10/31/08

The Halloween Top 13: Number 1: Dracula starring Bela Lugosi

Happy Halloween to all you moon men and ladies out there. As the night of terror is upon us, may things move though the night. Ghosts and goblins, ghouls and witches, vile monsters who long to leave your bodies in ditches, but don't you worry because you've been invited to a Halloween party. A party thrown by that evil moon despot and sinister move reviewer, The Lightning Bug. As you are magically transported to the party you arrive just in time to hear the band begin to play.







Hey, Hey, Moonies. It's the Lightning Bug. Yeah hardly recognized me in my new costume, right? Yeah I got a million of 'em. But look at you I mean that's great you're..... ahh yeah, right that's so cool. Well, I'm thrilled so many of you could join us. This here is strictly a B.Y.O.B. party because some of our guests, well, they never drink... wine. I've got a full evening planned for us with lots of Halloween activities. We're going to have some music from some children of the night, and what sweet music they are going to make. We're going to have some tricks and treats, and we're going to have tonight's number one film on the countdown.

There was never a shade of doubt in my mind when I started this list. There was no other movie that had so affected my being as a movie goer and fan, but so impacted the Holiday, the genre, and the culture. It took the amalgamation of a virtually unknown foreigner, a silent film director, and raving madman to make this film a classic. I am pleased to bring to you my all time favorite Halloween movie.


Dracula(1931) starring Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, Helen Chandler, Edward Van Sloan. Directed by Tod Browning.

Synopsis
Renfield, who is this weaselly little real estate man, travels to Transylvania to enter into a business partnership with an obscure count named Dracula. Once there Dracula starts feeding off the poor schmoe like he was a five hour energy drink. Long story short, the Count buys himself an abandoned abbey. After a quick boat ride to England, Dracula is off making a new home, and Renfield is off to Seward’s sanitarium. Dracula makes himself known to Dr. Seward, and meets the Doctors daughter, Mina, her fiancee, John Harker, and Mina's friend Lucy. The trampier of the two girls, Lucy, immediately falls for the Count. Dracula goes to her in her bed that night and drains her dry.
After feasting off her friend, Dracula's sights are firmly on Mina now. However when a visiting scientist, Van Helsing, analyzes the crazed Renfield's blood, he starts to suspect there is a vampire in their midst. It's soon proved to him that Dracula is the vampire in question, and it's up to John and Van Helsing to stop the Count before they lose Mina to eternity.

Film Facts

--There was a Spanish language version shot at the same time as Dracula using the same sets, only at night. The Spanish version, Drácula, is both seen as more deftly made as far as from a a technical standpoint. I do admire both films, but the only place the Spanish version really gets me is in Eva, their version of Mina, who was played by the super hot Lupita Tovar.

--Bela Lugosi did not learn his lines for Dracula phonetically as has been reported. By the time the Dracula movie was made, Bela had lived in the states for about 10 years.

--Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was responsible for lighting Lugosi's eyes with two pin-lights to show off the vampire's stare. Freund went on to direct yesterday's Fran Goria Top 5 Pick, Mad Love with Peter Lorre.

--Lugosi only portrayed the Count one other time in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstien.

--There is no blood, no fangs, and no bite marks to be found anywhere in this vampire flick.

Why Do I Love It?

There are so many reasons I love this film, but before I get into them, I just want to say that I do love this Dracula movie more than all others. However, I am a sucker for a Dracula movie. So I may take a moment to talk about some of the fine men you see on the picture up there. First things are first though.

Dracula. Bela Lugosi. They are synonymous. Even kids that don't know the name know the image. The pale faced man with a black cape, a tuxedo, slicked back hair, and a big honkin' medallion. I can't count the number of times I went out for Halloween dressed as a vampire. When I said a vampire, my mother knew exactly who I meant. You see Bela Lugosi was my gateway drug.



I had already had a fascination with old movies practically as long as anyone can remember. Before the era of the VCR when my birthday was coming up or something, I could get my Dad to fire up the old Super 8 projector. We would get Chaplin films or Buster Keeton, but before too long Dad brought home a digest version on Dracula. I was enraptured. When a few years passed and video came in, I finally got my first chance to put a voice to the strange countenance of Dracula. I was sold. I scoured bookstores for biographies of Lugosi, and as Goodtimes began producing their cheap-o videos in the eighties, I would buy anything with the Lugosi name on it. Through that one film, I found the Universal catalog and a world of genre film awaited me. I've watched films all my life that I can honestly say were all because of Dracula.


The film itself honestly has it's up and downs. The beginning third of the film set in the Count's castle manages to be moody and atmospheric, but once the Count reaches England he disappears for most of the second act. This would be a travesty in most films, but in this case it gave the other star of
the film time to shine. Dwight Frye a.k.a The Man with the Thousand Watt Stare takes over the film in Lugosi's absence. He manages to portray madness and pathos in a simple character who's main drive seems to be to eat a ton of rats. Renfield is both an absolute basket case and the most hilarious thing on the screen. Unlike other Universal horror features where the comedy feels shoehorned in (i.e. the sassy maid in Frankenstien), Frye manages to do it in the blend of his performance. I think this is a crucial element to the success of the film.

The other real star of the film is Tod Browning. For all that has been
made of the involvement of German cinematographer Karl Freund, I find it hard to believe that Browning did not have his hand in there. Tod had waited for years to get this movie made. In fact originally it was slated to be a silent picture and star Lon Chaney Jr. However time and Chaney's own heath did not allow this to happen. Instead Browning made this early talkie with the unease of a man in unfamiliar waters, but with the grace of an auteur able to express so much without words. The long shots of Dracula coming down his steps to greet Renfield, the fog rolling through windows and enveloping Dracula's bride, the big finale with Renfield's unhappy ending. Those scenes show more than they tell, and that is what Browning gave to Dracula.


The story of Dracula of course lends itself to remakes. By 1958 Hammer was releasing The Horror of Dracula. Christopher Lee slipped into the cape and became the first Count to draw blood, even if it was that certain shade of orange. Lee proved to be a very different kind of
Count. Where Lugosi would raise a brow or make crazy hand gestures, Lee's Dracula was bounding over tables and tossing folks around. In 1972 the Count got funky in Blackula with Charles Macaulay and proved that Dracula wasn't just a sucker. Drac received a duel sucker-punch in 1979 with the release of Dracula with Frank Langella and Love at First Bite with George Hamilton. While the ubertanned Count holds some appeal, Langella is the George Lazenby of the Dracula family. Much loved, much loathed, and at the end of the day probably crap. It was twelve more years before another major Dracula production. This time in 1992 the story was tackled by Francis Ford Coppola in his Bram Stoker's Dracula. Gary Oldman, the modern man of a thousand faces, plays the Count as an ancient, animalistic, dapper, and completely depressed being. While I find Oldman engaging the rest of the cast is lacking; that is with the exception of Anthony Hopkins at the top of his game as the madcap Van Helsing.


So why did I tell you folks all of this? Why do I love Dracula? There are the sentimental reasons that I've already touched on. There is the pure joy of the acting and film making involved in the process. The rich history and permeation into the culture of an icon. Lugosi played the Count 1.5 times (I can only count the Abbott and Costello movie as a half) and became him, and that is what every Dracula movie is going to be up against for the rest of time. I love Dracula because it got me here, and I love you folks because you made it here with me. You made it to the end of the Top 13, and I thank everyone who stuck with me. I've still got more to share with you tonight. Still got a special Top Five List and a few goodies for you to feast your eyes on. First things First....


Bug Rating



Now for some Treats, first off a Castle Films 16mm Digest version of Dracula. >


DRACULA (1931) Castle Films 16mm Digest
Uploaded by super8monsters

Now then here's a short film I found that I thought you folks might like, Here's Betty Boop meets Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.




And finally before the Top 5 List The Halloween Favorite. That all time happy funtime party band, Bauhaus.





Tonight's final Halloween Top 5 List for the Official The Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween Top 13 Showcase and Cavalcade of Stars is brought to you by the lovely the talented, the perpetually confused and dangerously cute Miss Directed. For those of you who don't know Miss Directed is my lovely wife. (Before you ask why she isn't Mrs. Directed or, cough, Mrs. Bug, it's because even for the queen of the moon going to the social security office is no fun.) The lovely Miss Directed is my constant joy, and she is actually the one who carved the LBL Pumpkin you see up top there. She's a great gal, and of course she loves her genre flicks. So I'm very happy to give you Miss Directed's Top 5:


5. Army of Darkness-For serious somebody just burn that book.
4. Nightmare on Elm Street- Red Bull and No Doz for Everyone.
3. Night of the Living Dead- We're Not unreasonable, I mean no one's going to eat your eyes.
2. Carrie- That there religious right sure knows how to raise some kids.
1. Rocky Horror Picture Show- Aww, transvestites are sweet.


That's my girl. I knew there was a reason I married that woman. Well, apart for the whole love thing. Thanks for the list, babe.

So that just about brings our party to a close. It's been a great 13 days and I hope everyone gets a huge sack of candy tonight. I know me, Miss Directed, and Fran are hitting the town, and anything that says Fun Size on it is in jeopardy. So thanks to all you folks that read these posts. Thanks to everyone who commented, submitted a list, linked this somewhere, told someone about it, read my goofy captions, you folks are great. Visits to the site have doubled here in the last month and I hope some of you folks that came for Halloween stick around. I've got more stuff coming up in November with Turkey Days, The Dollar Deals, and Men of Action Days. More on that coming up soon so check back.

Thanks again folks, and Happy Halloween.
-The Lightning Bug



4 comments:

  1. Great pick for #1. This is my favorite of the Dracula films. My mom really digs Frank Langella(it must be the hair) so it is her favorite. As far as Bram Stoker's Dracula..I do love to see a movie with Tom Waits in it. So yes to Dracula films...No to gay vampire movies.

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  2. Great list, great #1. This one, Bride of Frankenstein and The Black Cat are my fav films of the Universal era. This was a great tribute to Bela's Drac'--good job!

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  3. Great review, but I'm a staunch Christopher Lee fan when it comes to Drac. I put Dracula 1958) as my #1 for the films of the season.

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  4. A fantastic #1 pick. Wouldn't be mine but I can never knock Bela and/or DRACULA. It's one of my favorites as well. Great list, buddy! I really enjoyed it.

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