Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

They Enjoy Draining You

There's very little about Bela Lugosi's performance in 1931's Dracula that specifically resembles the Dracula from the book. But it is a fascinating performance that combines well with Tod Browning's lovely, spooky visuals in the first part of the film, as well as his unpredictable cutting, and Dwight Frye's fervently manic Renfield to make an absorbing film.

Like many great movie monsters, Lugosi seems to possess a mind alien in an inexplicable way. There's a sense of barely contained delight in the mischief he means to perpetrate and something about his pointed face implies hunger and an exceptional ability to savour his meals.

But the fundamental lack of any desire to repress his violent and abusive impulses is the key to his strange and threatening portrayal. This is in line with Stoker's character, as is the implication that Dracula's impulses have a long history of support from culture and tradition very far removed from the morality of Victorian England.

The movie is based on the 1924 play, and much of the latter portion of the film feels stage bound. The beginning of the movie is where Browning's visual sense is most in evidence, as Renfield travels to Dracula's Transylvanian castle.

My favourite Renfields so far are Tom Waits and Klaus Kinski, but Dwight Frye's distinctly 1930s madman is fascinatingly tormented. One senses a consistency of motive without ever learning exactly the nature of the motive--we know he's an essentially decent gentleman before he falls under Dracula's thrall. His strange, clenched teeth, sucking laughter afterwards suggest someone whose intellect has prescribed laughter as a reaction to things he couldn't hope to cope with rationally. Each laugh sounds like a bitter medicine he's forcing down his throat.

The movie was originally released with very little music--only a bit from Swan Lake played over the opening credits. In 1998, Philip Glass with the Kronos Quartet composed a very nice score for the film, though the film with his score is a very different experience. It has a delightful fluidity, drawing you through a sense of doom contrived with diabolical glee, but there's also a very effective, cold, surgical feeling to the film's original form.
Tags: bela lugosi, dracula, dwight frye, horror, movies, renfield, tod browning, vampires
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