Everyone knows this story. Dracula is cultural consciousness - you don't have to have read the novel or watched the movie to understand. Lugosi has always defined Dracula as a character. His broken speech and accent have always been nothing other than Dracula's voice. It's hard to read the novel by Bram Stoker without hearing Lugosi's voice in your head. I think this is a testament to how perfect his performance was. Never before was Dracula such a perfect blend of sex and terror as when he was Lugosi, since vampires in other movies before this one where much uglier and silent. He is unforgettable, and the movie is worth watching because of him.
I could go on and on about what this story means. Slow, sexualized rape. Class conflicts. The spread of the plague. It's all very old to me, I guess, and it feels old to analyze it. I think that's why so many new vampire films try to turn convention on it's head. Films try to make women the aggressors, or make the vampires dirty and nasty instead of aristocratic. To write about this, for me personally, is to put myself to sleep. I took a whole screenwriting class on vampires, and while it makes me no expert, it makes me tired to write too much about them.
I'll tell you instead about why I love this movie with a shameless passion. I try to get other people to watch it with me for one reason - Renfield. The character who first visits Dracula despite the warnings of the villagers, and Dracula overpowers him, turning him into a lunatic servant. Much attention is paid to Lugosi, as it should be, but not much to Dwight Frye, who goes from business man to maniac in matter of minutes. I love his voice and how it changes as he goes insane. His laugh that echoes throughout the film. The way no one seems to take him seriously, joking with him like he's not a threat. I think I just love Frye, and I love watching him. He's my favorite part of this movie. I know it's not good writing to just madly gush about some side character, but I am obsessed with him. He clearly had immense talent, and something about his scenes are both disturbing and charming at the same time.
If you somehow have avoided watching this, do see it. It's streaming on Netflix right now, and you can rent it on Amazon for a few buck as well. It's worth it. Lugosi is incredible, and I hope if you watch it, you pay special attention to Renfield, the best character. Let me know if you check it out! I'm so tired from work I can't write much more, but do watch it, it's such a good movie :)
Have any of you seen Dracula? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Dracula
Bela Lugosi's Dead by Bauhaus