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August 20, 2010

55. Dracula
Directed by Tod Browning
USA, 1931
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
Third viewing


Estate Agent Renfield travels to Castle Dracula, where he is quickly controlled by Count Dracula himself. They both travel to England aboard a boat, and on arrival Renfield is sent to the sanitarium owned by a Dr. Jack Seward. Dracula sets his sights on Seward’s daughter, Mina.

Essential Scene:

I’m going to be a bit controversial here. The scene that stuck in my mind the most does not feature Béla Lugosi. That’s not to say I don’t rate his performance, just that I was very impressed by Dwight Frye, who plays Renfield.

Renfield and Dracula have just come to England by ship, leaving corpses all over the boat. This is all Dracula’s doing, as Renfield eats only insects. We see a silhouette of a corpse tied to the wheel and are told via dialogue spoken offscreen that it is the ship’s captain.

Suddenly there is a sinister, guttural laugh. You couldn’t even call it a laugh, it’s almost painful to hear. They open the hatch to see below deck and there is Renfield on the stairs, repeating his horrific, slow chuckle. His eyes are blazing; his grin wide and his teeth clenched.

“Why, he’s mad!” the men off-screen exclaim. They may have a point there.


Lugosi’s performance has been mangled and parodied throughout the years, but seeing it with fresh eyes makes you realise that it’s much subtler than people portray. He doesn’t go around announcing he’s going to suck some blood. On the contrary, he’s rather suave about it. For a time when sound was a relatively new thing in the industry, his unusual diction and accent was used to full advantage to give Dracula the charisma he needed.

Allowing for a few dated special effects (gotta love those bats) and a few wooden performances from cast members, Dracula is a good ole classic horror staple.

Also, I cannot say enough about Dwight Frye. I may start a fan club.

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