Happy Halloween! Our countdown culminates in the scariest, most celebrated night of the year. For today’s entry, I chose a different rendition of a Halloween classic.
Nothing quite fits the Halloween spirit like Dracula. Even if you don’t watch the Universal classic on the regular, the season itself always inspires images of Bela Lugosi as the quintessential caped vampire, walking slowly around his cobwebby castle, waiting for the perfect opportunity to drink your blood. The imagery from this film and the presence that Lugosi projected in the role that he made famous are iconic, and have been burned into the minds of generations, always to be called up during the scariest month of the year.
What you may not have been aware of is the fact that Lugosi was not the only actor to play Dracula in 1931. Tod Browning’s film has become one of the ubiquitous tellings of Bram Stoker’s story, but it was not the only version that Universal put out that year. They simultaneously shot a Spanish version on set as well, with the American actors filming in the day, and the Spanish cast and crew filming in the evenings (directed by George Melford). They shot on the same sets and tell the same story, but shot a bit differently, giving this version its own unique feel. I had never seen it before, so I decided it was time to give it a watch.
Drácula runs a bit longer than Browning’s film, which really allows it to take its time – particularly during the second half. I feel like the film had more of an opportunity to build toward the finale. I really enjoyed Lupita Tovar’s performance as Eva (Mina). She really made the character come alive and gave her more depth than I was used to seeing. And Carlos Villarías’ portrayal of Dracula himself was fantastic. He channels the same energy as Lugosi (I understand he studied the actor’s dailies in an attempt to create a similar interpretation of the character), but Villarías feels a bit more dangerous in the role. Where Lugosi is threatening in a very controlled way, Villarías feels a tad more unhinged, with wide eyes and facial expressions that make him look as though he might lunge for your neck at any moment.
I’ve seen Browning’s film multiple times (and love it – that part hasn’t changed), but I am not familiar enough with it to have been able to instantly recognize where a lot of the changes come in, or what specifically works better in one film or the other. Some day, I would really love to sit down and do a double feature of both so that some of these details are more apparent.
Any version of Dracula is a good film to celebrate Halloween with, but if you haven’t seen this one before, you should definitely check it out. It’s a different take on the story that shares many similarities with the Universal classic, yet varies in some very unique ways. It’s a film that was rediscovered in the ‘70’s and has grown to be greatly appreciated among film fans – many even consider it to be superior to Browning’s film.
Happy Halloween, everyone!