I have often wondered if Tod Browning had ever realized what he created when he directed “Dracula” in 1931. Dracula was by modern standards a very modestly funded movie with a budget of approximately $355,000 dollars. A slightly higher budget than Frankenstein, which cost around $291,000 dollars to produce and also had much more complicated sets, special effects and make-up.
Without going into deep detail about the background of Dracula, the movie was of course adapted from the novel of the same name (Dracula) by Bram Stoker. The production ran as a stage play for several years before it morphed (much like a werewolf) into a movie.
The movie story line begins with one of the main characters “Renfield” (Actor Dwight Frye) who has been sent by his superiors on an errand to secure a real estate deal. Once there its obvious that Mr. Renfield is in over his head. After traveling through the dark and misty Carpathian mountains in eastern Europe, Renfield is picked up by a carriage driven by Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and brought to the castle Dracula to finalize the sale of Carfax Abbey in London to Count Dracula, who is in actuality a vampire. Renfield is hypnotized by Dracula, and turned into one of Dracula’s evil minions.
Renfield then accompanies Dracula, protecting him during his sea voyage to London. After his arrival in London Dracula quickly goes to work draining the blood of innocents and turning a young Lucy Weston into a vampire, Dracula then turns his attention to her friend Mina Seward, who is the daughter of Dr. Seward who then calls in a specialist, Dr. Van Helsing. Ironically Renfield becomes an interesting defender of Dracula as he acts as a buffer between Van Hesling and Dracula. As the plot thickens, the highly knowledgeable Van Helsing faces off with Dracula and eventually tracks him down and destroys him. In 2013 I had the opportunity to see Dracula for the first time on the big screen of a movie theater in McHenry Illinois. I was very lucky to have seen the internal working of the theater before the changes in technology had driven them out of business.
The copy of the movie was everything I expected to be. The sound track was peppered with pops, static and crackling. The voices were unevenly recorded and the backgrounds and set were dark and shadowy. Surely Dracula must have scared the hell out of audiences of the day with it’s use of imagination and primal fear of darkness, foreign landscapes and superstitious people who lived in great fear of a demonic force that rules over their dark land.