Just playing for time, quite good at playing for time.
Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922 Prana-Film GmbH Dir. F. W. Murnau)
Our intrepid hero, walks towards a door… a door to HORROR!
Ah, how beloved is this first version of Dracula ever filmed? Well, not beloved if you ask Mrs. Stoker who tried to have the film destroyed. See it was used without permission and the studio went bankrupt so there was no money to pay Stoker’s widow with, so the courts ordered the whole thing be destroyed. If they had succeeded, Nosferatu would have been a lost film instead of one of the most famous films from the silent era. There are bits from this movie in many other Dracula movies that would come later as well as many other horror films. The design of Count Orlok particularly is a major difference as almost every other version of the story tends towards good looking seductive vampires while our monster here is a hideous beast all the way through.
Once again an example where glass would prevent people from getting in.
I don’t know of my own knowledge how many people had an experience like mine, but I am fairly sure that Nosferatu is the first full-length silent movie I ever saw. Before that the only thing I’d seen were Chaplin shorts, so as you can imagine this was more than a change of pace. I won’t say it was actually particularly frightening, because in many ways you need to be a little more grown up to be scared by something like this. This however the first long form silent movie I’d ever seen. I know a few other people who count this as their first and I know others who claim it as their own silent movie experience. The point remains that many people have seen this movie, even people who would normally shun old and silent films have seen this. I think it’s that this appeals to the Goth sensibilities. Here is something genuinely old, and genuinely scary that you can’t soften up for kids. Orlok would be scary as a stuffed toy, so you can imagine how he looks in the movie. The Universal Dracula was turned into a rather sad joke by the end, and campiness has followed the Dracula movies like a bad smell. But since this movie is like it is, you can’t really… defang the movie as it were. I didn’t want to make that pun, but it’s the only turn of phrase I can think of.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… pimpin’ ain’t never been easy.
There are many changes made between the original book and this version of the movie. There are superficial changes in names (Jonathan Harker becomes Thomas Hutter and Mina is Ellen) and instead of London we have Wisborg Germany, but the changes run a little deeper than that. The personalities are changed and story points are shifted, in many ways until they hardly resemble their novelic counterparts. Thomas is almost childlike in his exaggerated movements and gestures as opposed to Jonathan’s seriousness. At one point in fact, so childlike does Thomas become that he throws a blanket over his head when Orlok comes calling. So as we see, even when you change the name a Harker is still the dumbest creature you can come across. The Hutter version is probably the dumbest version, or at least the most childish.
You want to me give a hickey? Oh GOD that joke sucks!
Yeah, I see what I did there. Sorry.
The story does still follow the same basic pattern as Dracula, but with many subtle differences. The movie starts by introducing Thomas and his wife in a small domestic scene. If you have an analytical mind you might try to suggest things about the marriage, but I don’t intend to go there. In order to get the plot moving Thomas is sent by this movie’s version of Renfield, here called Knock, to Transylvania to see Count Orlok. Instead of being in a mad house, Knock is Thomas’s employer and a confederate of Orlok’s. We get to see this in a few different ways, with letters and with Knock behaving in the regular Renfield manner of knowing when the master is near and what’s going on all around.
Just a little, tiny bit Freudian.
Upon arriving in Transylvania Thomas stops at an inn for a night and picks up a book of folk lore. This book will give us much of the information the audience gets about vampires within the movie. Thomas is then driven out to the middle of no-where to meet with Orlok’s driver. As usual the driver is of course Orlok himself, but we don’t know that yet. Well, we do now because I just told you. Um… SPOILER! There is an interesting trick which sort of works and sort of doesn’t. When Thomas gets in the black carriage, the film is under cranked so everything moves much faster. Then there is a shot that is in negative, but because they used a white carriage in that shot, it still appears black, as does the driver and horses. When we come to the castle the film is once again the positive image with the black carriage. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t exactly work for me. One of the main problems with it is that I know exactly what I’m looking at. I’m looking at a negative image and as a result of knowing that it’s not scary. Poor old me, knowing too much to be scared. Story of my life.
As is usual, at dinner Thomas cuts his hand and Orlok decides to attack. This attack is strangely off screen, we only really see Orlok approach and then sit down across from Thomas. Thomas then wakes up in the chair, having clearly slept there all night. The implication is clear, but the actual consummation is left to the individual viewer as to what exactly happened. Just off screen is tube of lubricant and a pack of Trojans. Actually, this is really the one place where that joke just doesn’t work. Almost any other vampire movie, yes. Here, no. As I say, this movie just isn’t sexual. With Thomas at least partly in Orlok’s thrall, he remains with Orlok for some time.
They told me this would be slimming. Is it?
One of the interesting features of this movie is that the tinting actually matters here. The blue tints for the night shots, orange for the day, yellow for day and so on. There were almost no real night shots in silent films, because the cameras needed a great deal of light in order to properly film action. For this reason, without the blue tints it looks like the whole movie is shot between eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon, which is foolish. Since Orlok ends in this movie not by a steak through the heart but rather by the light of the sun, the time of day is quite crucial. You couldn’t have the Count walking around during the day, it just wouldn’t work.
Orlok’s shadow puppets were a favorite at sleepovers.
When the big revel of Orlok comes for Thomas to finish the job, Ellen steps in and sends a signal by psychic radio to save him. This moment is sadly laughable, but we do get to see some cross cutting which was something of an innovation at the time. It also manages to transfer the count’s interest from the husband to the wife. That at least gives a reason for him to go to Germany. From there Orlok begins his trip by stacking up boxes of earth and strangely getting a boat. I’ve never understood the need for the boat. Surely Germany is closer by land than by sea, right? After Orlok leaves Thomas makes a break for home as well, but gets hurt and ends up in a hospital for a while before getting home to warn people. Yeah, Thomas really is a Harker, no one else could be quite so stupid.
Stupidest place for a cemetary I’ve ever heard of.
During a short period where the story lags, we see the Van Helsing for this story explain how the natural world has things that are like phantoms and vampires. A venus fly tray and a microscopic polyp are given as representatives of the darkness in the real world. During this time, Knock goes nutso and begins to describe himself as a spider, eating flies he snatches out of the air. While this goes on, Ellen waits by the seashore for Thomas, or possibly Orlok who is on the boat for no good reason. It’s hard to say, but I do know that gothy girls would start to dress like her constantly in the 90s.
That’s a happy man.
The boat does give a good chance for some serious creeps though, which is probably a good enough reason. And of course on the boat you get that famous scene where the count rises up out of his coffin, seeming to be lifted on a board that has its juncture point somewhere around his ankles. He raises without movement beyond his right hand that extends out to scare the bejezzues out of someone. While on the boat, the count picks the crew off one by one, but through sickness instead of blood loss. The vampire here spreads death through plague, as I may have mentioned. I can’t remember if I did and I don’t want to re-read the whole review again (I R Professional) because I’m just adding bits here and there.
Really, this is jsut forced perspective. He’s actually only 3 feet tall
Interestingly, when Orlok shows up he seems to bring plague instead of bloodshed. The plague takes many victims, and it’s clear that this is sickness we’re talking about. Several scenes go by where parades of coffins are seen, people discuss the sickness, and we’re meant to understand this is all from the vampire being around. SO there you go, had I read a little further, the note in my last paragraph could have gone unwritten. Sad really, now I’m typing out useless notes here as well.
Dude, they’re called nail clippers and they aren’t expensive.
We never actually see Orlok try and stalk anyone after the boat until he finally makes an attempt to get to Ellen. All we get are a few ancillary scenes, sort of filling in a few blanks. After Orlok has been in town a while, Knock escapes from his captors and is mistaken by the mob as being the source of the plague. Knock is chased down but they loose him and decide to kill a scarecrow instead when they loose him. I wish I was joking! They really tear down a scarecrow and more or less say that’s that. Peasants! Am I right?
I wasn’t going to show this one, but then I was told that there is a law that you have to have a screen cap of this scene every time you do a review of this movie.
When Orlok finally comes for Ellen, she sends Thomas away to get him out of the way. Then of course, Orlok comes for her, but she keeps him away from his lair until day break. In a completely new idea and one that would endure through out vampire lore, Orlok is destroyed by the sunlight. As far as I know, this is the first time that the sun proves deadly for a vampire, but it would be taken up and used by many writers and film makers later. With Orlok dead, Ellen slips away leaving Thomas alone and broken. Knock sulks about the master being dead. The last shot of the film is a broken castle keep on a hill, clearly meant to be the final remains of Orlok’s castle which has crumbled without him being alive to keep it up.
That tuft of hair behind his ear? Drives the ladies WILD!
You could start analyzing this movie in the morning and not be done by bed time, which is why I’m not really going to try to do it here. I leave it to the viewer of the film to perform that task in their own good time. Here, watch a free copy. My copy of the DVD is pretty good. There are scratches and grain, but it’s got a serviceable commentary and two separate musical tracks. I’ve been told there are better versions of the movie out there, but I’ve never gone looking for it because this one dose well enough. I suppose that says all that needs to be said about it.
Everyone sing “Fade into You” By Mazzy Star! Yeah, I got nothing.
Wow, what a great story. I hope I get remembered for this instead of Heathers.
(this is called foreshadowing)
Yah! The gay vampire movie! Actually, that’s not really fair as I don’t get nearly as much of a gay vibe off watching the movie as I do trying to read the book. I say trying, because I never actually finished the book. I listened to a seriously cut to the bone abridgement back when audio books were almost all abridged, but I only got as far as Louis and Lestat wandering the world after Lou burned down the house. As you’d expect, a lot was cut from the book, but not much was changed as I understand it. I only put this explanation here so you’ll understand I’m only going to review the movie, without much comparison to the book. What I will say is that I only started hearing that Tom Cruise was gay after he played Lestat. I don’t know if it was going on before, but I only heard about it after. I keep wondering if there is some massive form of projection going on, or if Cruise identified with the character in the book or if none of that’s true and it’s just a rumor.
If you don’t talk to your kids about ridiculously foppish outfits, someone else will!
(Fop is a word for a young man more concerned with his appearance than for other matters. Fops are often seen as effeminate, because of their fancy dress, stupid for their lack of understanding of even the most basic principals of particle and overly foolish because they bloody well are. Other words for Fop include dandy, popinjay, and Justin Timberlake.)
So, the movie opens in modern day San Francisco, or at least the modern day San Fran of fifteen years ago. You can tell it’s fifteen years ago because there are no SUVs in the opening credit sequence and the people aren’t cowering with the fear that Muslims might attack or gays might try to get married at any moment. An interviewer for a radio station has met up with a man who claims to be a vampire and they discuss the interview that’s about to happen between them. A few quick cut moments, just to prove that Brad Pitt is actually supposed to be a vampire and not just some emo-goth talking a lot of shit and we’re into the movie. There is a lot of work done here to produce the feeling they were going for. Everyone did their jobs very well, my complaints are small and mostly based on the source material, which was itself never supposed to be taken for anything more than a horror/fantasy of the oyster tickling variety.
You know, those taste even better after the Colonel has fried them with his eleven herbs and spices.
(Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1929)
The opening of the actual story is pretty simple… guy named Louis is really, really depressed and then he meets a homoerotic vampire who turns him. You could say he turns him gay if you wanted, but really he just turns him into a vampire because that’s all he does. The gayness, as I said, was really toned down for the movie, but when you know it’s supposed to be there, you can see it. It’s not exactly hidden so much as made way less explicit than in the book. When I first watched the movie for the first time though, it wasn’t really in my mind. It was just sort of sexy and cool with them sharing babes and stuff. The movie emphasizes the overall erotic rather than the specifically homoerotic.
I am just going to hold this candle and mope until Terry Gilliam gets here and saves me from this image.
(Brad Pitt was thought of as merely a pretty boy before his performance in 12 Monkeys and later Seven. Since then, he’s proved what a serious actor he is by being in Ocean’s Twelve)
Lestat makes Louis a vampire and begins the process of instructing him and the audience about what it means to be a vampire. He will be informing Louis that he’s a vampire, every thirty-three seconds until he leaves the film. This is a movie about a mopey looser and a mean screwball, standing around talking about being vampires. As far as a movie goes, Lestat is the villain here, even if he’s the sort of villain you want to root for. Depending on your mood, you are either sympathetic for Louis while admiring Lestat’s sagacity about their vampirism, or you are completely disgusted with Louis and his constant whining. Louis is a whiner after all, let’s be clear about that. It’s hard, unless one is mired in one’s own depressive swamps, to have sympathetic feelings for a hunter who refuses to hunt. What, one may ask, is the point of being such a creature if one is too timid to actually attack anyone? Why did he agree to become a vampire if he didn’t want to be one?
Check out this bitching power cord I can do on Guitar Hero!
(Guitar Hero is a video game for people to pretend they’re playing guitar. Some people become convinced they can play after being good at the game.)
While sulking, Louis has a predictably manic moment where he decides to eat one of his slaves, free the slaves he didn’t eat, strike a blow for women’s suffrage by writing a strongly worded letter to The Times, destroy the house by burning everything including himself, sell his car for ten dollars on e-bay, and sing Abba’s greatest hits in a tutu. However, he is saved from his own stupidity by Lestat who swoops in and yells at Louis for burning down the place. The greatest single moment for Lestat is when Louis makes some typically dour comment only to have Lestat snap “Oh, shut up Louis!” before rescuing him. After this they begin a series of scenes where Lestat and Louis argue about killing and not killing. Lestat comes off like a monster, but in a way he’s just trying to teach Louis to hunt. They’re predators after all and Louis is just a whelp who refuses to hunt. As I said, it’s easy to feel contempt for Louis.
And when they hit the on switch, Lestat discovered why they call it “The Gooser”
(It’s an anal sex joke about a vibrator. It’s funny because people still have hang ups about homosexuality and back door action. A rather lazy writer, like me, will use these hang-ups in order to get a cheap laugh.)
Now of course, we come to the really dark part of the movie. Louis finds a young girl in a plague-ridden part of town and decides to feed on her. Lestat surprises him, and Louis runs away with the shame of being discovered. There is another discussion about being a vampire… which gets a tad tedious I have to say. Lestat is constantly reminding Louis that he’s a vampire over and over again as if Louis was going to forget that part if he weren’t told every fifteen seconds. Lestat then makes the little girl Louis attacked into a vampire, and thus Claudia enters the story. Claudia, of course, is a killer right from the word go and never suffers the sort of wimpy streak that causes one to despise our narrator so. The role between Claudia and Louis in the movie is very father/daughter while in the book I’m told it goes to much creepier places. Another point of the book being toned down for the movie. A great deal of comedy is derived from the relationship between Claudia and Lestat as she keeps eating the servants despite Lestat’s admonishments.
Hey, just FYI. Because I played this part, it’s gonna be a little creepy when you see me in Maxim in a few years.
(Because it was creepy! One day she’s playing a seven year old the next, BAM in a magazine in her panties.)
The problem becomes that Claudia remains a child and for thirty years and this causes some predictable problems. The three of them become annoyed at each other, then begin to hate each other, then Claudia comes up with a solution to all their problems. Granted, her solution involves whacking Lestat mafia style and sinking him in the swamps, but it does solve the problem of Lestat being a pain in their asses. Now obviously that’s not the end of Lestat because there are another 37 books with him in them, but it looks good. Actually, all the makeup effects are really good and mostly subtle in this film. The death of Lestat looks great and his return looks pretty awesome too. Lestat comes back for another fight, but Louis sets him on fire… because that’s what he does. When Louis is faced with an issue, he sets the house on fire, sets Lestat on fire, sets all of New Orleans on fire, set a theater on fire, sets London on fire, sets Rome on fire, lets Nero fiddle for a while before setting him on fire and then runs away. My problem with a movie like this, where people stand around and talk at each other endlessly, is that they tend to bunch all the action up in one place so everything happens at once. Lestat now, more or less, vanishes from the movie. We’re supposed to believe he’s dead, but since the next book is named after him, and a parade of Goths will try to dress like him forever, we know he isn’t going anywhere.
I feel pretty, oh so pretty.
(This is an example of sarcasm, it does not count as irony because that isn’t what irony means.)
Now we begin what I suppose is the second half of the movie, the Paris adventure and the Theater of the Vampires. Now, I’m going to take a slight diversion for a moment. The theater wasn’t as odd as it might at first seem. There was a theater in Paris called the Grand Guignol which is a place where interesting little plays were carried out. Often bloody, filled with up to the minute effects, and morality plays that often didn’t have much morality. Read the wiki article for more information, but really watching the play in the movie is almost as good. Rice has said she was unaware of the theater when she wrote the book, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers were also ignorant. I suspect that someone knew a bit about it, or had seen Behind the Green Door. I mention that because the murder of the girl in the performance greatly echoes the opening sex scene in that movie what with her being surrounded by robed figures and all. Oh, don’t give me that look! You know how I am about historical works. Of course, I’m going to be familiar with classic pornography.
In this scene, there are 47 vampires. None of them can be seen.
(See the Monty Python Sketch “How Not To Be Seen” to get this joke)
There are several, huge, logical holes in the story of the theater, what with vampires not popularly being thought of as even remotely human until after Dracula, the hip and groovy Paris audience isn’t going to be that interested. The fact that at some point, someone is going to notice it’s a different girl every performance. There is also the fact that no one ever sees the performers outside of the theater and so on. As far as I know, this is the beginning of the vampire coven thing. Groups of vampires have never, ever worked for me. I don’t think it could really work, the whole vampire idea strikes me as a solitary hunter, working alone with perhaps only a mate. Otherwise, the deaths pile up quite a bit and people aren’t quite as dumb as vampire lovers seem to think. Someone would start to notice.
No clever joke for this caption, I just totally want that vest.
(Seriously, wouldn’t anyone want that vest? You can’t just order one online though. I’d have to buy a vest and get someone to do the embroidery.)
Anyway, back to the story. Louis hangs with Armand, Claudia finds a woman to replace Louis, but they’re both killed within about three minutes. I must complain about this, the making of Madeleine is treated as such a huge deal before it happens and then *poof* she’s dead Claudia’s dead, Gertrude dies when she drinks of the cup, Hamlet gets poked by the poisoned sword, and Louis decides to go all John Rambo, killing everyone until his country loves him as much as he loves it. Killing of Claudia doesn’t even make a hell of a lot of sense since they just sort of burst in and announce they’re going to kill all of them. It’s sort of insinuated that it’s being done because of Lestat, but it’s not really clear. I know from the audio book that Lestat was supposed to be there to accuse them, but here it’s not really stated.
Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance! Cha, cha, cha!
(It’s a reference to a SNL skit)
Now for a controversial statement. Once Louis destroys the theater, the movie is over. The twenty minutes that follow the destruction of the theater are just a long, slow, meandering decline into nothingness. No matter what the book says, the movie ends at that point and should have been capped there. They should have just come to the last five or ten minutes and gotten it over with on the high note. Instead, we just wander around with Louis becoming a movie freak, visiting Lestat one last pathetic time, and then we come to where the movie should have arrived fifteen minutes ago. The interviewer asks to be made a vampire, Louis shouts at him, and Lestat finds him, gives him a bite, Scrooge learns the meaning of Christmas and of course, the lovers are reunited. Lestat seems to be all better at the end, wearing a leather jacket and ready for some Rock ‘n Roll.
I’d make a “Baby Cart in Paris” joke, but I doubt most people would get it.
(See Lone Wolf & Cub for details)
Strangely, there was never a real direct sequel to this movie. Yes, yes, they made Queen of the Damned, but it’s not really a sequel to this movie so much as the movie version of that book which happens to be one of the sequels to the book this movie was based on. They never got Tom back, never got any of the other actors back, and Queen didn’t have one-tenth the cool that Interview did. I’ve never quite understood why they didn’t make a direct sequel, unless they felt that people would see it as re-telling the story we’ve already seen. I don’t know exactly, probably if they made it today they’d have signed everyone into cast iron contracts, but they didn’t do that when they made this, clearly.
Wait a second! YOU’RE THE GUY FROM HEATHERS!
(Did you spot the foreshadowed joke? Heathers is a movie Christian Slater was in. When it was announced he would be in this movie, everyone I knew said “The guy from Heathers?”)
Anyway, the movie in a nutshell…
Louis: I’m depressed!
Lestat: I’ll make you a vampire!
Louis: I’m still depressed!
Lestat: Nothin’ I can do about that.
Louis: Then I’m going to set the house on fire!
Louis: I’m depressed!
Lestat: I’ll make this little girl a vampire.
Louis: I’m still depressed!
Lestat: Nothin’ I can do about that.
Louis: Then I’m going to set you on fire!
Louis: I’m depressed!
Armand: I’ve got a theater full of vampires!
Louis: I’m still depressed!
Armand: Nothin’ I can do about that.
Louis: Then I’m going to set the theater on fire!
Louis: I’m depressed!
Interviewer: Make me a vampire!
Louis: NO! And I’m still depressed!
Lestat: Oh shut up Louis!
Louis: You wouldn’t talk to me like that if I had some matches…
Dracula (1931 Universal Dir. Tod Browning)
Um, Karl? You want to stop doing that, please? You’re sort of freaking out the tourists.
Wait, what? I’ve never done a review of the Classic Universal Monster movies? For reals? WOW! Well then. Yeah, let’s get on that shall we? This is the start of Universal Studio’s domination of the horror market, or at least the definition of great horror icons. Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy, are all greatly defined by their appearances in these early thirties movies. There is also The Wolfman in 1941, which almost completely defined werewolves for all of us, but that’s not important right now because we won’t be reviewing that one. I could review it, but I’d have to buy it and I have a rule about not buying things just to review them. If I started buying things just because I thought it would be fun to write reviews for them I’d have crossed the line.
He was pretending to decide, but really it was down to the cute chick or the old man.
Let’s start by talking about what this movie is or isn’t. It isn’t actually an adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel, but rather it adapts the stage play which was based on the book. Before you ask, yes it is a little important to have that settled before we begin. I don’t want to keep harping back that this isn’t to the book or that isn’t to the book. It’s not the book, it’s the play. Get it? Got it? Good! One of the first changes you’ll notice is that the movie is actually set in the then present day of the late 20s and early 30s instead of being set in Victorian London. Actually, you won’t notice it as first because the movie opens in Transylvania and that’s portrayed as a sort of quaint area of the world where electricity hasn’t arrived yet. The Transylvanians are stuck in the late 1800s in this movie, but there are signs that this is the (then) current day in a few costumes and comments. This is fine since, despite the outdated style of the gothic novel, Dracula was meant as an up to the minute story including the latest technology such as Dictaphones and modern ideas fighting against the ancient evil. Except of course, this isn’t the novel, it’s the play. So forget I ever said anything about it.
Coffee… gimme coffee.
Now, we’re not dealing with Jonathan Harker here. This is Mister Renfield, who is strangely one of my favorite characters. I have no idea why, normally I greatly dislike lackeys and bootlickers. There is something in this character though, that I can’t fully describe. Like Gollum from The Lord of The Rings, there is just something that keeps me feeling sympathetic toward him, no matter what evils he may eventually commit. It depends on what version you’ve got how much they use Renfield, but I still feel some affection for him, the poor mad blighter. Normally, Renfield is only seen as a maniac, but in this he plays the Harker roll for the opening of the movie. The problem here is that Jonathan Harker is the single stupidest character ever to originate in the English language. There may be stupider characters in German Folklore or possibly Greek Comedy, but in English, it’s Johnny Harker. This means that Renfield is portrayed as being as dumb as a sack of rocks for nearly 20 of the movie’s 73 minutes after which he more or less vanishes. Well, no, maybe not. It’s about 17 minutes in that he’s taken by Drac, so I guess he’s only dumb up till then. Anyway, the peasants try to get him to stay instead of rushing off to the Borgol Pass, which he ignores and goes onward. You’d think, after the 200 some adaptations that the peasants would just stop trying to persuade people. They’d just make a token effort and then mutter to themselves “Chump don’t want no help, chump not get no help.” before going inside for a drink. But then, you’d think people would be warned off trying to sell real estate to Dracula by now, so there you are.
In Castle Dracula, even the bugs are vampires!
There is a slight problem in watching Dracula, in that we know it’s all old and we’re supposed to see it as sort of goofy today, but there is an actual sense of menace in Lugosi’s performance. There is a tremendous atmosphere in some of the scenes, which if you didn’t know that you’re supposed to be worldly and above all this, would be sort of creepy. It’s not campy, it’s not silly, it actually manages to maintain a serious level of chilling strangeness in the entire coach scene… right up until the plastic bat on a string is seen driving the horses. I’ve got this terrific sense of “And you were doing so well.” as I watch that bit. However, once that’s over and Renfield enters the genuinely huge and cavernous castle, the creep factors return. The set is massive, and it looks more like a ruin than a castle anyone might live in. Everything about the place radiates a sense of wrongness and it shows on Renfield’s face. There is almost more in the reaction from the actor playing Renfield working on your nerves here than there is
Lugosi’s friendly welcoming manner.
Yes. Take it off, but take it off slow.
The first time I get any sort of sense of real menace from Lugosi as Dracula, beyond the sense of something being just plain wrong, is when Renfield cuts his finger. There’s something deeply disturbing in how Dracula looks at the young man, particularly when you consider the post-just-about-everything education I have. In this version, there is as much sexuality as they would let the characters get away with, but Dracula’s attack on Renfield becomes extraordinarily sexual when you consider that for the rest of the movie Ren is going to be panting after Drac looking for another bite. It’s a great relief to me for them to get on the boat because Renfield is much better as a lunatic than as an innocent victim. He’s almost more freighting than Dracula, because he’s just sooo uncool and trying so hard to please. He’d eat your face if he thought it would make Drac happy. At any rate they arrive and Ren gets locked up as it should be. Drac starts wandering around London for a while, whacking victims left and right for a couple of minutes before we have to settle down and have some plot.
This is a happy, happy man.
Drac meets Lucy, Dr. Seward, Harker and Mina all at once at the opera. This leads to Dracula fixating on Lucy, as he always does. Two hundred and some odd versions and they never do protect that poor girl. It’s like a sacrificial lamb being staked out for the great tiger to eat. In this version, Lucy is dead almost on the instant. We get Drac coming in toward her and then we see her pronounced dead in what has to be the biggest operating theater in Christendom. The poor girl is simply thrown away, killed in a single fangless thrust. Yeah, there are no fangs in this movie, or any of the Universal Dracula movies as I remember. I could be wrong and there might be some in the later sequels but I seem to remember no fangs and almost no blood, besides the tiny amount on Ren’s hand when he cuts himself at the beginning. There’s more blood in The Public Enemy than there is in Dracula, which is a movie primarily about blood. There must be something to that, maybe because it’s so pervasive in the plot and the minds of the censor board they wouldn’t allow much too actually be shown.
THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING!
Doctor Van Helsing just sort of shows up in the movie. I think he’s supposed to have been working at Seward’s Sanitarium, or was brought in for the emergency. Either way, he’s here to be the authority figure and chief exposition device. He’s not the most interesting Van Helsing in my collection, nor is he the best, he’s the most bookish though. At least in this version Ren doesn’t vanish from the story, he’s interrogated by Dr VH and has some wolfsbane shoved all up in his grill. Ren reacts badly and Dr VH announces that there are indeed vampires about. I have to say though, having smelled things that have “bane” in their title, I’d react badly too. There’s a reason those things keep animals away. Dr VH can be portrayed in so many different ways, and this is one of the good ones but not the best. He’s not as interesting as some of the guys we’ll be seeing later, but is he one of the most reassuring. There is something almost grandfatherly about him. He’s also the most investigatory of the three interpretations we’ll be seeing. Normally the gathering of evidence is just presented so that Dr VH can stand there and say “See? I was right.” but here I get the idea that he’s really trying to make sure that his suspicions are correct. There is something less arrogant and more likeable here.
Where will you be when your laxative starts working? Which one of them has just realized what’s about to happen?
After the first encounter of Drac and Mina, she relates the event as a nightmare to Harker. Johnny boy then cements his reputation as being the stupidest character in the history of English Literature by telling her not to worry her little head, that she shouldn’t talk about it anymore and just to think about something cheerful. Yeah, his advice is to forget about everything and think of cheerful things. It’s a good think Dr VH is around to check her neck and discover the bite marks. When the bites are reveled Johnny runs to her side and asks why she didn’t let him know about the bite marks. One can only suggest that she knew if she did tell him he’d tell her to sing a jolly song and not to worry about them or something. Since Johnny here isn’t exactly a smart person, almost anything he has to say can be discounted and ignored. At least with Johnny stupidly reaching for a cigarette it give Dr VH, the one competent person in this tale who isn’t evil or insane, a chance to notice that Drac can’t be seen in a mirror. This confirms things for Dr VH, instead of just giving him a point to tell everyone how right he was. He explains things to the group, and has to get out the big print edition with drawings and small words so Johnny Boy can follow along. He has to spell everything out for dumb old John, not just because John Harker is stupid, but because this was one of the first times in American Cinema where the supernatural was allowed to be completely supernatural. It had to be fully and firmly established that this was not going to end with some convenient, but ultimately mundane explanation. As a result, they had to pound it into the audience’s head that this is a supernatural tale. It’s just fortunate that they have someone as stupid a John Harker to explain things to so we know if he gets it, then everyone in the audience gets it. This paragraph got a little long, but I can’t be bothered to cut it now. The screen caps have all been uploaded and resized and stuff. It would screw up all my arrangements.
It just occurred to them that I’m trapped in a middle class existence of near impenetrable spiritual isolation. Either that or I have gas.
Once the supernatural has been firmly established, we pretty much move at a good clip from there on out. Lucy becomes the woman in white, Johnny says something stupid, Dr VH asks Mina about Lucy, Johnny says something stupid, Dr VH and company discuss how to get rid of Drac, and Johnny has to get a thinking brain dog to stop him from choking on his own tongue. I wish that this was just a joke or something, but Jonathan Harker is always the stupidest person in any given presentation of Dracula and in this version, he’s panicky too. I must also now talk about the fake English accents of some of the people. There are faux cockney folk in this movie, and they are so VERY faux cockney. Even if they’re English actors, they’re still trying to fake the cockney-ness of their accents. It’s really painful listening to them, particularly since they’re played for comedy and they just aren’t funny. By comparison, this paragraph feels really, really short now. I should have cut the last paragraph in half. Somewhere around the mirror stuff. Too late now, live and learn. Only not because almost all the Halloween stuff has been written at this point and I’m just punching up a few things now. Still, I did manage to pad this section out a few lines, and that helps.
I’m too dumb to understand what’s going on here.
So there is some talk between Renfield and Dr VH in which he reveals all as they used to say. Then there some talk between Drac and Dr VH where in they have the traditional battle of wills. It’s actually sort of cool because Drac does the whole come to me bit and Dr VH manages to resists, but the whole thing is done in the looks between the two of them. Meanwhile, Mina is up and about, running around and trying to get herself eaten by Drac. Johnny performs the duty of the complete and total moron, thinking that nothing can harm Mina because he’s around. No really, he actually says “It’s alright, now that I’m here.” like anyone named Harker has ever done a single competent thing in the history of stupid men being stupid. Everything he does is the definition of stupidity, and he is frankly the most useless lump of meat in this movie. No, actually, useless would be better because he’s actively part of the problem. I can’t stress enough to you how dumb Jonathan Harker is. If I stood and chanted “stupid, stupid, stupid” for an hour and a half it wouldn’t be enough. If this were a slasher movie, Johnny Harker would be the one to leave the room and investigate that sound he heard outside or possibly suggest that they should split up to search the place.
Doesn’t he look cheerful? He’s just happy to be here.
Fortunately, we have Dr Van Helsing to fall back on. He follows Renfield to Drac’s hide out with steak and hammer in hand. That is Van Helsing has the hammer and spike, Renfield only had mindless devotion and an oh-so-breakable neck. After Drac throws Ren down some stairs he dies a sad and lamentable death, being the best Renfield in the history of cinema. Actually, I forgot, Dr VH doesn’t have the spikes, he has to improvise. The killing of Dracula happens off stage, and we actually see his death in the reaction of Mina as she is released from Drac’s mental grip. Dr VH tells her that Drac is dead and everything is going to be all right now.
I heard the movie was running low on smug, so I came to see if I could help and of course, I can.
Of course things couldn’t just end that way. There had to be sequels. There was the Daughter and then the Son and eventually House of Dracula in which the whole thing sort of fell apart. The problem is that each movie was only about one third as good as the last, so you can imagine how bad they got at the end. Not just bad, but goofy. As the audience started to grow younger and censors grew more powerful, they ruined these movies and turned them into something that can only be mocked. We won’t even get into Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, because… just no. I have my pride. Suffice to say that in the end, the whole thing collapsed under its own weight and it was years before Dracula could show his face again. Fortunately, you only have to wait until next week to learn about it instead of the thirteen years that Drac had to wait.
Yeah, still not feeling anything. Pretty much just a lot of ennui.