The Rear-View Mirror: Dracula (1931)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I am entirely the wrong person to write this entry. It should be Julie. It should be anyone other than me, really. Because I’ve tried, I really have. I went and got the Universal Monster Box set of Blu-rays. I don’t have any problems with black and white. I don’t mind melodrama or cheese. Horror doesn’t have to be gory for me. Vampires haven’t altogether lost their glitter, as far as I’m concerned.

I can watch films for their historical significance, but Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula – possibly the first sound film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel – didn’t work its nocturnal magic on me, and a big part of this is Bela Lugosi. I love the melancholy and pathos the man has in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, as played by Martin Landau, but Lugosi and what is arguably his defining performance work on a wavelength that I don’t have access to. Perhaps it’s the way Lugosi, but much of the film’s acting overall, seems to exist in the no man’s land between silent film and the talkies. This kind of in-betweenness can be highly effective, even uncanny, but Lugosi never struck me as seductive or sad. I can see how someone might fall for Christopher Lee, his deep, dark voice and his long, pointy teeth. I can see how Klaus Kinski’s rabbitty Nosferatu would elicit a weird mixture of disgust and pity. And I can definitely see why Winona did the toothsome with Gary Oldman. Lugosi, though? For me, he ended up being the wrong goddamn Dracula.

I’ve yet to watch Murnau’s silent Nosferatu – though, in keeping with my ambivalence towards Lugosi unless played by Landau, I very much enjoyed Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck as Count Orlok. More embarrassingly, I’ve yet to watch any of the other films in the Universal Monster Box. (While I’m outing myself, I’ll confess to everything: I’ve yet to watch any film version of Frankenstein.) I shouldn’t blame Lugosi, though: perhaps there’s only place for one Dracula in my heart and his teeth in my jugular.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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