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Still shot from the movie: Dracula - 1931.

Dracula - 1931

When Mr. Renfield (Dwight Frye) agrees to transact some legal business with Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), he ends up with a client that's a real pain in the neck! This classic 1931 movie defined this vampire character and holds a place in cinema history.

Overall Grade: B+
Violence: B-
Sexual Content: A-
Language: A
Drugs/Alcohol: A-
Release Date: 14 Feb 1931
Run Time: 75
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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In-Depth Review

Dracula will undoubtedly be a name synonymous with a villainous vampire for most of the general populace, but it seems a little less familiar to Mr. Renfield (Dwight Frye), a rather blithe lawyer from London, who has come to Eastern Europe in order to transact some real estate business with the Count (Bela Lugosi). Ignoring the prattling tongues and strong warnings of the superstitious locals, he heads out in a horse-drawn carriage for a midnight meeting at the crumbling castle armed with just some legal briefs and a pen.

His unshakable resolve that supernatural phenomena are the figment of an overactive imagination quivers only momentarily when the coachman appears to have been turned into a bat, and once again when he arrives at the ruined remains of the Count’s cobweb covered home. Yet after he looks into the penetrating gaze of his pale-faced host, Renfield finds it difficult not to follow the man’s every invitation, including accepting a drink of some very old wine and leaving a window open in the room.

As we could have predicted, things do not work out well for the lawyer. By the time he returns to England with Dracula in tow, Renfield’s behavior is so irrational he has to be placed in a mental institution. And he goes even crazier when he discovers the sanatorium is (coincidentally) right next door to the property he sold to the Count. His tormented soul is still more alarmed to learn the undead nobleman is determined to make social calls on his new neighbors, Doctor Seward (Herbert Bunston) and his beautiful daughter Mina (Helen Chandler).

Because Renfield’s reactions are so puzzling, the resident physician calls for a second opinion from Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). More than just an expert in what ails the physical body, the man of science also knows much about the metaphysical realm. But will he be able to diagnose the problem fast enough to protect the innocent Mina? And is there any hope for poor Renfield?

This 1931 film has become a classic, not so much because of its special effects, riveting suspense or complex plot (all of which are somewhat lacking), but rather because of Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the bloodsucker. If you’re thinking it’s a bit too stereotypical, then you probably don’t realize it was the actor’s depiction of the literary character—and not the description found in Bram Stoker’s gothic novel—that defined forever after the look and sound of Dracula. While other aspects of this black and white production may seem a little tame or cheesy compared to today’s horror offerings (most of the violence is implied instead of shown and scary elements include bats, wolf howls and hands creeping out of coffins), time will never dim Lugosi’s legendary performance.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: Townsfolk talk about vampires drinking blood and turning themselves into bats or wolves. A hand creeps out from under a coffin lid. Blood from a paper cut is shown and the injured man sucks on his finger. Undead female characters are shown—they are looking for blood to drink. References are made to people who have died mysteriously, including the entire crew of a ship. Discussions occur about a character that eats the blood of rats and insects. Deaths of adults and children from vampire bites are discussed/implied. A vampire is shown biting various women’s necks. Bite marks are shown. Characters scuffle, fight and one is strangled then thrown down a staircase. It a character is impaled with a wooden stake (off screen).

Sexual Content:   Count Dracula is portrayed as very attractive to women, and seems to prefer female blood.

Language: None noted.

Alcohol / Drug Use: A man drinks some wine. An herb is used to ward off vampires. A character uses a form of mind control to get others to do his biding.

Other: A character is given a crucifix for protection against evil beings.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

After watching several vampire movies, I am left with a few questions about the rules of the genre. Do you too wonder: Why are some victims killed by bites, while others continue to live? Who becomes the undead? Is being undead different than being a vampire? What causes this insatiable desire for blood?

This movie is based on Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel Dracula.

Video alternatives

Vampire stories attracted a new generation of fans with the positive portrayal they received in Twilight Saga (Twilight, The Twilight Saga - New Moon, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2). Some movies feature vampire slayers, like Van Helsing. And the stop-frame animation Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit provides a delightful spoof of this genre.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: Dracula

Release Date: 17 September 2013

The classic 1931 film Dracula releases on Blu-ray on September 17, 2013.

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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