Dracula (1931-2013) Analysis

23.09.2016

Analysing Genre – Dracula through the Years.

The first 3 clips we watched were by the director of Freaks (1931), Tod Browning’s Dracula made in 1931. Like all Dracula’s films it based off Bram Stoker’s classic novel. This version was one of the earlier movies based on the novel, starring Bela Lugosi, who previously did “Die Todeskarawane” (Trans. “Caravan of Death), as Count Dracula, Dwight Frye (known for his neurotic murderous villains in several classic Universal Horror films. Including “Frankestein” released on the same year.) as Renfield, Helen Chandler (a newbie at the time) as Mina Harker, David Manners as Jonathon Harker and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing.
In the first clip, entitled “The Townsfolk warn Renfield of vampires in the area”, the characters in the scene are ‘The Unknowing Outsider’ (Renfield) and superstitious townsfolk. The locals warn him about the Dracula Castle, how bad things will happen if he goes there, Renfield of course doesn’t listen and claims he is there on business nothing more.

On the second clip, we see Dracula’s infamous wives awaken, creeping out of their coffins as Dracula walks in. There’s an unsettling silence in this scene, the contrast is set high so you’re only focused on the coffins opening as the wives crawl out of it.

The third clip we watched showed Renfield meeting Count Dracula, same as other scenes, the tone is the same and as before, silence instead of music is used. It almost seems as they exaggerate background noise to make it even more disturbing to the viewer.

The film is, like in the novel, set in Transylvania, Romania. The tone of the film is set by the absence of colour, making it both mysterious and terrifying. At the time the use of the colour camera was rare, so the true magic behind film making was to contrast with shadows and light to create the scene the way they wanted it to, in this case the director used the lack of colour to their advantage to make the film scarier. In a lot of scene’s they used the lighting to highlighted Dracula’s eyes for emphasis. Not much background music is used in the film, on the contrary, there’s a chilling silence when there isn’t any dialogue, apart from the occasional exaggerated sound effect. All of this creates suspense and horror. Even in 2016, with all the VFXs, noir horror is still as scary as it was back then.

Horror of Dracula (1958), directed by Terence Fisher.

In this clip we watch Jonathan Harke (played by Van Eyssen) sneaking off the room that he is staying in at the infamous Dracula Castle and as he wonders around the castle he encounters one of Dracula’s brides (played by Valerie Gaunt), that in a damsel in distress fashion begs for him to help her get her out of the castle, talking about how awful the Count is to her and that he has to help her. Jonathan eventually falls for the act and comforts her, the two end up hugging as she cries. Taking this closeness to her advantage she tries to bite the naive Jonathan and that’s when Count Dracula bursts in the room, with blood in his mouth and a fight takes place, Dracula clearly angry at his Bride and trying to take her away, Jonathan probably misunderstanding the situation and trying to help the woman but nearly gets killed in the process. He ends in the floor as Dracula carries away his bride out of the scene.

Directed by Terence Fisher who gave us movies of the same genre like The Mask of Frankestein (1957) who also stared Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (both actors appear in this film as well), The Circuit of Death (1954) and Death by Proxy (1954).

Comparing it to the 1930’s version, you can clearly see that in nearly 30 years the cinema clearly evolved, now there’s clearer audio, the actors not only have to rely on their facial and physical expressions to act and their 3 to 6 lines of talking like in the 1931 Dracula, this time there’s more dialogue between the actors so you can understand more of the plot. There’s also the colour camera now which changes everything, even if at the time the colour palette was limited it still gives more realism to the scene, they still used a lot of red hues and darker shadows in this film to symbolize blood, vampires and the darkness of the theme. Unlike the 1930s Dracula, sound and music is more used in this version to create suspense and that build up. Compared to the previous version and more recent version, I’d say this one is more dramatic.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Unlike the last two films, this remake goes into more detail, in some things it follows the original story and gives it more depth by adding backstories to the characters. But it also changes a lot in some aspects, it’s more romantic then a horror film. If you compare 1931’s Dracula to this one, the difference it’s enormous, on one the dialogue is limited and even though it follows the same basic story, it’s harder to understand the story due to the lack of dialogue and it relies more on symbolism and facial expressions of the actors when it comes to acting, you have to pay close attention to understand the timeline and the plot. Now the 1992 remake, it’s more similar to the films we see now, there’s more natural dialogue which allows you to follow the complex story.

In class we watched two clips from this 1992 remake, in the first clip Jonathan Harke, played by Keanu Reeves who at the time had no previous experience in this genre, meeting a very old Count Dracula, played by Gary Oldman with a lot of makeup (At the time Oldman too had no previous experience working in the horror genre), as the two walk across the castle the scene transitions into them sitting in the dinning room, Dracula pouring some wine for his guest as he excuses himself for not drinking with him as he claims to “never drink wine”. Jonathan looks nervous as his eyes wonder around the room and notices the painting on the wall and he asks if it’s an ancestor of the count to what the Count replies yes and explains that he belonged to an ancient society the scene ends with Dracula pulling out a sword on Jonathan telling him it’s no laughing matter.

The second clip shows the meeting of a now younger looking Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) and Mina (played by Winona Ryder, who at the time was very famous in this genre, having stared in films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands), in this scene it’s shown Dracula restraining himself from sucking her blood, then saves her from an escaped wolf in the cinematheque.

The look of Dracula in this scene is very different from the previous Dracula, he looks young, elegant, there’s a certain mysterious vibe to him, also the way he is dressed really reflects the film and the characters, he is wearing Victorian style black gothic clothing, which in the last 30 years has been associated with the occult, also the original novel was set in this time period, which is one of the things that they kept the same in each Dracula film throughout the years.

When it comes to the look of the film, I think every Dracula film follows the same logic, they use dark tones and play with shadows to create that sinister look and make it scarier, they also use a lot of red hues which has connotations of blood as well as warmer antique tones to in a way remind us of the time period. The difference of this version compared to the previous is that the camera quality is better, the camera is able to capture more colours and tones which the Director uses to his advantage. The way music is used in this film is similar to the 1958 version, to create suspense but I think the use is more subtle to appear almost natural like it should be there, unlike the 1950s version that the use of music is over-dramatic. There’s also little things I noticed like in the scenes with old Dracula, his shadow seems to have a mind of his own almost as if it’s a different person, I believe it was used to demonstrate his thoughts versus how he’s acting in front of Jonathan. In the first clip, also you can hear a lot of “random sounds” like growls and faint little voices when Count Dracula speaks, to maybe show the animal nature of vampires.

Dracula 2000, directed by Patrick Lussier.

The only one that does not follow the original story as closely as the others, instead they gave it their own twist to the tale, adding backstories like that Count Dracula (played by Gerard Butler) goes all the way to the time of Jesus, and he was in fact Judas who betrayed Jesus therefore as a punishment he got cursed and turned into a vampire, which was probably added to explain Dracula’s aversion to religious objects. But unlike “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” this one did not do such a great job at reinventing the infamous Dracula story, instead it almost seemed like a parody. It also seems that the more recent the films become, the more romanticized they become.

This film follows the same style as many others before, the tone and the way that sound is used hasn’t change much since 1992.

It has been rated as one of the worst Dracula films ever made, along with the Blade Trinity.

Dracula [TV Series] (2013), created by Cole Haddon.

The Pilot episode starts with the arrival of Alexander Grayson, “Dracula” posing as an American entrepreneur trying to bring modern science to Victorian England. Dracula’s true motive is to seek revenge on those who betrayed him centuries earlier. At his party he spots Mina, a woman who resembles his dead wife Ilona, from across the room with her friends Jonathan Harker and Lucy Westenra.

Even if each TV series gave their own spin to the original novel and create subplots the main story line and the 3 leads always remain the same, Count Dracula, Mina and Jonathan.

Unlike 1931’s Dracula who was limited by a monochromatic camera, so it had to play with the shadows and contrast, the TV series which was created in the 21st century has colour, tone, high definition so the possibilities are endless. They chose to go for warm tones, a lot of reddish shades, perhaps to remind people of blood which is what one first thinks about when we thinks of vampires. But even though the opted for warm tones, it’s still all very dark, the lightning is very dim throughout the episode which looks as if the whole scene is being lit by candlelight.

The Victorian era always plays a big part in all Dracula’s, which remains faithful to the original novel that was written in 1897, be it the whole film or just hints like fashion style or mannerisms. The stereotype of a gentleman follows Dracula throughout the decades, in each film Count Dracula is nearly always portrayed by somewhat similar actors, there’s always an “image” to Dracula: mysterious, elegant, handsome like the most beautiful of angels who fell from Heaven and became the Devil himself, luring people into darkness. Dracula draws people’s subconscious need for the occult and attraction to what lurks in the shadows.

It seems like the more recent the film is, the more open minded creators get and attempt to deepen the story by adding more strands to the story; 1931 and 1958’s Dracula kept the story simple and stuck to the original but then 1992 came along and the story is expanded and became more creative, they added details and backstories to the characters making it more interesting and deep. In 2000 creators attempted to get creative with the story as well but the need to be different surpassed all logic and instead of creating a masterpiece and honouring the original novel, they made a mockery out of it and created one of the worst Dracula films in history.

By Dalia Rodriguez

 

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_(TV_series)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_2000

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_(1931_English-language_film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_(1958_film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bram_Stoker%27s_Dracula

http://io9.gizmodo.com/12-of-the-worst-dracula-portrayals-of-all-time-1642944138

http://screencrush.com/heres-10-vampire-movies-that-truly-suck/

 

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