“Listen to them: children of the night. What music they make!”
A lawyer (Dwight Frye) travels to Transylvania to meet with the vampire Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), who promptly bites him, then moves to England to pursue other victims; but with Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) on his trail, Dracula’s days are numbered.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while this “horror classic was once considered terrifying”, it’s now “often appreciated solely for its camp value” by movie fans who “regard it with tremendous affection”. There’s some truth to the latter part of this statement (Dracula is beloved by most horror fans simply for its pivotal role in cinematic history), but I’m not sure I agree that its “camp value” remains its primary allure — though there’s certainly some fun to be had in Dwight Frye’s loopily over-the-top performance as the bug-eating Renfield. Also arguably of camp value is Lugosi’s oft-imitated central performance as Dracula — though Peary generously argues that Browning’s “close-ups of Lugosi’s heavily rouged face and those wide, aggressive eyes are genuinely frightening”, and posits that while “Lugosi is no great actor… he is a great Dracula”. Peary accurately points out that director “Tod Browning’s direction is too stagey” — perhaps in part because the screenplay was based on a theatrical adaptation rather than Bram Stoker’s original novel — but notes that “cinematographer Karl Freund” (who purportedly directed numerous scenes) “manages to give [the] film some haunting atmosphere, particularly in the [early] Transylvania scenes” (which remain the most chilling moments in the movie). While undeniably creaky at times (it feels longer than its 75 minutes), this one is ultimately too historically important for film fanatics to miss.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bela Lugosi’s highly influential performance as Dracula
- Dwight Frye’s campily mad portrayal as Renfield
- Magnificently baroque sets
- Karl Freund’s atmospheric cinematography
Yes, as a flawed but historically relevant classic of horror cinema.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)