Dracula (1931): An Analysis, Part One

Good day, everybody! How’s everybody doing? Freezing their buns off? Good.

So today is the first day of my analysis of old Universal horror movies. And today we’re gonna start with the one that started it all:

Dracula (1931), starring Bela Lugosi.

Join me under the cut!

Some Historical Context

Okay, so technically Dracula (1931) isn’t the movie that started Universal Horror. That honour really belongs to two films: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Werewolf, both made in 1913. The Werewolf is now a lost film, unfortunately, but these two films definitely planted the seeds of what would become the original horror franchise.

Universal, being a small studio to begin with, continued to experiment with the horror genre. It would not be until 1923’s release of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (not the version that would inspire Disney’s own cinematic masterpiece, that one was released in 1939 by the now-mostly-defunct RKO.) and later with The Phantom of The Opera in 1925 that Universal Horror really began to take off. Both films, incidentally, starred legendary horror actor Lon Chaney. Remember him, he’s going to be important later.

Around the same time, Universal hopped on the German Expressionist train, producing a stream of films with Conrad Veidt and director Paul Leni. Yes, that Conrad Veidt. I won’t get into his history here, because that’s a post and a half, but suffice to say he was one of the greatest actors to have ever lived. At any rate, it was incredibly fitting that Universal would produce German Expressionist films. Even if German Expressionism hadn’t lead to one of the greatest vampire films, Nosferatu, ever, it’s hard to overstate the importance German Expressionism had to American Horror. Hell, German Expressionism was horror!

However, despite these successes, it would not be until 1931, with the release of two films that Universal Horror would take off.

One of these films was Frankenstein. The other was Dracula.

Dracula In The Great Depression

Before we get into the meat of this adaptation, we have to acknowledge when it was made. And it was made during one of the nastiest periods in American history. Which, given that this American history we’re talking about, is something.

The Great Depression officially began with the Stock Market Crash of October 1929, but it wouldn’t hit it’s peak (at least in the United States, other countries had different experiences with The Great Depression) until 1933. Indeed, in the early parts of 1930, it almost looked like the Depression was done and dusted.

Of course, we all know that wasn’t true. The Depression in the States would last until 1941, when increasing concerns about Japan and Nazi Germany (and Fascist Italy, too, technically. Very technically) would cause a massive military buildup. And then, of course, the States got involved in a more direct sense in WW2.

However, before all that, we have Dracula (1931). Dracula originally started out as a big-budget, full adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, rather than the stage play.

It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out how that plan fell through.

Instead of an early version of what Francis Ford Coppola would give us sixty years later, we instead got, well, Dracula (1931).

That’s it for today, folks. We’ll pick this up tomorrow.

 

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