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Film / Dracula (1931)

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"To die... to be really dead... that must be glorious!"

"I am... Dracula."
"I bid you... welcome."
"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make!"
"I never drink... wine."
"There are far worse things awaiting man than death."
— Some of Count Dracula's quotable lines

A Universal Horror film from 1931, which made Bela Lugosi world-famous as the Classical Movie Vampire. His portrayal of Dracula is the one that most people think of when they hear the character's name (or even just the word "vampire"), whether or not they've actually seen the movie.

Being bored with Transylvania, Count Dracula (Lugosi) decides to move to London for some fresh blood. After making the preliminary arrangements with the English solicitor Renfield (Dwight Frye), Dracula makes him his thrall and travels to England by sea, killing the crew of his ship in the process. When he finally arrives in London, he turns Carfax Abbey (the property he bought with Renfield's help) into his new base of operations. He then takes a special interest in Mina Seward (Helen Chandler), who lives at the neighboring mental asylum overseen by her father, Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), and is engaged to John Harker (David Manners). As victims turn up and Mina begins to act strangely, Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) comes to help...

The film was originally planned to be a high-budget adaptation of Bram Stoker's original novel, but due to The Great Depression, it was instead adapted from a popular stage play of the time (written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, and starring Lugosi in its Broadway production) on a fairly low budget. However, the producers did manage to collect enough money to construct the elaborate sets for the early Transylvania scenes. Tod Browning, who had proven himself in the vampire genre with London After Midnight some years prior, served as director; and several elements of that earlier film reappear in Dracula, such as the armadillos and the look of the female vampires.

A Spanish-language version, Drácula, was shot on the same sets at night but with different actors; it's often claimed to be the superior film (mostly for its cinematography, pacing, and atmosphere), lacking only an actor of Lugosi's magnetism playing the Count. Instead it was Carlos Villarías playing Dracula, with Lupita Tovar as "Eva" rather than Mina and Barry Norton playing "Juan" Harker. George Melford directed. Both the Browning and the Melford versions of Dracula are in the National Film Registry, the Anglo version having been inducted in 2000 and the Spanish version in 2015.

In 1936, it was followed by a direct sequel entitled Dracula's Daughter.

For the 1958 Hammer Horror adaptation go to Horror of Dracula.

It is one of many films included in the "Universal Horror" canon.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood are completely omitted.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the book, Mina speculated that Dracula secretly hated being a vampire, but no evidence was ever provided aside from Dracula smiling as he was killed. In the movie, Dracula himself gets a monologue where he all but explicitly states that it's true.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Apart from making the disgusting, murderous and elderly Dracula from the novel into a sex symbol, the film has the 60-year-old Renfield played by the handsome 31-year-old Dwight Frye.
  • Adaptational Context Change:
    • The incident where Dracula gets creepy after his solicitor cuts himself is changed from the cut being from a morning shave to being from a paperclip on the documents he is getting out for Dracula.
    • The scene where Dracula is discovered to be missing a reflection is changed from the solicitor shaving himself and noticing in the mirror to a new scene in the film where Dracula visits the protagonists and Van Helsing notices he isn't reflecting in the mirror of a cigarette box.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Mina Murray is now Mina Seward and Lucy Westenra is renamed Lucy Weston.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: In the novel Dr. Seward is one of Lucy Westenra's suitors. In the film, he is middle-aged man and the father of Mina.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Renfield is an odd case, being something of a Composite Character. At the start of the movie, Renfield fills the role of Jonathan Harker in the book; a skeptical young solicitor sent to take documents to Count Dracula. Unlike Harker, Renfield is fed upon by Dracula and apparently is largely under his control or possibly even part-cursed with vampirism. The actual Harker in the movie, is a supporting character mostly serving as assistant to Dr. Seward or Dr. Van Helsing, and being properly concerned when Mina is preyed upon by Dracula. Also Renfield had a Heel Realization in the original book and turned against Dracula, even fighting against him before Dracula mortally wounded him. Here he remains Dracula's minion throughout.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • Harker. His role in the film is limited to Mina's Love Interest and the skeptic to Van Helsing's advice.
    • Mina even more severely, reduced to a complete Damsel in Distress as opposed to the Team Mom she was in the original book, among other things.
    • Dracula easily kills Renfield, who is his mind controlled slave. In the original novel, Renfield actually fights against Dracula, and almost "won" until he see his hypnotic eyes.
  • Age Lift: John Seward is now middle aged compared to the younger character of the source material.
  • All in the Eyes: The classic example.
  • Animal Motifs: When Dracula makes his entrance, there are shots of bats, opossums, and armadillos. The first two can be understood as vermin, with the opossums possibly standing in for rats. There is debate about what the armadillos represent, but the likely connection is that armadillos are known as gravediggers and that they are ecological peers of vampire bats, the only bats that subside on blood and which natural habitat stretches from South America to the south of the USA.
  • Antagonist Title: Dracula.
  • Anti-Climax: In the end, a stake is simply put through Dracula's heart when he sleeps in his coffin. Then Jonathan and Mina walk up the stairs to greet the morning sun.
    • The film originally ended with Van Helsing talking directly to the film's audience but it was cut for the original re-release because the contents of the speech (which implied that vampires are real) violated The Hays Code. The footage has never been recovered, but a similar speech is in the original Broadway stage play the film was partially based on.
    • Dracula's dying moans and Renfield's screaming while Dracula breaks his neck were removed by censors, and not heard for decades until the film's DVD release.
  • Badass Cape: Dracula. His cape certainly looks badass when he's stretching his arms out right before getting to bloodsucking. Lugosi's badassery in his long cape is probably the Trope Maker.
  • Being Evil Sucks: It's hinted that Dracula isn't especially happy with life as a creature of darkness. He admits to Mina at one point that he wishes he could die for real.
  • Big Bad: Count Dracula, a feared Transylvanian vampire moving to London for new prey.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The peasants at early parts of the film speak authentic Hungarian, including praying The Lord's Prayer—and it ends up an unintentional Actor Allusion to Bela Lugosi's origins.
    • The flower girl is advertising her flowers in Polish.
  • Blood Lust: Dracula's bloodlust is demonstrated in a scene where Renfield accidentally cuts his finger, causing Dracula to stare hungrily at the blood.
  • Bowdlerize: The movie was originally 85 minutes long, but after The Hays Code was put into effect, two scenes were cut (along with an epilogue—see trivia page for details), bringing it down to 75 minutes. The script was also much longer than what was filmed. The scenes deleted are present in the Spanish version, which resulted in more developed characters, more buildup, and better atmosphere.
  • Cardboard Prison: Dr. Seward's asylum can hardly keep Renfield in. He manages to get out of his room to wander around the premises even without his master's help.
  • Charm Person: Dracula's hypnotic powers are between this and Hypnotic Eyes.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    Renfield: Rats. Rats. Rats! Thousands! Millions of them!
  • Classical Movie Vampire: Dracula, with his aristocratic demeanor/attire, his shapeshifting, vampire weaknesses, and his feigned pleasantries, is the Trope Codifier.
  • Cobweb Jungle: Renfield has to go through one in Castle Dracula.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: Played with; much of the Count's castle is swathed in cobwebs that make it appear totally deserted. At least, they seem to imply nobody's been using it ... until a sneaky camera cut makes it appear that the vampire has walked straight through a large orb web without disturbing it.
  • Cold Ham: Dracula speaks in a dramatic tone of voice without having to raise it.
  • Composite Character: Renfield combines elements of the novel's Renfield and Harker, taking Harker's role as the soliciter sent to Dracula's castle before becoming a deranged madman.
  • Creator Cameo: Tod Browning is the off-screen voice of the harbormaster.
  • Creepy Basement: Castle Dracula and Carfax Abbey both have this.
  • Dark Is Evil: Dracula wears clothing that is as dark as he is diabolical, namely, a black cape, a tailcoat with matching pants, and black shoes. The only articles he wears which are not black are his white shirt, and white bow-tie.
  • Death by Adaptation: A strange example. Renfield died in the original novel but survived in the stage play the movie is based off.
  • Decomposite Character: Dr. Seward's status from the original book as a younger doctor who was a student of Van Helsing is given to the character of Dr. Jeffery Garth in the sequel.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film follows Renfield for first 20 minutes.
  • Demoted to Extra: Jonathan Harker and Dr. Seward were viewpoint characters in the novel, but have significantly reduced roles here thanks to Renfield taking much of Harker's book role and Seward's involvement with Lucy getting cut. Contrary to popular belief, this does not apply to Dracula's brides, who had a very small role in both book and film.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the novel, Dracula is killed by Jonathan Harker, who beheads him, and by Quincy Morris, who plunges a Bowie knife into his heart. In the film, Van Helsing drives a wooden stake through his heart.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A scene in which Mina tries to break off her relationship with Harker, although she still loves him, because she feels defiled by what Dracula has done to her, is staged in a way reminiscent of a more traditional Defiled Forever narrative. Since she can't bring herself to say exactly what Dracula did, if you watched the scene out of context you might not even be able to tell that it wasn't.
    • The Spanish-language version includes a scene where Dracula visits Renfield and psychically Renfield to keep Renfield working for him. It looks very much like Dracula is raping Renfield; the scene is very disturbing, even ninety years later.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Lugosi wasn't iconic in this role for subtlety. Behind the scenes, he reportedly loved to flourish in costume when he passed by a mirror. (When he died, Lugosi was buried in his Dracula costume.)
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The sinister yet seductive baritone Lugosi uses for Dracula would prove to be highly imitated in subsequent decades.
  • Evil Wears Black: Dracula's iconic cape and collar.
  • Faint in Shock: A maid rushes into the room where Van Helsing, Seward, Harker and Renfield are discussing the situation to announce that she has found Mina unconscious, possibly dead, following a second attack by Dracula. Van Helsing, Seward, and Harker rush off to Mina's aid, leaving the maid alone with the madman Renfield; this is too much for her, and she faints.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Said in the film.
    Dracula: There are far worse things awaiting man than death.
  • Faux Affably Evil: As Lugosi plays him, Dracula is always quite polite and cordial, with only his eyes showing when he's pissed.
  • For the Evulz: Dracula is a stone cold blood sucking fiend who enjoys indulging his bloodlust.
  • Forced Perspective: The shot of a bug crawling out of a miniature coffin.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Dracula's brides show up in one scene to attack Renfield, are warded off by Dracula because he needs him, and are never seen again. They get no lines or body language beyond stiff movements.
  • Haunted Castle: Castle Dracula.
  • Herr Doktor: Professor Van Helsing is actually Dutch, but constantly peppers his English with German.
  • High-Class Glass: Dracula has a monocle hanging from his vest, though he's never actually shown wearing it.
  • High Collar of Doom: Codified this trope.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: It just happens to be Walpurgis Night when Renfield arrives at Transylvania.
  • Immune to Mind Control: Van Helsing falters briefly but is able to shake off the mind whammy.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: After the puncture wounds are discovered on Mina's neck, Harker turns to Van Helsing and asks what could have caused them, to which a voice answers, "Count Dracula!" Cut to the entrance to the room, where we're shown that a maid has just announced the Count's arrival.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Count Dracula's first victim when arriving in London.
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: In one scene, Renfield listens to the howling of Dracula-in-wolf-form, and responds as if he were receiving instructions in clear English. The same thing happens in a later scene with Mina (after she falls under Dracula's power) and the squeaking of Dracula in bat form.
  • It May Help You on Your Quest: Subverted. The crucifix that the old lady hands Renfield in the beginning gets its own close-up shot. The object does come into play when Renfield meets Dracula and the latter is repelled. However, Renfield's doom cannot be evaded.
  • Kubrick Stare: Dracula's default stare to signify his terrifying aura. It's much more common when he sees Renfield.
  • Large Ham: Dracula. Renfield also manages to steal every scene he's in after he is made Dracula's servant.
  • Laughing Mad: Renfield. Dwight Frye's cackling madness is one of cinema's most famous examples.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Dracula is dressed sharply, has a large castle, and sucks the blood of humans.
  • Melodrama: Given it retains many elements of a Silent Movie despite being a talkie, it ends up on this.
  • Melodramatic Pause: Dracula's speech patterns are filled with these.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Armadillos in Transylvania. Yeah, we know. Also, if you look closely, you'll notice the "rats" in Dracula's crypt were being played by opossums, which are also native to the Americas. Then again, so are vampire bats and nobody seems to complain about that...
  • Missing Reflection: Van Helsing notices Dracula's vampirism with a help of a mirror.
  • Mystical High Collar: Being a vampire, his collar also goes with his supernatural powers.
  • Ominous Opera Cape: Also codified this trope.
  • Only Sane Man: What the sanitarium orderly Martin believes himself to be, said in a humorous exchange.
    Maid: He's crazy!
    Martin: They're all crazy. They're all crazy except you and me. Sometimes I have my doubts about you.
    Maid: Yes.
    (Martin slowly backs away.)
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • This film's Dracula is a largely emotionless, bloodthirsty abomination that passes itself off as human, and there are plenty of cracks in that masquerade that make the Count seem more than merely eccentric to ordinary people; for example, Castle Dracula looks as though it has been abandoned for centuries, with Renfield surprised that anyone actually lives there; Carfax Abbey is in a similar state of disrepair, and he bluntly informs his bewildered neighbors that he has no intention of fixing it up. He also doesn't seem to like (or be capable of) keeping up his facade of normalcy for long periods of time, and he will either leave, enslave, or kill you within minutes of any meeting. In addition, his idiosyncratic speech patterns make it seem like he hasn't used his mouth for speaking in a long, long time. He's less like a cursed human being than some kind of malevolent, primitive, pre-programmed robot that doesn't fully understand how it should interact with human beings. Quite creepy indeed.
    • Interestingly enough, another spin on this trope occurs when Van Helsing discusses possible scientific explanations for vampires in response to a skeptic being a bit too quick to dismiss the idea of their legitimate existence.
  • Plot Hole: The film goes through much of the book's plot, including Lucy's death and her return as the vampiric "Bloofer Lady". But after the Bloofer Lady is mentioned, the film forgets about her. Particularly notable is that the Spanish-language version, shot at the same time on the same sets (literally filming immediately after the English-language version wrapped for the day) with largely the same script, does resolve this point!
  • The Power of Blood: As Dracula puts it:
    Dracula: The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly... The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The film's opening music is from the second act of Swan Lake. The orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall is playing the overture to Richard Wagner's Meistersinger. Justified in that the technique of scoring films was close to impossible in 1931, so composing an entire score was unreasonable at the time. While most would agree that the eerie silence is what gives the film its undeniable air of horror, Universal commissioned composer Philip Glass to compose a new score in 1998.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Mina is now John Seward's daughter.
  • The Renfield: Renfield, of course.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: Besides the Philip Glass string quartet version, there was also a version found on the Dracula Blu-ray disc that took '40s and '50s stock music and made a new score out of it (or more accurately, a score, since the original film was mostly score-free aside from the intro and the concert scene). This score can be found on the French audio track, and strangely was mixed with the English audio when it was shown on a 2015 Svengoolie airing.
  • Say My Name:
    • "Mina! Mina! Mina! Mina!"
    • "Oh Jo-o-o-ohn! Jo-o-o-ohn!"
  • Scream Discretion Shot: The flower girl Dracula attacks in London gets off one scream before the shot cuts away.
  • Setting Update: The original novel took place circa 1897; the movie seems to be set in the time period of its making, at least judging by the costuming, and the fact that England has telephones and motor vehicles. As pointed out in the DVD commentary, the first hint of this is in the scene where Dracula arrives in London.
    • Actually, a subtle earlier hint can be seen in Renfield's style of dress in the opening scenes.
  • Slipping a Mickey: The wine Count Dracula serves Renfield is drugged, so the latter will fall asleep at the castle.
  • The Sociopath: Count Dracula presents himself as a genteel aristocrat, but the slightest provocation reveals him to be a predator in human skin, barely capable of passing in human society and thinking nothing of draining a child's blood or mind controlling people for minor tasks.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Dracula often speaks in a genteel, albeit theatrical, tone of voice, as befitting his aristocratic persona.
  • Sound-Only Death: Dracula's final end. As Van Helsing opens his coffin-box, wooden stake in hand, the camera cuts away to Harker and Mina, who listen to Dracula's shrieks, and then Van Helsing comes on screen to tell them that Dracula is no more.
  • Source Music: There was no real musical soundtrack in the film because it was believed that, with sound being such a recent innovation in films, the audience would not accept hearing music in a scene if there was no explanation for it being there (e.g., the orchestra playing off camera when Dracula meets Mina at the theatre).
  • Stock Footage: When Dracula and Renfield travel to London, the outdoor scenes of their ship are taken from the silent film The Storm Breaker from 1925. Silent films were projected at a different frames-per-second speed from that later adopted for sound films, accounting for the jerky movements and quicker-than-normal action of these shots.
  • Token Evil Teammate: In crossovers with other Universal monsters, Dracula alone has no good intentions whatsoever.
  • Tragic Villain: Renfield. He's just an estate agent who goes to visit Dracula so the latter can claim ownership of Carfax Abbey. But then Dracula decides to drug and turn him into his sycophant slave whose only purpose is to serve his master. And he's still a brainwashed slave when Dracula finally kills him. (And with "all that blood on [his] hands", implying possible damnation in the hereafter.)
  • ‹berwald: The early scenes of Renfield's journey across Transylvania with Dracula's castle as his destination.
  • Undeath Always Ends: As is usually the case, the movie ends with the death of the vampire.
  • Vampire Vords:
    • It can't be stressed quite enough that Lugosi's thick accent was a major contributing factor to why the Dracula character became so famous. This contrasts with the Stoker version of the vampire, who spoke comparatively better English.
    • Early on, the lady handing her crucifix to Renfield: "Vait. Please."
  • Vampires Are Rich: As per the book, Dracula has enough wealth to buy property in England on-the-spot.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: It helps when you have the power of mind control and can get a Lucy or a Mina to leave their window open at night.
  • Vampire's Harem: Dracula's three brides in Transylvania.
  • Villain Protagonist: Dracula. The book revolved around Harker, but due to him being Demoted to Extra in this film, it doesn't really have a central character—other than, arguably, Dracula himself, since the plot revolves around his actions and effect on other characters.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Count Dracula is able to reshape into a bat or wolf at will. Son of Dracula (1943) was the first movie to actually show transformation sequences.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Lucy and her victims? Notably, the Spanish-language version doesn't have this problem; Van Helsing and company hunt her down and destroy her before focusing on Dracula.
    • Likewise the Brides are never seen again after their first appearance in Dracula's castle.
  • Worthy Opponent: How Dracula sees Dr. Van Helsing, even going so far as to compliment him on his intellect. For his part, Van Helsing is quite cordial to the Count, himself.
  • You Are Too Late: Dracula says this exact line to Van Helsing after the latter figures out his true identity. He assures Van Helsing that his plans of turning Mina into a vampire can no longer be foiled:
  • You Have Failed Me: Dracula kills Renfield when he unwittingly leads Van Helsing and Jonathan to him.
    • Even before that, there are moments where he silently confronts Renfield, his eyes making clear just how pissed he is at the man's inability to avoid attracting attention.

The Spanish-language version contains:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Runs a full 1 hour and 45 minutes long, filling in quite a bit of the story, addressing problems of the Tod Browning version such as the What Happened to the Mouse? disappearance of Lucy.
  • Adaptational Context Change:
    • Renfield getting a cut was already subject to this in the Browning film, but it's changed once again in this version, with the cut now being from the knife he was serving himself chicken with, not a paperclip from his documents or his razor.
    • Renfield's madness in this version is implied to be sealed by his attack from Dracula's brides, which is not halted by the Count in this version— this diverts from both the Browning film and the book. In the Browning film, his madness is simply implied to be from the mental duress of meeting the Count and falling under his spell.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Eva for Mina, Juan for Jonathan, Lucia for Lucy.
  • Barefoot Captives: Eva is barefoot when Dracula kidnaps her near the end of the film, probably to add to her sex appeal.
  • Bridal Carry: Dracula does this with Eva when he kidnaps her, something not done with Mina in the English-language version.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Lupita Tovar is more scantily clad than Helen Chandler was in the Anglophone version.
  • Large Ham: Anyone who thinks Bela Lugosi is hammy needs to watch Carlos Villarías.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Despite the lengthened running time not everything in the Browning version is found here: the scene where Dracula steps off the dock in England and promptly eats a flower girl is not included.
  • Shot for Shot Remake: Down to the actors actually standing on the same marks. Although, as noted above, the Spanish version has a good half-hour of material that was cut from the Anglo version.
  • Truer to the Text: Compared to the Browning version, at least. Several plot points and some lines of dialogue from the book have been included which were absent in the Browning film—perhaps most prominently, the staking of undead Lucy is done offscreen in this film while her fate is left unresolved in the Browning film. Dracula himself, by consequence of casting, also appears less dashing and foreign in comparison to Lugosi, better fitting the book Count's skill with English and more repellent portrayal.