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The Epitome of Classic Horror- Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi

Perhaps one of the greatest Classic Horror Movies ever... which I am thoroughly pleased to bring to you... Dracula!

From Wikipedia: "The first official Dracula film was directed by Tod Browning, with a screenplay based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. The title role was played by Bela Lugosi. Also starring in the film were David Manners as Jonathan Harker, Helen Chandler as Mina Murray/Harker and Dwight Frye as Renfield.

Bram Stoker's novel had already been filmed (without permission) as Nosferatu in 1922 by expressionist German film maker F.W. Murnau, but enthusiatic young Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle Jr too saw the box office potential in Stoker's gothic chiller. Unlike the German counterpart, this would be a fully authorized version (since Murnau's film had fallen under the wrath of Stoker's widow, who had tried to destroy all prints of Nosferatu) and it would also be a spectacle to rival the lavish Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, and, like those films, Laemmle insisted it must star Lon Chaney (despite him being under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Tod Browning was then approached to direct this new Universal epic (Browning, incidentally, had already directed Chaney as a (fake) vampire in the lost 1927 silent movie London after Midnight), however, a number of factors would limit Laemmle's plans: Firstly, Chaney himself (who had been diagnosed with throat cancer in 1928) had sadly succumbed to his terminal illness. Furthermore, studio financial difficulties, coupled with the onset of the Great Depression, caused a drastic reduction in the budget, forcing Laemmle to look at a cheaper alternative (this meant several grand scenes that closely followed the Stoker storyline had to be abandoned).

Already a huge hit on Broadway, the tried and tested Deane/Balderston Dracula play would become the blueprint and the production gained momentum. However, the question of who would play the Count remained. This would fall to the (then) current broadway Dracula, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, but not without controversy. Originally Laemmle had stated he was not at all interested in Lugosi, in spite of the warm reviews his stage portrayal had received, and instead sought to hire other actors, including Ian Keith. Against the tide of Studio opinion Lugosi lobbied hard and ultimately won the executives over, thanks in part to him accepting a salary far less than his co-stars.

The eerie speech pattern of Lugosi's "Dracula" was said to have resulted from the fact that Lugosi did not speak English, and therefore had to learn and speak his lines phonetically. This is a bit of an urban legend. While it is true that Lugosi did not speak English at the time of his first English-language play in 1919, and he had learned his lines to that play in this manner. By the time of his filming this role, Lugosi spoke English as well as he ever would.

To many film lovers and critics alike, Lugosi's portrayal is widely regarded as the definitive Dracula. Lugosi had a powerful presence and authority onscreen. The slow, deliberate pacing of his performance ("I... bid you... welcome!" -- "I never drink... wine!") gave his Dracula the air of a walking, talking corpse, which terrified 1930s movie audiences. He was just as compelling with no dialogue, and the many closeups of Lugosi's face in icy silence jumped off the screen. Lugosi's speech pattern would be imitated countless times by other Dracula portrayers, most often in an exaggerated or comical way. However, Dracula would ultimately become a role which would prove to be both a blessing and a curse. Despite his earlier stage successes in a variety of roles, from the moment Lugosi donned the cape on screen, it would forever see him typecast as the count.

According to numerous accounts, the production is alleged to have been a mostly disorganized affair, with the usually meticulous Tod Browning leaving legendary cinematographer Karl Freund to take over during much of the shoot. Moreover the despondent Browning would simply tear out pages from the script which he felt were redundant, such was his seeming contempt for the screenplay. It is possible however, given that Browning had originally intended Dracula as collaboration between him and Lon Chaney, his apparent lack of interest on set was more down to losing his friend and original leading man, rather than any actual aversion to the subject matter.

When the film finally premiered on Valentine's Day 1931, newspapers reported that members of the audiences fainted in shock at the horror onscreen. This publicity, shrewdly orchestrated by the film studio, helped ensure people came to see the film, if for no other reason than curiosity. Dracula was a big gamble for a major Hollywood studio to undertake. In spite of the literary credentials of the source material, it was uncertain if an American audience was prepared for a serious full length supernatural chiller. Though America had been exposed to other chillers before, such as The Cat and the Canary this was a horror story with no comic relief or trick ending that down played the supernatural.

Nervous executives breathed a collective sigh of relief when Dracula proved to be a huge box office sensation, and later that year Universal would release Frankenstein to even greater acclaim. Universal in particular would become the forefront of early horror cinema, with a canon of films including, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man.

Today, Dracula is widely regarded as a classic of the era and of its genre and in 2000 was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".

See also this nifty article on Neatorama:
The Curse of Dracula:

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