't he?  Still, I suppose Dracula will do that to you. Gotta love Frye's deranged laughter.

 

7)I gather the scenes with the ship in the storm are re-used from a different picture.  They mesh in pretty well.

 

8)These were the days when the attendants openly abused mental patients. Thank goodness nothing like that happens today. Of course, Renfield sure gets loose alot, can't say as I think much of Seward's security procedures.

 

9)Van Sloan would've made an interesting Doctor (Who?), I think - he occasionally reminds me a bit of William Hartnell. At times, Van Helsing's almost as creepy as Dracula.

 

10)The female characters in this are all pretty feeble in this - we're a loooong way away from Buffy Summers. Of course, there's the whole undercurrent of "nasty foreign men messing with our women" here.

 

11)Not alot of music in this - I've gotten used to Murray Gold's Albert Glasser-esque tendency to hold you down and pummel you with music, this makes for a much quieter film.

 

12)Favorite Lines:

  • "The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield." 
  • "I never drink...wine."
  • "To die, to be truly dead - that must be glorious."  "But I'm not a vampire!"
  • "Isn't this a strange conversation for men who aren't crazy?"
  • "They're all crazy except you and me. Sometimes I have me doubts about you."

 

Overall:

I enjoyed this more than I remembered liking it the last time I saw it.  I remembered it as being too "stagy" and slow, but it seemed to zip right along last night. Probably a reaction to all those three hour Kurosawa pictures. Lugosi, Van Sloan and Frye are quite good, and Gerrard has his moments.  The rest of the cast are largely forgettable.

 

Coming Up Next: Dracula en español!

Have fun with this, Bob. I watched them all last Halloween season, and had a lot of fun. (I plowed through the sets, though, rather than jump between characters to stay chronologically accurate. I suspect that your way, the overall decline of the Universal horror shop may be more apparent.)

I've said this before, but ... I prefer everything about the Spanish version except the title character.

I've said this before, but ... I prefer everything about the Spanish version except the title character.

 

That's pretty much how I remember it, but I'll give it another look, probably tonight. One thing I've heard it said is that the Spanish team had the advantage of being able to look at the Anglos team's rushes each night, so they had the chance to see how different things looked and shoot them differently if they wanted to.

It is at home so I can't tell you the title, but I just borrowed a book from the library on the Universal Monsters - from the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera up through the Creature From The Black Lagoon series of the Fifties. It is a thin volume with each film getting a two page history/summary plus an essay appreciation by various folks associated with the stars or films themselves (Bela Lugosi Jr for example wrote the Dracula essay). Lots of full page stills from the movies along with a chronological listing of the films makes the book worth reading.

In the article on Dracula - it is pointed out that the American director approached the film like the original stage play with the camera remaining stationary throughout scenes. The Spanish director used a more active approach which probably helped make that version more dynamic.

Tracy and I worked our way through most of the Universal Studios monster films a couple of years back (even some of the lesser known, “non-franchise” ones), but we stopped short of the “Invisible Man” ones. My opinion of Dracula is pretty much lock-step with yours. I have nothing to add. I’m looking forward to the rest of this discussion.

The Baron:

"Herbert Bunston as Seward, Frances Dade as Lucy and Charles Gerrard as Martin."

I think it says something that I've seen this move at least 2 dozen times, and I would still have no idea who the actors were that played these parts.

"The first thing I notice are the backdrops"

What hump?

"They do a good job of conveying the whole "Dracula as sexual predator" thing without ever directly mentioning sex."

And of course, his first victim in the film is Renfield.

"The bats in this somehow contrive to be more convincing than the ones in Dark Shadows more than thirty years later."

Hilarious!  The visual effects in the 40's films are also vastly superior to anything Hammer did in the 50's-60's-70's.

"At times, Van Helsing's almost as creepy as Dracula."

I noticed a few viewings ago that Dracula, Renfield & Van Helsing all seem to be operating on a different level from everyone else in the film.  I suppose it takes someone like Van Helsing to deal with someone like Dracula.

"to be truly dead - that must be glorious"

No joke-- I had that engraved on my mother's gravestone.  (She was a huge fan of Lugosi.)

"I enjoyed this more than I remembered liking it the last time I saw it.  I remembered it as being too "stagy" and slow, but it seemed to zip right along last night."

So much of enjoying things from certain eras-- or in certain styles-- requires the right frame of mind. It's too easy to dsismiss this picture as "old fashioned", "stagey", "slow-moving", "dull".  And yet... in the last 10 years, I've been watching it more and more often (about once a year lately), and I find that of late, it keeps GETTING BETTER.  One thing I did notice was, the opening section does move along nicely (with the "location" scenes and huge sets). The longer it goes on, and so much of the picture is set entirely in Seward's sanitarium, it slows down more and more.  At one point, it crossed my mind that one could equate this to Dracula's presence taking over, and things slowly losing their live and creaking down to a DEATHLY halt.  Although I doubt the director had that in mind.

 

"Dracula en español!"

Sadly, I've only seen this once (I rented it and neglected to make a copy). But I enjoyed it immensely. I understand the same crew worked on both versions, so they were able to help make suggestions on how to improve it, it being a matter of pride that the Spanish version be "better" than the English version. I know there's a scene that uses a set (a large staircase) which appeared in publicity shots for the film, but somehow, not in the actual Lugosi film. Also, the way Dracula gets out of his coffin was more visual (you actually saw him do it). My favorite bit was how Dracula threw Renfield off the stairs, rather than his merely falling down them. That staircase in Carfax Abbey had to be the most dangerous-looking staircase I've ever seen in a movie!

 

I read somewhere that a couple of scenes were cut from reissues of the Lugosi film, during Code-era reissues, but unlike James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN, Tod Browning's DRACULA has never gotten a similar restoration treatment.  When Van Helsing says at the end that he will "be along presently", the reason he stayed behind was to address the audience directly, just as he did at the beginning of FRANKENSTEIN.

When Van Helsing says at the end that he will "be along presently", the reason he stayed behind was to address the audience directly, just as he did at the beginning of FRANKENSTEIN.

 

Interesting - I'd never heard that, but it would explain why there's a sort of abruptness to the end of the film.

The most abrupt transition in DRACULA, to me, is when, suddenly, Renfield is running around outside of Carfax Abbey, and Van Helsing and Harker are following him. I'm sure something is missing right there. The only question is, was it something that was filmed and cut, or was it a scene in the script that somehow was never filmed? (There was a reference to them putting Lucy to rest, a scene which appears in nearly every other version of the story... but not this one.)

The armadillos were brought in at great expense at the insistence of the director (and several died en route). I can only assume that he thought they looked "creepy". Opossums ARE creepy looking, and are technically "creatures of the night", but I agree they don't fit here.

Might I recommend the book Universal Horrors? I have a hard copy, but apparently only the Kindle version is available on Amazon. Nevertheless, it's a fantastic look at the movies, and they are explored in chronological order! Link

I guess it was about 15 years ago I decided to try watching as many of the Universals as I could, in sequence, for the first time.  By then, I'd taped a bunch of them off AMC (back when it was still a REAL "movie channel"). The rest I had to rent, but  one of my VCRs was on the fritz, so I never made copies of the rentals.  I did this marathon with my Dad.

The crazy thing is, Dad REALLY just wanted to see ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.  By the time I got to the 40's films, he was getting frustrated!  I recall we ended ther marathon by watching the last few back-to-back, one day at a time (something that's become a habit of mine in more recent years).  I didn't have the A&C movie... but instead of renting it, I BOUGHT a copy.  Lost count of how many times I've seen it since. I got my money's worth!  That movie was actually my introduction to ALL those characters, way back in the late 60's!

One film I saw during the marathon, which I had never seen before (or, sadly, since) was WEREWOLF OF LONDON.  Apart from being more complex and multi-levelled than most of these, the big surprise came much later, when I saw HOUSE OF DRACULA again (first time in decades).  The cure used for Larry Talbot in that film was IDENTICAL to the one in WOL!!!  So, for me, WOL became part of the overall continuity. And further, it "explained" why Talbot was not cured in the A&C movie.  A steady supply of the flowers were required. When that house went up in flames at the end of HOD, his cure went with it.

The A&C movie has surprisingly more respect for the characters-- and contnuity-- than you'd think. For example, I'd suggest the connection with Dracula & Frankenstein happened because both their bodies wound up in the same burning house in HOD.  Further, the film was the first time someone remembered the Monster could talk since GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN.  (Taking it further, the Bobby "Boris" Pickett novelty single, "Monster Mash", has a character in it named "Ygor"-- and it's the MONSTER who talks!  That's because in GOF, Ygor's brain was put in the monster's head.  Imagine, such attention to detail, in a "joke" song!)

Mr. Satanism said:

Might I recommend the book Universal Horrors? I have a hard copy, but apparently only the Kindle version is available on Amazon. Nevertheless, it's a fantastic look at the movies, and they are explored in chronological order! Link

I second that recommendation. I read a library copy of that book years ago, and have been looking for one for myself ever since.

One film I saw during the marathon, which I had never seen before (or, sadly, since) was WEREWOLF OF LONDON.

With Warner Oland!!! It's included in the Wolfman Legacy collection, if you can find one of those.

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