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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Halloween Horror, Day 12: Dracula

The thing about classic movies is that some don't stand the test of time. You can't blame them, though; what looks amazing -- even revolutionizes how films are made -- can become outdated in just a few short years. This doesn't diminish their values, but it does make it a bit more difficult to rewatch.

DraculaThat being said, Dracula (1931) has fought back against time and won the battle. As one of the most popular stories of all time, Bram Stoker's Dracula has had numerous reiterations, but almost all film adaptations stick closely to Tod Browning's classic version. But what makes this film so effective?

The number one most impactful element of the film is casting. It also seems silly to say that Bela Lugosi makes the perfect Dracula; he's truly the baseline that all other Dracula actors strive toward. His portrayal isn't overly campy ("I vant to suck your blood!") or too dramatically serious -- somehow, he brings the perfect balance of tension to create a creepy supernatural ghoul who's believable, despite holding his hands in an awkward position for 75 minutes (it's scarier that way).

Dramatic lighting also plays a key role in the film's success. It's one thing to use heavily contrasting light in a black and white film; it's another thing entire to highlight only an actor's eyes (as seen to the right). This could come off as silly or way too overt, but it manages to convey the idea of Dracula hypnotizing people without coming right out and saying it. This is a classic case of showing without telling, and it succeeds in its simplicity.

All this is not to say that Dracula doesn't have its outdated elements. The bat so critical to the plot is terribly fake, and you can plainly see the strings that move it; these scenes are handled with the finesse more associated with Ed Wood than Tod Browning. The sparse soundtrack also makes the film seem to go on longer than it should, but this is moreso a relic of the time than anything else.

Dracula manages to reach through time, defying its age and delivering straight up creepy horror. It's a straight-forward, no-nonsense kind of horror movie that sets the tone for the entire genre. It's no wonder that even now, 80+ years later, filmmakers are still struggling to achieve what Browning managed so many years ago.

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