Dreadful Things


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1931 Dir: Tod Browning With: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye.

Tod Browning's 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Lon Chaney Snr. was originally lined up for the part, but died in 1930, and short of bringing him back from the dead - a feat which even a horror studio like Universal were incapable of - another actor had to be found. Enter, an unknown Hungarian stage and screen actor by the name of Bela Lugosi! Lugosi had played Dracula on Broadway in 1927 and toured it for two years the rest is neck-biting history!

On our first sighting of the Count, the infamous, 'I am Dracula, I bid you welcome,' scene, as he descends the stairs of his castle to greet Renfield, Lugosi looks like he's dressed for dinner. As though he's about to dine. Well in a way he is - on Renfield's blood! This dinner jacket and cape look would become the look most synonymous with Dracula.

During the beginning of the film, we get the impression that all is not right with the mysterious Count. He casts no reflection in the mirror and he never drinks - wine. When he takes an unhealthy interest in Renfield's blood, after his guest cuts himself, it should have sent alarm bells ringing. Anyone with any sense would smell a rat - or should that be a bat? - and leg it out of that creepy castle prompto!

Renfield next stumbles upon the Count's three wives (horror of horrors, Drac is not only a vampire - but a bigamist too!)

When a ship is shipwrecked off the coast of Whitby, Renfield is found grinning madly, the lone survivor, and is banged up in the local loony bin. Here he develops a fondness for eating flies and spiders (especially - the fat juicy ones!)

Dracula arrives in London and stalks the streets for young women to satisfy his hunger (for blood that is - what else?) In one scene a girl selling flowers becomes a victim after trying to sell him a flower. 'Flower for your buttonhole, sir?' she asks. Lugosi hypnotise her and bends in the direction of her neck.

Bite to your neck, madame?

He sets up residence in the abbey next to the sanatorium where Renfield has got himself banged-up. He befriends Dr Seward, his daughter Mina, her fiancÚ Jonathan Harker, and her friend Lucy.

One night while Lucy is staying at their house a bat flies into Lucy's room while she sleeps. The bat transforms into the Count who then takes a generous sup of her blood.

After Van Helsing examines the puncture marks on Lucy's neck, he says that they are the same marks found on the murder victims around London, and that it is the work of a vampire.

Of course our Dr Seward doesn't believe him.

Next the Count, in bat form again, flies into Mina's bedroom window (handy trick that!) and helps himself to her blood too.

Seward still doesn't believe Helsing's talk of vampires, until the Count visits him one night and notices that he cannot be seen in a mirror (oops - the game's up Drac!) Now all that's left to do is for Van Helsing to drive a stake though the thirsty vampire's heart and get rid of the fiend forever (well at least until the sequels, endless remakes, etc.)

This early classic, a box office success that virtually saved Universal Studios, seems a bit dated now. The bats, for instance, look - suspiciously - like they're being dangled on fishing line, and some of the performances by the actors are a bit stagy - Bela Lugosi seems to think that his name is, 'Da-ra-cula.'