“No, no, master.”
Film is a very specific thing. When it’s made it’s static, but viewed in a dynamic mode always. Films, unlike what you’d believe today, cannot decide on a whim to upgrade itself with the styles and conventions of the times they’re being viewed in. So for me to sit here and lambast Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation of Dracula for being dated feels almost too easy, but true.
There are a number of films predating this that I love and stand up decades later. However, Dracula never is able to be anything other than an exercise in futility. Even with a runtime of 75 minutes, which some television shows nowadays surpass, it can put its most curious viewer to sleep before it’s completed.
The film is, in a word, simple. It doesn’t disguise its intentions or surprises. Partly because the story here it the basis of all other Dracula features and sadly I, and I imagine you, will have seen this story at least a dozen times already, done in ways that have spiced up the plot enough to make this unsalted version even more mediocre with time.
It’s hard not to walk into this film with the line “Dracula requires presence. It’s all in the eyes, and the voice, and the hands…” from Ed Wood (the film by Tim Burton about B-movie filmmaker Ed Wood and his relationship with Bela Lugosi) echoing in your mind as you press play on Dracula. It would be horrendously dismissive of me to not give credit where credit is due as Lugosi, who plays Count Dracula, has that presence. While it is frustrating to see him move at a pace that a snail could beat in a race at all times whenever the camera fixes on him for a moment I forget any and all hang-ups and am drawn into the stare. The film lights up Lugosi’s eyes to highlight them and signify his overpowering the audience as he asks us to follow him deeper into the world of the vampire.
Sadly I doubt I can claim any true praise to anything else in this film. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is boring as our hero and Renfield (Dwight Frye) is overdone and obviously the basis of Andy Serkis’ performance as Smeagol/Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films. Every character in this film felt as if they exists for the sole purpose of reading exposition as opposed to giving us any form of an emotional core to tap into. While I’m not saying that we need films to tell us how to feel about them, what I am saying is when a film is devoid of feeling completely it runs to risk of making its audience feel nothing when they walk out of the theatre.