What’s a Blog-a-thon? This movie exchange is a challenge, its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.
Marcey’s criteria for Chris: Horror Films of the 1930’s
Why Marcey Chose This Film For Chris: The Spanish version of Universal’s Dracula actually follows the same script, and used the same sets, it was filmed at night while the Universal version was filmed during the day. It was made for the Spanish speaking audience back in the early 1930’s. But what sets this film a part is that it is not a carbon copy of the Universal film, in fact they made an equal here, and in some ways it is almost superior. The performances are very different, the tone and feel also are very different. For any fan of horror, this is a must see early film. Since Chris has not seen it, what better way to kick off the month than this?
Horror is one of those genres that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a young boy, I have very fond memories of watching the old Universal and Hammer films late at night on the ABC. I always felt a strong connection to the monsters in those films be they werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, the invisible man or vampires. Vampires are my second favourite film monsters, the first being werewolves, but my love of vampires began with Bram Stokers masterpiece, Dracula. There are many different versions of Stokers story, but in 1931 audiences were treated to two versions of the novel, one from director Todd Browning starring the great Bela Lugosi and a Spanish version from George Melford whom many consider to be superior to Browning’s film, and you know what they’re right. But this doesn’t mean that it is a great horror film.
It always confused me why I had never gotten around to seeing the famed Spanish version of Dracula considering the amount of praise it gets. It is however quite hard to talk about Melford’s film without comparing it to Borwning’s English version, because they are essentially the same film. Based on a stage play adaptation of Stoker’s novel, Spanish Dracula was filmed back to back with Browning’s film sharing script and sets, Melford and his crew would film at night once Browning and his crew had finished. The plot barely resembles that of Stoker’s novel and feels more like a stage play than a horror film, which is a shame because the script that was adapted for the stage play doesn’t do the novel justice as many memorable moments are absent. But whilst Melford’s film is essential a remake, it is also a much more well made film that was free of the censor issues that Browning’s film, and many of the Universal cannon would face.
Melford’s film is a far more interesting film to watch, the camera angles and movements are executed better than anything that Browning could have achieved in his film as Melford uses extreme close ups on characters, but also on the bite marks left on Eva’s (Lupita Tovar) neck. The violence is also a lot more brutal, particularly Renfield’s (Pablo Alvarez Rubio) death at the films climax. Instead of rolling down the stairs, he is dropped off the edge. It’s also a little sexier, nothing more than the fact that Eva wears more revealing clothes and a scene showing Lucia (Carmen Guerrero) undressing. The film also runs 30mins longer that Browning’s, mostly because of extended scenes and the addition of a finale to the minor subplot of Lucia , Dracula’s first victim when he arrives in London, who is this films version of Lucy Westenra. Although this side plot is wasted in the film as it is never really fleshed out.
The one big stand out of Melford’s film is the way he introduces us to Dracula (Carlos Villarias). As Renfield enters the castle he is startled by a bat that swoops past him. He turns around to face the stairs and there stands Dracula. It is a far more memorable entrance than Lugosi’s, although Dracula’s very first scene, which shows him and his brides awaking probably could have been used later on in the film, as it makes his first meeting with Renfield less menacing. One other scene that stands out is during the films climax, As Juan Harker (Barry Norton) and Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) race to save Eva from Dracula, the vampire is stopped from finishing off Eva by the first rays of the sun and retreats to his coffin where he is eventual killed by Van Helsing, which sadly is kept off screen.
Despite the many successes that Melford’s film has over Browning’s it has many many failings, mostly for the fact that neither film feels like a vampire film. Vampires are monsters and this is the one thing that this film lacks, this Dracula is more interested in being more of a gentleman than a savage beast. There are no claws and more importantly there are no fangs. The reason why Max Shreck, Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee were far superior vampires is because they were depicted as monsters. We saw the fangs, we saw the claws, there was also a more genuine threat around them. The films other major flaw is its cast, regardless of the failings of Browning’s film it had a great cast. No one could have played this Dracula the way that Lugosi did, he was the Dracula of the 1930’s. Villarias, whose direction was to just copy Lugosi, follows the Sean Penn school of acting by doing too much, he goes full Lugosi to the point that his performance, particularly with his eyes doing things that Roger Moore’s eyes could only dream of doing.
Whilst it is a visually and technically superior film, it still fails in the most important aspect of being a vampire film, the lack of the presence of the monster. Instead we get an old man with very expressive eyes whose come to a London filled with Spaniards, who has come to use his gums to give the ladies a hikky. I’m sure to people in the 1930’s this was a scary film, but I need the monster to be there for me to be terrified.