Bram Stoker

Dracula’s Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

Dracula’s Daughter starts as a comedy. With Billy Bevan’s bumbling police constable, there’s nothing else to call it. Sure, the opening deals with the immediate aftermath of the original Dracula–returning Edward Van Sloan arrested for driving a stake through a man’s heart–but it’s all for smiles, if not laughs. Bevan’s terrified expressions carry the movie until it’s time for Gloria Holden to show up.

Holden plays the title role. She’s in England to dispose of her father’s remains and to paint (and to prey upon the living). She’s not happy about preying upon the living and Garrett Fort’s screenplay implies its all going to be about vampirism as a compulsion. Top-billed Otto Kruger ties everything together; he’s a society psychiatrist, trained by Van Sloan, who ends up defending his old teacher while taking an interest in Holden. She’s in society because her paintings? It’s unclear why anyone would invite her. Fort’s script isn’t good on narrative progression.

Holden thinks Kruger might be able to help her with the vampirism. She assumed her father’s death would help, but her man servant and familiar Irving Pichel convinces her otherwise. Pichel’s just around to encourage Holden’s bad habits. He definitely looks creepy, but he doesn’t treat her with any respect, much less fear. It creates a bit of a tonal imbalance–the vampire isn’t bad, the human encouraging her is bad–until Holden finally takes up the villain reins.

Once Holden and Pichel go after Nan Grey (who’s rather good in her small part), it’s clear the happy London society dalliances are soon to be over. See, Kruger’s her doctor too. And he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Can Holden convince him to join her–possibly replacing Pichel–in Transylvania before Kruger can dehypnotize Grey long enough to find out who attacked her?

It’d be a far more effective twist if Holden’s character were better developed (and established in the first place) and if director Hillyer didn’t direct Kruger like he’s always waiting to react to a punchline. Once the initial comedic stuff is over–though Scotland Yard man Gilbert Emery is mostly for laughs (including the film’s best ones)–Hillyer starts giving Kruger these close-ups where he’s just reacting to something or pensively smoking. I guess he needs to be doing something since he’s not figuring out Van Sloan’s not crazy and Holden’s got something weird going on.

Twenty-something Marguerite Churchill is quinquagenarian Kruger’s assistant. She’s an heiress or something so she gives him a lot of guff. She’s also, of course, enamored with him. Because why wouldn’t she be enamored with her fifty-year old boss. They don’t have any romantic chemistry, though occasionally Kruger does come off paternal. Too occasionally.

Churchill’s unprofessional jealousy of Holden eventually gets her in a lot of trouble, kicking off the final act, where Kruger’s got to fly to Transylvania to try to save the day. He doesn’t, as it turns out, because Fort’s script is goofy. I wonder if it had to contort itself through the Hays Code. Hopefully. At least contorting for the Code would provide an excuse.

The film’s got good sets and fine photography from George Robinson. Hillyer starts with some creepiness, but soon gives it up. Why the film should want to scare Bevan’s bumbling constable but not Churchill or Grey’s damsels is another of its mysteries. There are some excellent foggy London effects and some real mood with Holden, in her black wraps–though Holden’s costuming when she’s not a creature of the night is grey and drab.

Holden’s okay. The film’s failures aren’t her fault. They’re not Kruger’s fault either, but he’s so miscast after a while–and Hillyer’s direction of him is so awry–he gets tiring. Van Sloan’s fun for a while, but he too can’t survive. Churchill’s just annoying. Maybe it’s supposed to be the part.

Dracula’s Daughter is an almost solid production of a troubled script. It’s a bunch of ill-fitting pieces mashed together without success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on a suggestion by David O. Selznick and a story by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Milton Carruth; produced by E.M. Asher; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Nan Grey (Lili), and Billy Bevan (Albert).


Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002, Guy Maddin)

To put it mildly, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary is narratively erratic. The film–a filmed ballet “converted” to a silent movie–opens with panic over Eastern Europeans entering Britain. At least, the onscreen text implies this panic. It’s quickly forgotten; after doing cast introductions (also with onscreen text–these aren’t intertitles, these are just text onscreen alongside live action), the film immediately becomes about Tara Birtwhistle. She’s not Dracula, but she is–presumably–the title Virgin. She has one of the two diaries in the film, after all.

Birtwhistle’s great, both as a dancer and as an actor. Director Maddin shoots a lot of closeups and it’s during her scenes the film comes closest to fulfilling the concept. There’s a lot of symbolism, like two of her suitors and pervy Van Helsing (David Moroni) giving her a blood transfusion with the three men in frame thrusting at her. When Dracula is toying with the idea of being about Victorian sexual repression and sexual violence, it’s at its best. Or its most ambitious. Well, at least during Birtwhistle’s part of the film.

But Birtwhistle doesn’t get the whole picture. Zhang Wei-Qiang’s Dracula barely shows up, usually just there in insert shots, which don’t match the film stock–though Maddin, cinematographer Paul Suderman, and editor Deco Dawson do such lackluster filters and speedups on the film, it’s hard to say what the film stock should look like. Most of Dracula looks like bad video (it’s apparently not, it’s apparently terribly filtered film).

Anyway, once the action moves to (unnamed) Transylvania, Zhang, and betrothed CindyMarie Small and Johnny A. Wright, the charm is gone. Small can dance, but she can’t act. Zhang might be able to act–he can definitely act–but Maddin doesn’t focus on his performance so much as his presence. Wright has a terrible part–once Small discovers he’s had sexual experiences (maybe he’s the Virgin), she tries to seduce him in a terribly edited sequence. Small being sexual repulses Wright and he abandons her to be attacked by dancing nuns and then Zhang. Luckily, he teams up with Moroni and his vampire hunters.

Except, of course, Dracula spells it vampyr. Because most of the onscreen text choices are obnoxious enough to produce eyerolls. They’re not even pretentious–something pretentious would use better fonts for the onscreen text and far better filters on the film. Dracula is artificially grainy, artificially zoomed (to atrocious effect); it’s like the filmmakers didn’t want to pay for an iMovie filter pack.

Maddin and Dawson try to make the film intense through fast cuts and exaggerated angles, but neither have any grace. The film’s got constant music–natch, it’s a ballet–but the music never really syncs with the onscreen action. The “silent movie” gimmick is the point, not the ballet. It’d probably have been better if someone else had shot the ballet and Dawson had cut it into a silent? As long as there had been some competent iMovie filters.

Instead, Maddin fakes a silent movie style. There’s lens distortion–because the movie’s supposed to be old maybe–and Maddin has no rhyme or reason to which shots get which style. Maddin uses iris shots poorly, then goes to wide shots (Dracula’s widescreen, not Academy), then cuts to a fake zoom shot, then another fake zoom shot. All with weak photography. Whatever filter they used removes the natural grain and detail and instead distorts.

The less said about the sped-up sequences the better.

But Dracula moves pretty well. Definitely during the first half or so, when it’s Birtwhistle’s show. The momentum keeps it going to the finish, even though nothing’s successful in the second half. Zhang ends up playing third fiddle to Small and–even worse–Moroni, who hams it up.

The idea of the film isn’t bad, but Maddin’s not interested enough in creating something singular. It’s a gimmick, a filmed ballet performance, not a filmic ballet. It’s certainly not some great homage to silent filmmaking. Especially not with Maddin’s weak establishing shots. The ballet had great sets–including some set design visuals Georgia O’Keefe would appreciate (or have her lawyer call on)–but Maddin and Suderman don’t shoot them well.

Dawson wouldn’t be able to cut them well anyway.

The film’s cynical at best, craven at worst.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Maddin; ballet by Mark Godden, based on a novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Paul Suderman; edited by Deco Dawson; production designer, Deanne Rohde; produced by Vonnie von Helmolt; aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Starring Zhang Wei-Qiang (Dracula), Tara Birtwhistle (Lucy Westernra), David Moroni (Dr. Van Helsing), CindyMarie Small (Mina), Johnny A. Wright (Jonathon Harker), Stephane Leonard (Arthur Holmwood), Matthew Johnson (Jack Seward), Keir Knight (Quincy Morris), Brent Neale (Renfield), and Stephanie Ballard (Mrs. Westernra).


Drácula (1931, George Melford)

A lot of Drácula’s hundred minute runtime is spent with Eduardo Arozamena talking really slow to José Soriano Viosca and Barry Norton. Arozamena’s Professor Van Helsing (so nice to have such a familiar “brand” you can just talk about the characters and assume some passing familiarity) and Viosca and Norton are the guys who need to believe him about vampires. Dracula–played by Carlos Villarías–is after Norton’s fiancée Lupita Tovar. Viosca’s her father, though the film never really does anything with it.

Viosca and Norton are basically just around to hear Arozamena’s exposition. Director Melford does all right with it, actually. He seems to understand how much information they’re conveying because he usually breaks it up with some of Pablo Álvarez Rubio’s antics (as Renfield). Through some luck, screenwriter Baltasar Fernández Cué understands Rubio’s importance in the film. He opens the picture, he introduces the viewer not just to Villarías but to himself. Rubio is the only actor in the film to get a scene (or two) to himself. Everything else in the picture involves regular cast members. And Rubio’s really likable. It makes him a great tormented victim.

So Drácula is long. There’s no music and very little ambient sound. It’s often just watching Villarías walk around (in what appears–oddly–to be a London After Midnight homage). Melford’s lucky to have Tovar, who’s able to get enough sympathy from the audience just from her performance because there’s really not much character in Cué’s script.

As Tovar’s friend, Carmen Guerrero only gets two scenes and the script gives her more character. She’s good too (or gives the impression of having the ability to be good, but the film dumps her early).

Besides Norton, who’s terrible, and Viosca, who’s ineffective, Drácula is well-acted. Villarías’s got to play a walking, talking monster, which–when the film doesn’t give any character to said monster–might be the specific problem of Dracula adaptations, and he does stumble. But Melford gets a genuinely creepy conclusion when he finally kidnaps Tovar.

Tovar’s great. Did I already call her out?

Arozamena’s kind of fun as Van Helsing. He almost plays it like a comedy.

There are some editing problems (cutting in the footage from Tod Browning’s English language problems Dracula), but Arthur Tavares does well with this version’s footage. And George Robinson’s photography is magnificent. He’s so graceful Melford’s often employed dolly shots come off well.

Drácula’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Melford; screenplay by Baltasar Fernández Cué, based on the screenplay and play by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Arthur Tavares; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Carlos Villarías (Conde Drácula), Lupita Tovar (Eva), Barry Norton (Juan Harker), Pablo Álvarez Rubio (Renfield), Eduardo Arozamena (Van Helsing), José Soriano Viosca (Doctor Seward), Carmen Guerrero (Lucía), Amelia Senisterra (Marta) and Manuel Arbó (Martín).


Dracula (1931, Tod Browning), the digest version

Even though it still falls apart at the end, this truncated, eight millimeter version of Dracula is better than the regular version. It’s exactly what I was hoping for from these Castle Films digests.

All of the long dialogue scenes are gone. There’s no explanation of vampires, the entire sequence before London is gone, no one even identifies Dracula by name until the flopping finish. It’s a really neat way to see the film, as it changes so many implications.

Even better, Lugosi doesn’t even have any lines. He’s a mysterious predator, not an awkwardly accented royal. There’s just enough romance between Helen Chandler and her beau too. It efficiently establishes the characters. Chandler’s first encounter with Lugosi is random chance, which makes Lugosi’s Dracula far more dangerous.

I wasn’t expecting much from this version, but Dracula finally works out. Until that ending, which is just too broke to fix.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tod Browning; written by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort, based on their play and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Milton Carruth and Maurice Pivar; produced by Browning and Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Castle Films.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula), Helen Chandler (Mina), David Manners (John Harker) and Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing).


The Tomb of Dracula (1980, Okazaki Minoru)

I read somewhere the Japanese started producing anime because there was no way to combat live action American imports. With its narration and lame plotting (it somehow isn’t epical–maybe because Tomb of Dracula was produced for television, complete with convenient commercial breaks), it’s an awful way spend ninety minutes. Unfortunately the entire cast isn’t credited, so I can’t properly ridicule the terrible voice acting.

The script’s a huge problem too–the film’s adapted from the comic book (maybe the first direct adaptation of a comic book in terms of its actual narrative and not just the concepts) and it picks the lame part of the series to adapt. I mean, there’s some idiotic writing, but still, the source material was competently told (at best) and beautifully illustrated. Not exactly the best thing to adapt.

But with all the shortcuts the film takes to make Dracula a likable character, it turns all the vampire hunters into moronic villains. It’s hard to say who’s a more suspicious character, the twenty-five-foot tall Satan monster or the primary vampire hunter, Hans Harker (the Hans thing can’t help but make one think German and the guy comes off as less human than the vampires).

It’s a completely nonsensical waste of time; if one wants to see a Dracula adaptation resemble a “Peanuts” cartoon, I guess it’s an all right way to go. But it kills brain cells one after the other. It’s so exceptionally bad. I wonder if all anime’s so lousy?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Okazaki Minoru; screenplay by Yamazaki Tadaaki, based on the Marvel Comics comic book by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer and inspired by a novel by Bram Stoker; music by Yokoyama Seiji; released by Toei Animation.

Starring Ted Layman as Dracula and narrated by Stan Jones.


Count Dracula (1977, Philip Saville)

The biggest problems with Count Dracula are completely unrelated. First, the obvious–the source material. Bram Stoker’s novel is, apparently, unadaptable. To date, no film version has been successful. The problem lies with Stoker’s plotting. After the compelling opening with Dracula in Transylvania, his subsequent disappearance leaves the reader or viewer with a bunch of rubes. Many of the characters are unlikable, not because they’re bad people, but because Stoker did such a bad job creating them. For example, in this version, Harker–played to mediocrity (sort of appropriate for the character) by Bosco Hogan–is immediately unsympathetic. He’s a rube. Richard Barnes plays the Texan and is awful. Susan Penhaligon and Judi Bowker play the damsels in distress to some success, but when Penhaligon needs to go nuts, she’s silly looking. On the other hand, for the first two acts, Bowker is unsensational, only to get good at the end.

I’ve left a few characters and actors out because the rest are pretty good. Frank Finlay is a fantastic Abraham van Helsing and the script’s flourishes for his character are nice (Francis Ford Coppola has apparently seen this version). Mark Burns is fine as the other doctor. He and Finlay have a good chemistry. But Jack Shepherd brings some–as far as I can remember, totally unseen before–humanity to crazy Renfield. Shepherd’s really the most exciting one to watch, because his performance isn’t as flashy as Finlay’s and has to work on less pronounced level. As Dracula, Louis Jordan has his good scenes and his bad. A lot of the problems aren’t his fault, but the director’s. The scene with Jordan and Van Helsing is quite good, but the third act scenes are when Dracula is at its best.

The problem–the other problem–with Count Dracula is the production. When he’s shooting on film, Philip Saville creates an atmospheric, haunting film (even if the music is always a little too much). Except most of Count Dracula is shot on video–nearly every indoor scene, on set, is shot on video–and Saville is not a good video director. Well, given he shot the film in 1977, it’s possible no one was a good video director yet. But he’s a bad one. All of the indoor scenes are obvious, all the compositions uninspired. It’s a shame, because otherwise, this version is the finest adaptation of the novel I’ve seen. It just follows too close to the novel and so there’s a boring midsection, one where some plot liberties could have made things a lot more interesting.

Still, even at a long two and a half hours, Count Dracula is worth at least one viewing–both for the acting and the generally competent storytelling.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Philip Saville; screenplay by Gerald Savory, based on the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Peter Hall; edited by Richard Bedford; music by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts; production designer, Michael Young; produced by Morris Barry; released by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Count Dracula), Frank Finlay (Abraham van Helsing), Susan Penhaligon (Lucy), Judi Bowker (Mina), Jack Shepherd (Renfield), Mark Burns (Dr. John Seward), Bosco Hogan (Jonathan Harker), Richard Barnes (Quincey P. Holmwood) and Ann Queensberry (Mrs. Westenra).


Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)

I never got Dracula. Even as a kid, I never watched it over and over, like I did the other Universal monster movies. When I went back and saw it in the late 1990s–after Ed Wood–Bela Lugosi’s performance horrified me. He makes funny faces and does Charles Atlas exercises for scary body language and woodenly says his lines. Apparently some blame Lugosi’s English-speaking skills on this performance (the lack thereof), but really, the line’s are just crap and hadn’t Lugosi been on stage in the play version? If so, he should have at least been responsible for inflection.

Regardless, while Lugosi is a major problem with Dracula, he’s hardly the one who breaks it. He might make silly faces, but the whole approach of the film is wrong. Dracula, more than any film I’ve seen, exists solely for the audience. These events aren’t happening to the characters in the film, rather they’re happening so the viewer can see them happen. Characters talk about each other when they’ve never met, nor is there any suggestion they’ve met, but the viewer has met both and so he or she is able to make some kind of connection. This example is indicative of Dracula’s narrative style and it isn’t–in itself–a bad thing. It just isn’t used to any effect. It’s pointless and a sign of some bad writing. The further signs of bad writing–when, for example, Van Helsing promises to deal with the vampiric Lucy–whose been feeding on small children–then does nothing… well, either a scene got cut or no one read the script before they started shooting. Further script problems include the comedy relief, which doesn’t really deserve to be mentioned. Some of the storytelling problems might stem from Dracula coming soon after the change to talkies, as it did have a silent version released at the time, and most of the film is actually silent. I wonder if the silent version, with intertitles, would be better.

The acting ranges from good to awful. Lugosi’s bad, so is leading man David Manners. Helen Chandler’s girl in distress isn’t always bad–when Chandler’s doing a scene with her friend, I almost thought I was wrong about Dracula, since the scene was so good and Chandler so likable (turned out I wasn’t)–but she does occasionally slip between her “British” accent and her native South Carolinian, which is distracting. Dwight Frye is good as Renfield. Only Edward Van Sloan–as Van Helsing–gives a really good performance, interpreting Van Helsing as a severe German, straight out of an Otto von Bismarck biopic. He even mimics some of Lugosi’s mannerisms, which almost sets up a juxtaposition, at least visually, but the story never catches on.

Even with all its defects, Dracula still manages to disappoint overall. The conclusion is hurried and nonsensical, not just leaving me wondering what’s going on in a broad sense, but also in an immediate one. Like, why Manners and Chandler are going up the huge staircase instead of leaving the creepy building? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for watching the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tod Browning; written by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort, based on their play and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Milton Carruth and Maurice Pivar; produced by Browning and Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula), Helen Chandler (Mina), David Manners (John Harker), Dwight Frye (Renfield), Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing), Herbert Bunston (Dr. Jack Seward), Frances Dade (Lucy Weston), Joan Standing (Briggs, a nurse) and Charles K. Gerrard (Martin).


Scroll to Top