Dracula - 1931
He could just eat you up!
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.