In this Halloween Special, I’m watching Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) and doing the commentary for it. It’s just over an hour long, so if you want to watch along with me, grab yourself a copy, and I’ll count you in – 3, 2, 1, GO!
If you want to leave me a Ko-Fi tip, I’d be very much obliged!
Transcript of my Commentary
CMR: Hello, and welcome to a bonus Halloween episode of Eldritch Girl, and today I’m going to do a film commentary, which is going to be a bit of fun.
One of my favourite films is the 1931 Dracula, and I love it. I love all of the Dracula adaptations that I’ve seen, and I own a huge ridiculous number of them, and what I thought it might be fun to do is start with 1931, which is the first authorized adaptation of Dracula for the screen.
Because Nosferatu was supposed to be an adaptation of Dracula but it wasn’t authorized and it got into a lot of hot water with copyright and all that kind of thing. I will do Nosferatu as well, but if I do Nosferatu, then I kind of also have to do the film that was made, I think it’s called… what’s it called… Shadow of a Vampire? Where it’s the vampire film about the making of Nosferatu. But where the actor playing Count Orlock in the film is actually a vampire as opposed to you know the actor in real life, and so I might do that for fun, but that’s kind of… I don’t count Nosferatu as an official Dracula adaptation, because it wasn’t.
But I love it as well. I’ve got that and I absolutely love it.
So this is this [1931 Dracula] was played in cinemas that didn’t have sound capabilities, there was a silent version of this, this is the talkie version of it. And it’s not adapted from the novel as a screenplay, it’s actually a screenplay that’s adapted from the stage play that was written by Hamilton Deane in 1924 and then updated by the American playwright John L. Balderston in 1927, and so when Universal Studios pick this up and then made Dracula in 1931 they’re actually taking a lot from the play rather than from the novel but that kind of makes sense, I guess.
The version that I’ve got is one with a film commentary by David Skal, who’s a film historian, I am not a film historian [laughs] and I’ve watched it with a commentary a few times, so I know some facts but, basically, this is just gonna be me like giving you: “This is what I think about this film” and I know nothing about films. [laughs] You’re going to get like just like a mix of stuff but I’m going to say it really confidently so you can’t tell the difference.
And if you playing along at home if you’ve got a copy of this, I can count you in, and we can watch it together, so I hope you haven’t got like an abridged version or anything but we’ll see.
So I’m going to literally on the title screen and I’ve got it paused on the title screen and we’re about to hear, like the Swan Lake music.
Okay, and so I’m going to count you in, okay:
I like it! So you’ve got that lovely Swan Lake thing, and apparently they used this Swan Lake section for different horror films as well because it’s quite moody and atmospheric.
I quite like it, I don’t if you can hear it, actually, I don’t know how much this is picking up in the background, but I don’t think we’re allowed to anyway.
It’s a Tod Browning film and he’s very famous. What I don’t like about this is that the main players like Dracula, Mina and Jonathan Harker, who’s rubbish and played by David Manners, are all in capital letters right because they’re the main three, but Renfield who’s incredibly, like, a big character in this, he’s played by Dwight Frye and he’s, just like the fourth listed, but he’s like he’s one of the main characters and he’s so much better than Harker! So harsh! And Joan Standing plays the maid, and I love her.
Carriage and Carriage Interior
And so it opens like a real live action shot of the carriage and horses and it’s like this painted backdrop and which is really cool, and then you get an interior shot of the carriage. I think the producers niece like gives the first line of dialogue or something in it. She’s just like one of the ladies in the carriage with a little 1930s hat.
I do love all of the costuming and stuff.
In the Village
So there’s there’s a bit Hungarian that gets spoken in the film, because the area around the Borgo Pass was Transylvanian Hungary at the time of the, you know, the time that the novel is set, so you get a lot of Hungarian peasants saying the Lord’s Prayer in Hungary. [laughs] Hungarian. It’s quite distracting actually having to talk over something that you’re used to watching.
Oh yay though, the carriage has got here before sunset, excellent. Everyone’s like out and cheering, really happy, there’s ducks and things, it’s all very pastoral and idyllic. Oh, yeah, people watching from the windows, just going to close that window, nope don’t want to know. And then Renfield gets out, and he is like this little Englishman, with his little white boater going on and his little stripy college tie. And, and apparently like the the bit that explains who he is got out, but he… he’s a sole proprietor of his estate agent business or whatever is that he’s got. He’s got his little cane going on, there’s a three piece suit. His slicked-back hair.
He’s having a chat to the innkeeper and he’s like, oh yeah I’m just going to go on to Borgo Pass and Castle Dracula and the innkeeper is like, you what-
The innkeeper, by the way, I wish you could see this, has the best moustache. Just the most amazing moustache. Top marks. Oh, and he’s doing some amazing like, “you’re going to the castle?!!!!” acting. “Oh no, no, no, you don’t want to go to castle!!” Just beautiful.
[laughs] There’s some weird cutaways as well. There’s some very choppy continuity in this film. He was clearly standing in a different place there. [laughs] Yeah.
I just – och.
No, Renfield’s not put off by superstition, because he’s a dapper little Englishman.
Oh no! A shot of the sun setting. This could be problematic. But Renfield’s like, “no, it’s fine. I don’t understand you.” He’s doing the baffled-Englishman-abroad acting now. It’s great. Very expressive but also very contained. He’s like… he’s got a briefcase. He’s like, “oh I don’t know what you mean, peasant.” … “Good night!” …And he minces back to the carriage. Ahh look at him go!
And then the old lady comes up to him and gives him a crucifix and you get a still of her hand. Like, here – is a crucifix. Excellent. That’ll do it. Off he goes.
They’re a gated community. The gates are- the gates are closing. And they’re all like outside praying now, very loudly, being peasants.
There’s a really nice optical illusion shot apparently. So it’s like, it’s painted onto glass, the castle, and then you see like the, the real road underneath, and it’s done really well.
Castle Dracula – Introduction
[Gasps] The beautiful vaulted crypt with the coffin just on the floor just hanging out. That’s fair I guess it’s, not even a tomb it’s literally just a coffin on the floor. [sing-trills] And here come the brides! The beautiful beautiful briiiides! and the possum. Yeah, so the castle’s full of possums because the in the English language version the censors thought rats were Bad Theater, so the castle is populated with possums- there’s another one in [the coffin] with the skeleton! cute! – and armadillos. I’m not even joking.
Gorgeous shot of Bela Lugosi.
And he doesn’t talk to the brides and they don’t talk to him, and we had this conversation with Saint Gibson about like, brides and various adaptations and Saint hadn’t seen this version, but it is kind of like, it’s underrated but it’s so influential because it’s where we get the idea of Dracula with an accent from, obviously in the novel he deliberately doesn’t have one. And where we get Dracula in evening dress from, and where we get like, you know, the brides in the nightgowns and everything from. And in that they just kind of…. they come out of the coffins and then they just kind of… they’re just hanging out. He just stares at them and then they were like… literally you do, you do nothing with them, they’re just kind of window dressing in this film.
Borgo Pass and the Journey
OK, so now he’s picking up Renfield at the Borgo Pass. So Renfield just had all of his stuff chucked out of the carriage by the other driver and Dracula’s not muffled the way he should be in this one, but his eyes are really luminous like because of the camera trickery I guess. And Renfield for some reason, even though his face is fully exposed, doesn’t recognize who Dracula is later on. But you know, it’s dark, it’s very misty, the dry ice machine’s going full blast. I think it’s… I think you know what, we’ll give him that one.
There’s no dialogue or anything, and off we go! Across the misty blasted heath, which is, of course, nothing like the Borgo Pass in real life, but no one cares about that.
So yeah you got the live action shot of the carriage and then this glass painted scenery like, on top of it, which gives you this impression of going towards this great big ruin. It’s really picturesque.
Renfield’s looking out of the carriage window, the driver is not there, but there is a big bat. It’s amazing actually, this is like the, this is the Ford Coppola, isn’t it, version, that’s where that that got that from. Coppola got it from 1931 obviously, not the other way around.
Can you imagine.
Yeah so Renfield’s like, “Driver!” -awww there’s no one there. That’s weird. Wait… something’s not right here… The door is creaking slowly open and there’s nobody there. But I’m just gonna… go ahead and go through it. He’s very good at trepidation, but he’s plucky. He’s the plucky intrepid Englishman abroad with a job to do, clutching his little briefcase. Aw there he goes.
The Entrance and Staircase
Okay, this is a set and it’s beautiful and it’s, so I think built in wherever it was they filmed it in the studios on the lot, but it’s like this gorgeous Gothic vaulted ruin with an 18 foot spider’s web that they created out of. I don’t know, like it says on the film commentary what they made it out of, but they blew it out of some sort of airgun thing and it’s like …
One armadillo! Ha ha ha.
Two armadillos! ha ha ha. Three! Three armadillos! sorry… Gorgeous. Why.
So there’s very little dialogue it’s all very, very slow, it’s kind of the point, like it’s slow, it’s atmospheric, you have to really be drawn into it, it’s all about the static camera shots. And Bela Lugosi going, “I am Dracula” because he learned his lines phonetically, which is why you have this really stilted kind of way of talking and it’s very slow and deliberate.
And that’s where the stereotype comes from… oh look at him, in his cape. He’s got his evening dress on, he’s got that medal thing around his neck, which again, I think the costuming in the Ford Coppola version borrowed really heavily from this but made it really opulent and like rich.
The wolf! “The children of the night. What music they make.” And the inflection’s really weird as well, but I don’t think he spoke much English actually Bela Lugosi, not when he made this?
Okay so he’s going to walk through the cobweb and not break it.
Yeah there is the other side, the cobweb is completely unbroken. How did that happen?! The magic of the camera. I mean you don’t see him walk through, you see him in front and then you see him behind, and then you see Ren- you see Renfield’s reaction in the middle.
And then Renfield’s like, “uuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh okay. I’m gonna use my cane. I’m just going to go ahead and just just break that through”, yeah great and there’s a little plastic spider!! Just like scuttles away, but its legs are not moving it’s being dragged on a string. There’s loads of bats on strings as well, but you don’t see the strings I mean fair play to them, right, you know they are on strings but you don’t really see the strings you’d have to be looking really closely. It’s really grainy footage too, like how can you tell.
And Dracula’s there with this one single candle.
The Bedroom/Dining Room
And then you’ve got this all purpose room with like all of these crazy candelabras going on, like full of candles you know, like in a big Orthodox Church. Loads of them. Like those sorts of things like lighting every corner. You’ve got a big suit of armour for no reason, got the drapes going on. You’ve got a big fireplace with an open fire, you’ve got this lovely gorgeous table – I want that table – like a carved oak table set with wine and bread and stuff that Dracula’s obviously not going to eat, and a bed, so you’ve got like -everything. Everything can happen in this room all at once, very efficient.
And Dracula’s like, “Well hello, you short sexy Englishman.” Ha, yeah, yeah he is.
So Dracula’s just taken his coat like a butler. There is no butler. This is all weird. The door just opens on its own. This is very much like the Beauty and the Beast Castle, because of the weird stuff that happens in it – it’s great. Also because of the continuity errors, but, like, I think that just that – that’s great, that kind of adds to it. In a minute, like the bed’s going to be turned down but nobody’s done it. It’s like, prrrp! There we go. It’s just Dracula’s magnetism, like literally. Here’s a – here’s a turned-down bed – only one – that I prepared earlier. Please have some wine.
This is great. So Renfield’s now seated and he’s like, “Oh yes, yes, here are the papers that you want to sign, because I am the sole proprietor of my estate agency”…
Oh this shot of Dracula’s face, oh my God, so you know how Anjelica Huston in The Addams Family has that shot of her face and she’s like, she just has a bar of light across her eyes and rest of her face is completely in shadow. It’s just that one strip of light, that’s the shot, that’s the shot. You get this close up of Dracula and it’s… it’s repeated through the film as a motif and so you’ve got that shot where it’s just like his eyes are glowing, you know, they’re kind of luminous, or they’re reflecting mirrors into his eyes or just underneath so he’s not like actually blinded but you can see those two kind of circles of light like hitting his – hitting his eyes like that, making them kind of glow.
Okay so the bed is not turned down. Dracula’s just, er. [laughs] Renfield’s like, “Thanks, it looks very inviting”. Yeah it does.
Oh, he pricked himself. Just a little prick. [clicks tongue suggestively] Dracula’s into it, yep the bed’s turned down, there it is. Just like – prrp! Magnetism. Oh no. Okay, he’s uh… the crucifix from earlier – Chekhov’s crucifix – just fell out of his pocket, of Renfield’s pocket, so Dracula was like oh no!! Very dramatically throws his arm across his eyes, and he’s like … okay, have some more wine. It’s Tokaji. I do like a bit of Tokaji, actually. It’s a very nice dessert wine.
Um, yeah. [Laughs] So good. That’s a lot of blood for a tiny little cut, just oozing out of his finger there.
I quite like the way that Dracula creeps across the – oh there we go, Angelica Huston moment – I know it’s the other way around, but I don’t care. And yeah so we’ve got this lovely moment where he’s like creeping across the floor with one hand extended, you know, but like a T-Rex arm, but pointed, so he’s creeping along like, you know, I’m going to have you kind of thing. And then he doesn’t. He just walks out, like a gentleman. Renfield’s looking quite gutted. [laughs]
Now he’s like, oh wait I’m alone in this big room with only one bed.
Well that seems, er. That’s a waste. Ah the brides! The beautiful beautiful brides! Unfortunately we’re not interested in the brides. So they’re kind of in these really long night gowns in Spanish version, apparently, they’re, you know, it was all a bit more risqué and there were real rats and stuff, but these three brides are kind of like the weird sisters in Macbeth which you know, they kind of look dead, with their pale makeup and they… oh, Renfield just passed out because he opened the French windows and a big bat hypnotized him, as you do.
And so, they’re creeping towards him with their long trains – like they actually dressed as brides, like that’s the costuming – and they’ve got the 1930s kind of coiffured short hair going on as well, or at least one of them does. And then Dracula comes in, through the open window, and they just retreat. He doesn’t say anything they just kind of like, shuffling away, shuffling awaaaay… And he’s like, oh, a passed-out sexy Englishman. Great. And now we’ve got the creeping towards him with the hand claws and leaning down to — where’s that hand going mate — okay right either side of him, fine.
Yeah lovely, and then obviously you don’t see what happens it’s a fade to black.
Aboard the Vesta
And then we’ve got “aboard the Vesta bound for England”, which is the title screen because that’s like you know the silent movie hang up, throwback, then you’ve got some scenes from a film called- can’t remember, is it The Silence or something? Which is spliced in, so because that was from a silent film, it’s like double time and really jerky because it’s a different speed of playback. And so you’ve got the spliced-in ship, with all these sailors and oilskins like being tossed around the deck and grappling with the wheel, and this really jerky half motion [sic].
And then you’ve got… obviously that’s not happening under the deck because Dracula and Renfield are not experiencing this at all, it’s like they’re in a totally different film [/sarcasm] And Renfield’s caressing the coffin, and now he’s got Dracula out and you’ve got the Anjelica Huston moment again with the eyes going on there. And Dracula’s just ignoring Renfield’s pleading, and Renfield’s like, “oh my gosh i’ll serve you just give me lives like you promised, massster”.
And I love this, like it’s all spliced, there’s water everywhere and Dracula’s just hanging vaguely swaying. The boat is being tossed side to side, there’s water everywhere splashing over the camera lens, all really dramatic and Dracula’s just sort of stood there.
And then it cuts to the harbour and the Harbour Master’s voice is actually Todd Browning the director. And yeah you basically see the silhouetted shadow of the captain lashed the wheel with his head thrown back so you can’t see too much blood, you can’t see rats, you can’t see fangs in this, because the censors were kind of like very… picky about it but – you know, it’s all imagination, isn’t it, it’s all the magic of theater or in this case the silver screen.
And Renfield’s just there caressing — caressing the coffin. Or the crate that Dracula’s in, like “master we’re here”… Oh, this is creepy. So they’re about to open the hatch to see if there’s any survivors and Renfield is literally just stood at the bottom of the stairs. Oh God. he’s literally just stood at the bottom stairs clinging onto the handrail and grinning like in a proper grimace and laughing through his gritted teeth like, hnnnn hnnnn hnnnn… That kind of sound. Ugh.
Newspaper Title Cards
Okay, a newspaper. Late London Edition. “Crew of corpses found on derelict vessel. Schooner Vesta drifts into Whitby harbour after storm bearing gruesome cargo.”
And then: “Sole survivor a raving maniac. His craving to devour ants, flies and other small living things to obtain their blood puzzle scientists, as present, he is under observation at Dr Seward’s sanitarium, near London.”
Fade to black.
So – Dr Seward in this is Mina’s dad. We won’t ask too many questions about that because very often they conflate characters because it’s just too difficult to keep track of everything. Anyway, here we go. We’re in London, with like a pea soup fog going on, there’s a little flower girl, she’s going to die. Because Dracula is pretty into hypnotizing and killing all of the… lower socio-economic people.
There he goes. This embrace she’s like “do you want to flower… it… nope nope nope not a flower, oh God”. There’s a scream, fade to black.
And now he’s just like walking through London, the dapper man-about-town with his top hat on like nothing happened, and the cane, again very Francis Ford Coppola. Not the long hair though, it’s the 1930s, so it’s like the very slick kind of short haired look, and then you’ve got all the gawkers coming to look at the dead flower girl, and the Bobby on the beat with this whistle.
At the Opera
You’ve got this shot of like is it meant to be the National Opera House, I think. And it’s the opening of some opera, I don’t know. But Dracula is obviously going to chill out in a box, because he wants to see Dr Seward, because Dr Seward has Renfield, so there’s a little usherette with her torch. She’s going to get hypnotized in a minute. And because he does like his lower classes. This is very like – like you know, this is a very class conscious film. Everybody’s very opulent at the Opera House, they’re full of, like, you’ve got the twin-set and pearls brigade going on, you’ve got furs, you’ve got these beautiful hairstyles on the ladies. All the men with starched collars.
And you’ve got Dracula being taken to the box where Mina is with Harker and Mina is quite like… conservatively dressed I guess, she’s not – it’s not very risqué and she’s got a sort of the nice short hair going on and some sleeves. Lucy is the one who – she’s played by Frances Dade – and she has got like a really short cut, like flapper hair, much shorter than Mina’s, and her dress is a little bit more risqué than Mina’s.
She’s Mina’s friend Lucy and she’s just hanging out with them, like she’s not a character in her own right she’s actually just there to be Dracula fodder and so Dracula’s hypnotized the usherette to tell Dr Seward he’s wanted on the telephone, so that he will leave the box and they will meet “accidentally” – accidentally in inverted commas.
And now Dracula is getting an invitation from Dr Seward to join them in the box. There’s an abrupt handshake. Harker stands up to be like, “oh hello, attractive Count”. And Lucy’s like, oh hey.
Oh Harker, that was a – that was a lingering look there and a nice little bow. Mina just doesn’t care. Mina’s very practical and pragmatic, but Lucy’s well into it. Oh look there’s there’s a seat there now that’s right by Lucy, excellent. Lucy is the one with all the morbid poetry.
She’s got really interesting, like… So she’s very obviously attracted Dracula in this. And then immediately goes oh yeah you remind me of this really morbid poem, let me recite this morbid poem for you, and Dracula’s like, amazing. And Mina’s like, oh no, “don’t worry about the rest of it, dear”.
“To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious” says Dracula. “There are far worse things than death.” Yes, of which a lifetime of Jonathan Harker is one of them. We’ve just got a lovely grimacing smile from Dracula and a fade to black.
And now we’re with Mina and Lucy in Mina’s room – no, in Lucy’s room, and Mina’s doing an impression of Count Dracula, of his accent, full on mocking him.
And Lucy says no, don’t be horrible, I’ve got a crush now. Yeah, Lucy thinks he’s fascinating and Mina is like, oh you’re such a romantic dear. What you need is a, is a really boring man like Jonathan, who doesn’t do anything just looks a bit pretty.
Lucy’s like, oh no, I want a bit of adventure.
Mina’s like, Oh, you could be a Countess, so that’s, that’s bit of all right, I suppose.
So Mina’s off.
Dracula’s just casually greeting the policeman who’s just on his beat outside. He sees Lucy opening the window and Dracula’s just going to stand there outside the window watching her undress. Okay, you don’t see that, but you see you’re taking a shawl off, but you know 1931. They can’t show you everything. If this is made in 1975 it’d be banned, you know I mean, so yeah you can… Like they would have put a lot more erotica into it and so here comes the bat through Lucy’s window. I don’t know why they didn’t do that, I mean it’s just – I’m sure somebody must have done. Dracula the porn version, the 1970s porn version. I bet it was in French. I guarantee you I’ll find it, if it exists I’ll find it.
Oh, look at that lovely cut so you get this little bat and then it’s like Lucy, and then it pans across the bed, and he’s just stood there, is Dracula. That’s like the 1930s equivalent of a jump scare. And then he’s got that stalking like weird hand where he’s just reaching for her and then, like you know, he reminds me a bit of a bug, like kind of the way his back is straight and he’s like leaning into the neck.
And then it’s fade to black.
Anatomy Lecture Theatre
And now you’ve got the medical scene, where all of the students in their tiered lecture theater seating and Lucy is obviously dead on the gurney. And all the surgeons and stuff are standing around kind of doing the autopsy – you don’t see that either.
She’s obviously covered by a sheet and, for some reason there’s a bandage around her forehead I don’t know if they took a brain out, or what, but then – now there’s examining going on: there’s just like two marks on the neck and he’s looking at them through a magnifying glass.
Fade to black.
Dr Seward’s Sanitarium
Dr Seward’s Sanitarium: This is where you get all of the 1930s kind of mental health played for laughs of stuff and they’re kind of the the manic laughter of the inmates and so it’s you know screams and that kind of thing.
You see, you do see that a lot like you see it in the 1979 version with Frank Langella and Dr Seward is then played by Donald Pleasance and in that one he’s Lucy’s father. And you see a lot of interior shots at the asylum and it’s very much like a 1970s reimagining of the asylum, so again it’s kind of played for, played for laughs played for pathos, but not very sensitively done because you know, and this isn’t either, so the ward attendant or whatever is called Martin, the character, and he’s the straight character, who kind of is played – he’s like the, you know, the one with all the lines and he’s very much like mocking the, the delusions of Renfield who is obviously an inmate.
But also Renfield’s just allowed to kind of wander around – well, not allowed to, but he does anyway. He wanders into the domestic quarters, it is really weird.
Van Helsing’s Office
So here we go with a shot of Van Helsing around the table with his paraphernalia just… he’s the only one with a white coat on and the others – there’s like four other people present, of which one of them is Dr Seward – and Van Helsing is expounding on his science because he’s a scientific man, and he’s got a big test tube, and that’s how you know he’s a scientific man.
And he’s like, look at my big test tube boys. You guys don’t have as big a test tube as me. And they’re like, no, no, we don’t, and leaning in closer like, do tell us more…
And he’s like, so vampires. And Dr Seward’s like, oh I don’t know, man, that sounds a bit odd…
– Do you see my test tube though mate?
There’s also a microscope, like.
Yeah, so Van Helsing. [laughs]
It’s — just a load of old white men in a room, basically. But Van Helsing’s like, yeah, yes. Vampires. Superstitions start somewhere you know. I’m going to tap the table to sound authoritative.
Dr Seward’s Office
…But it worked because Seward’s inexplicably invited him back to the sanitarium in order to examine Renfield and to see what can be made of his delusion. And we’re not in white coats anymore we’re kind of in our, in our usual dark suits, you see Renfield being brought in by Martin the orderly. And Renfield’s like. … [Van Helsing] doesn’t exactly talk down to him.
Renfield’s trying to give the illusion that he’s fine because he knows that… you know. And he goes to shake Van Helsing his hand and Van Helsing turns his hand around look at the back of it as if he’s going to kiss the back of his hand, it’s – really, it looks… it does come across that way, it’s quite odd. But he’s also taking his pulse or something and Renfield snatches it away, like “take your hands off me!” like there’s a lot going on here because, like there’s a lot of coding and stuff I think, just because of the physicality and that kind of thing and Renfield does come across as quite this kind of mincing and effeminate… And like it’s, it’s… it’s interesting.
You know, and now he’s like “oh I’m having really bad dreams and you don’t understand. You don’t understand the bad dreams that I’m having – oh my God it’s a wolf!” There’s a – there’s inexplicably a wolf howl at that point.
Carfax Abbey Crypt
And here we are in Carfax Abbey minus the brides because we left them at home. And nothing bad has happened to the brides, they’re just hanging out in the castle on their own now I guess. Because Dracula found himself, you know, a short little Englishman, with a briefcase and when actually I’m going to start a new life with him instead. Good for you mate, good for you. Unfortunately, somebody’s locked him in a sanitarium.
Yeah so now Martin’s like going, Oh, you know Renfield he’s talking to like these flies and stuff so yeah that’s that would be why he’s in a sanitarium mate, like. [sighs] That’s also your job, like you’re an orderly like why are you surprised at people doing things that are not… That you don’t think of as normal? I don’t… like this is… this whole problematic thing.
But anyway, yeah. He calls him ‘old fly-eater’ as well. Hmmm. Renfield’s like no I’m warning you like I’m actually not mad, there is actually a genuine vampire and he’s going to come.
Ah no no, back to bed with you.
And Renfield also recoiled from the garlic Van Helsing kind of thrust in his face.
And then, Van Helsing’s like, “Mmhm, mmhm. Did you observe the reactions, we are men of science”.
Renfield’s on his bed, really genuinely upset, like there’s some really good acting going on here. And he is very much in despair and very much like … The… the look on his face when he hears the the wolf howling outside his window, is just this… the staring eyes and he’s like yesss masssster! Like it’s full of desire and also revulsion but then this compulsion and he’s like oh my God, you came back for me and then it’s all telepathy, you don’t get to hear any other side of the conversation. Bela Lugosi’s character, Dracula, is just stood outside staring and you get that Anjelica Huston moment again in the close up.
And Renfield’s like, no, no, please don’t I don’t want to hurt Mina – he means Mina, like he’s going “no not not her not her”.
And that’s picked up on in the Ford Coppola version as well I think, with is it Tom Waits who plays Renfield in that one? Tom Waits, is that his name?
And then we get the lovely bat flapping at the window of Mina’s room now, and then a cutaway, and somehow Dracula stood by the open door of her bedroom not the window in the bedroom but that’s okay, because he was a bat, I guess.
And he’s doing that that clawed creeping, and this time his face is like this grimacing comedy mask. You know, like the Ancient Greek comedy mask, like his mouth is open and you can’t see his teeth, because you can’t show fangs right, and he just leans in over the camera and it’s like this, like really distorted grotesque sort of shot it’s quite, you know, that – I think that would have been quite effective back then.
The Drawing Room in the Seward House
And now Mina’s downstairs, it’s the next day, she’s got a scarf around her neck, so she’s kind of dressed like one of the brides now. And so she’s got the very kind of, I don’t know what color it is originally, obviously, but when it’s in black and white it’s this very pale white looking dress and a matching like, floaty, drape-y scarf and the little floaty sleeves so she actually now looks like they’re mirroring the costuming I think on purpose, of the three brides that you saw before. And now she’s kind of going, oh, and she’s recounting this moment — what happened in that fade to black when she was asleep.
And Harker’s just like hanging out in his tweed and jodhpurs like he’s going grouse shooting in a minute, holding her hand and, like, “oh it can’t be that bad dear.” [heavy sigh] “Oh yeah sorry, by all means doctor,” and he gets up and wanders away. [heavy sigh]
I’m just going to sigh every time David Manners comes on screen.
There is, with one hand tucked in the pocket of his smoking jacket -it is not smoking jacket, but like his jacket – just having a chat to Mina’s dad, like “I’m a bit worried about Mina”… really, really are you.
Oh, she doesn’t want to show Van Helsing her neck. There’s actually nothing on her neck, we don’t see anything on her neck, but if you imagine, use the power of your imagination. And it’s being inspected, and she’s not happy about it, but she’s kind of – oh! there’s two marks! What a shock. All this talk about vampires and – [deep sigh].
Honestly – why is Harker so useless? What do you see in him Mina. Oh, God. He’s actually doing like the dramatic acting as well, it’s great, he’s like this chiseled-jaw bloke you know, like… like he’s – he reminds me a lot of Brad Majors. [laughs] Just this really preppy, dramatic, but ultimately very useless man. Just decorative. He stands with his hands behind his back a lot.
Dracula has arrived.
And they’re doing the introductions and Van Helsing is like hello, I can see I will be your opponent for this evening, and Dracula’s like hello, I will be your antagonist for this evening, and they are being very kind of mock polite to each other in the way that gentlemen are.
And Mina’s like I’ve had this really bad dream and I can’t get it out of my mind, but now you’re here.
And Dracula’s like, oh it’s probably my fault, I was telling her some tales from my country. And Harker’s not happy about that. Harker wants him to tell him tales from his country. And now Harker’s moodily gone over to open the cigarette box, which has a mirror on the inside of the lid and the mirror is reflecting… da da daaaah! Mina aaand… nothing, nobody there! And, yep, Harker can see it, and Van Helsing sees it too!
And Mina’s like, goodnight everyone. I’m going back to bed now. And there is still nothing, the reflection shows you nothing. Mina is just on her own talking to nothing. How mysterious. And Harker’s like, I don’t get it. I’m just going to smoke my cigarette. [laughs] Just.
Yeah. Why don’t you… so Van Helsing’s going to offer him a cigarette from the, from the mirrored box and see how he reacts to the mirror. How about – how about a cigarette? Just stroking the lid of the box a little bit. How about… doodoodoo… haha! Dracula whacks it out of his hand. In the Spanish language version apparently he used the cane as well, just smashed it to shit on the floor. In this one he’s a lot more genteel, he’s just like doosh. And then he recovers himself and he’s like, no that’s. Forgive me. I don’t like mirrors. And who does really, I suppose. He’s got a little monocle this time going on, Dracula. He’s gonna go for the French windows. He’s exiting via the French windows, which open onto a balcony.
Yeah yeah, he’s just gonna full on yeet himself out of that room.
There he goes. On to the balcony.
And now, er – oh what’s that?? It’s a wolf or a big dog running across the lawn, says Harker. Right, he’s- he’s not going to do anything about it though, he’s just going to come back inside. [deep sigh]
Yeah, there’s a lot of monologues going on now, well dialogue, I suppose. Harker doesn’t get it, what has Dracula got to do with wolves and bats? Have you not been listening mate, to any stories that you might have heard during course of this film?
Okay, so he does have some good eye shadow game going on, though, does Harker. There’s some there’s some good makeup going on here. He’s just gonna stand there and look slightly gormless and try and take in some basic facts with his hands in his pockets with his eye shadow game going strong.
Mina, on the other hand, is now exiting the house and she’s going to go and meet Dracula when her diaphanous night things and her scarf, and all of her frills and flounces, and she’s going to go out and he’s like opened his cloak for her she’s now on the lawn with him and there’s going to be that lovely embrace and then the cloak swish, just covering them. Very smooth.
The Drawing Room
Meanwhile Harker’s just trying to get his head around the word vampire. Just… just blinking a lot. Like it’s – it’s two syllables and that’s too many for my pretty brain. I want to drive a fast car at 20 miles an hour. Shoot some birds.
Meanwhile Van Helsing is like let’s, let’s, let the adults talk. He’s not talking to our Harker anymore, he just a blanks him and talks to Dr Seward.
Renfield has been listening to the whole thing! He’s just outside the door, the whole time and he just walks in giggling. [does impression of the creepy hnnn hnnhnnn giggle] And he’s like, he’s like you should listen to Van Helsing you know, cuz. You know all that stuff I’ve been telling you about like flies and lives and blood. WELL! Funny story guys. I’m not actually mad. It’s happening again.
Look at absolute desperation on Renfield’s face, like please Jonathan please understand me, oh no there’s a bat! The bat knows! the bat knows everything! and Renfield’s like, no master no, I wasn’t gonna actually tell them anything! – He did just tell them a lot.
Harker’s just waving ineffectually at the bat. And it’s like okay, I guess I’ll fly somewhere else, I’ve heard enough.
And Renfield’s like fully shaking like properly shaking and very static is like, “no Dracula I’ve never even heard of the name before” and during the, you know, far off stare into the camera, and then he’s – he does this very childlike little boy sort of pose, and he’s very deferential to Van Helsing, and very frightened.
Joan Standing playing The Maid, here she is! Doing her hysterical maid thing. Which she does brilliantly. And Renfield’s just staring at her grinning and giggling and she just full on passes out. There she goes. On the floor.
And Renfield- oh my God. Yeah Renfield then just gets on all fours and fully crawls, crawls very slowly over to her. And that’s obviously much more menacing- oh my God and the grimace as he reaches for a neck is like the most disturbing thing, like it’s worse than the Dracula scenes, I think. Because you know that he’s not a vampire, but what is he doing??
So they found Mina on the lawn and take her back to the house, and there’s Dracula just casually stepping out from behind a tree. Literally just steps out from behind a tree and watches them go.
The Street Outside
And then we cut to the – so Lucy does make a comeback in this, but only very briefly, and then they got rid of the scene, that would have made Lucy makes sense, which is where they stake her and Jonathan doesn’t do anything. Literally in the shooting script he just stands there looking terrified and then Van Helsing goes in and does it. But there’s a scene, where you see a Bobby on the beat just seeing Lucy walking like a zombie.
The Nurse’s Office
And now Martin the orderly is reading the newspaper report of a child that got kidnapped by the “blooful lady” which is obviously Lucy, to the nurses in the sanitarium so they’re like both listening to him avidly as he you know reads this newspaper article to them, so you don’t see anything and then Lucy just doesn’t come back. Yeah that scene would have been really cool except it literally would have been Jonathan Harker just stood there going oh my God it’s a woman, a dead woman and like he doesn’t say anything either he apparently doesn’t have any lines, he just kind of stares off at the, you know, grave bit where he saw her go into, and Van Helsing’s like “Oh, I guess I’ll do this, then, I didn’t want to show you but you know, you have to see it with your own eyes” and he goes in and does the work, and Jonathan just kind of stands there looking terrified, and that was the scene, so literally, even in the cut scenes he does nothing.
And there’s a really nice bit of existential angst from Mina though, in this film, which is coming up now. And Mina is kind of aware that she’s changing that she’s going through this transitional period that she doesn’t understand. She’s becoming something else she’s becoming potentially dangerous to people around her and then she has, you know, she starts having that really strong reaction to the crucifix and like, or just the cross. And she’s trying to have a serious conversation with Van Helsing and Harker is just standing there not really getting it and being like “oh darling. Darling you’re going to live.”
Like John it’s over, you have to accept it. It’s over.
-So what are you trying to say?
Well I’m trying to say it’s over.
And then she’s like – just blanks him and talks to Van Helsing and he’s just – but darling. Darling pay attention to me. Am I not the attractive male lead? And Mina’s like [deep sigh].
It’s all over John. Do you understand that? No, you don’t, do you?
He just, er, does the little puppy dog, the little kicked puppy face, in profile.
Mina’s like nope, it’s all over for me.
So, yeah, Harker’s not having that. He’s going to shout at Van Helsing a little bit, because that will help. Right he’s going to stride off and now he’s going to show to their dad because, obviously, that will help too. And now he’s gonna shout at Mina because that’ll help. He’s not – he’s not really getting it.
And he’s like no, I’m going to take her away and she’s gonna be safe, because she’ll be with me. Mina I will see you in the library! and he flounces off, and Mina’s just like no. I’m going to stay here and go through with our crazy plan. So you’ve got the nurses now, both of which get hypnotized by Dracula in a minute, because he does liked to hypnotise people of lower social classes than him and it’s this, it’s his thing. Women and people of lower social class and – The only person that he can’t hypnotize the whole film and he always manages, it is Van Helsing.
But he doesn’t even attempt to hypnotize Harker and he doesn’t attempt to hypnotize Dr Seward either, even though he’s in the same room with them at one point so it’s like. Yeah that’s quite an interesting one, and… he just goes for I don’t know like weaker minds, I guess, but also people who are an actual threat to him and Harker and Dr Seward are not threats to him, like Harker’s barely a character. There’s literally this lingering shot of him just now just stood on his own while Van Helsing is talking to Dr Seward which you know that’s the important dialogue bit.
And Harker’s just displaying this gormless I am the pretty boy love interest thing, but the camera loves him so it just stays on him for a while. While the dialogue is going on in the background. And he’s a, well. He just does the sulky thing quite well and the sort of fluttering the lashes a bit with his, with his eye shadow.
And he also does a lot of sulky sitting. He’s now doing some sulky sitting.
And Renfield is also creeping around the house, you see his silhouette before you see him, on the door, a very distorted shadow. The maid’s apparently fine we don’t know really what happened with that.
Renfield’s just, er. Siiiidling in. [laughs] And Dr Seward’s like, no, I’m going to use my phone and call the orderly. Get out of my private quarters.
But he’s not going to do it himself because he’s a doctor, that’s for the underlings to do. He’s not going to take charge of his patient himself, or lay hands on his patient himself. And certainly nobody else is either – there’s a lot of space between them, you know, and Renfield’s again acting his little heart out.
He’s got this lovely physicality like, he’s yeah, just sort of bent [over], and I think he played, is it Fritz, in the Frankenstein film, which is the hunchback servant, so you know, the precursor of Igor. And he did get typecast I think. But he’s really good!
And OK, so now Renfield’s describing the sea of rats that Dracula turned himself into with burning red eyes outside his window, which would have been totally impossible to do in 1931 as like cgi or whatever, so it’s an obviously because it’s adapted from the stage play like I imagine, like a lot of the speeches are very similar? I don’t know though I’d like to read that. And he’s just like delivering this beautiful theatrical speech with a lot of static… You know, he – he’s not moving his legs he’s doing a lot, you know he’s kind of planted himself there and he’s doing a lot of hand movements and it’s really like it’s really good.
And he’s almost mirroring Dracula and the way Dracula kind of hunches over and splays his hands – splays his fingers. And then he’s got the sort of the claw thing going on, and then you know it’s like a really the subservient mirror image of Dracula going on there. Beautiful.
And he just gets whisked off by Martin the orderly. Ward manager, whoever he is.
Dracula meanwhile has been also creeping around and has just appeared through the French windows and that’s just him in Van Helsing with some alone time. There’s absolutely no chemistry between them. It’s just – two men of a certain age facing off, you know. But you’ve got this really it, they are, like, this is like chess players. That’s what the chemistry is between them, that’s the dynamic, you know they’re like, just two chess players just gonna… face off in a very slow, deliberate way.
And this is like so Van Helsing’s like I will see to it that Mina dies in the daylight, so that you don’t get her and Dracula is like, Oh well, you know yeah sure she’ll you could save her if she dies in the daylight, but if she dies in the night she’s gonna be mine, basically.
Which is really interesting like that kind of folklore, I don’t really see that a lot, and I like that, when – when does the vampire victim die, and if it’s in the sunlight or in the moonlight I guess or at nighttime, like the difference.
Okay now Dracula’s trying to compel Van Helsing with the claw hand – he’s like “”come here”. Van Helsing is actually walking towards him because, Dracula, man. But then he’s like – he visibly fights it, and now he’s going to take a few steps backwards. Very slow very shuddering steps, but he can do it but it’s really hard.
But his is the superior… You know kind of strength of will, I guess, in this encounter. And now, he reached into his pocket — what’s he got his pocket?
“Wolfsbane?” No, more effective than that. It is – dadahhh! Crucifix. And the Count whisks his cloak around him and is gone in that big dramatic villain exit. So that’s quite — that’s quite cool.
And Mina has this kind of existential thing like with the cross in a bit where she says, like the reason that she doesn’t um, you know, because it’s that the vampire is the blasphemous inversion of the resurrection. So you know she can’t bear to look at the crucifix because that is the sacred emblem you know, and she knows that’s not what she is anymore and it’s that kind of like, that feeling of dread, of isolation, of desolation. And in the speech that Renfield gave he actually quoted from the gospel of Matthew and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. So it’s like you know, “all of this, I will give you,” said Dracula to Renfield “if you will obey me” and Dracula is kind of like this, er, both Satan, both the tempting Satan and Christ giving blood communion, you know, like this perverse mix of the two.
Mina’s Room and Balcony
Mina’s got this gorgeous satin dress on at this point, it’s luminously beautiful and very drapey and flowy. And Mina is very into Harker’s neck, and points at the sky and it’s like “look up at the sky, look at the stars” and Harker is like, Oh, of course, and immediately looks up, and she’s fixed on his neck, and then he’s like looks down to go oh! you alright love?
Yes, yes I’m fine I’m fine… and the nurse is like this doesn’t look fine, so the nurse retreats.
And Mina’s like, sit down with me outside on the chaise longue. [deep sigh] And she’s going to go full vampire.
The Staircase to Mina’s Room
Seward and Van Helsing are having a chat on the stairs. They’re planning and plotting and scheming, figuring out how to save Mina’s life and soul.
And Mina’s not afraid of the night anymore. Harker’s like, Oh, you said you were afraid of the night, and Mina says, hah! That was the old Mina. The night is the only time I feel really alive…
Here comes the bat, squeaking.
Mina’s talking to the bat like it’s you know, like she’s interpreting the squeaks. And she just says yes, yes, I will. “I will”, there we go. And Harker says, you will what?
And Mina says, “oh, I didn’t say anything” – like prime gaslighting going on there, “no, no, you didn’t hear me say anything”… didn’t say anything, must be you’re hearing things… oh, I thought I heard you say… nope nope nope nope. Definitely was not having a telepathic conversation with a bat, no. Ha. That would be crazy.
So, Dr Seward and Van Helsing are now in Mina’s room and going through the French windows to see them side by side on the balcony, so they’re about to witness Mina’s obsession with Harker’s jugular vein and she’s got this really intense stare – just fixed on him like this really … oh it’s beautiful. …Slow close up on her face and she’s just gonna lean very slowly off out of shot and he’s like, “Mina? Mina!?”
And it’s alright, Van Helsing’s there with a crucifix – which Harker then tries to grapple off him because Mina’s upset by that, and then Van Helsing is like well, I’m trying to save her and Harker is like, “saving her like that? that’s a fine way!” Like – he just saved you mate, I… What are you not understanding.
And yeah, this is where Mina’s like, “no, no, put it away, I can’t bear to look at it,” (the crucifix.)
And this is the… yeah. Please believe everything Van Helsing says, Harker, it is all true.
“But, but what has he done to you dearest, tell me.” Well. errrrr. [laughs]
Looking down at the Lawn/On the Lawn
Oh, that’s a gun shot because Martin the orderly is out there with a rifle and the maid who is fine, dunno why the maid is out there, but they’re shooting at the bat. Because that’ll work, I dunno why people just don’t do that, you know, just shoot the bat [/sarcasm laugh] Innit. [laughs]
And then there’s a little bit of banter with the orderly and the maid. There you go. Just Martin’s like, “everyone’s crazy except us, and I have my doubts about you”, and she’s like “yes,” and he just backs off with the rifle.
So it’s now like twenty to five or something in the morning, according to the clock, and the nurse is now hypnotized and hasn’t shut the window and – or, has shut the window yeah she has, but Dracula’s outside and can lure her through net curtains apparently.
He’s just stood there in the mist, staring. And she’s like, hey. I’ll just remove the garlic flowers, I guess, and open this window for you. Which she does, like there’s very little dialogue, I think the men do the majority of the talking in this, to be honest, like the brides have absolutely no lines, Lucy only has a few lines and they’ve cut most of her scenes, Mina has the speeches about you know, her state of being and that kind of thing.
But literally like the usherette just has the lines that Dracula tells her to say when he hypnotizes her, the flower girl’s just there going “flowers! flowers? oh, oh I’m dead.” Yeah it’s just a very like, yeah.
That’s all right, though, but a lot of it is very silent as well, like it’s not like some people just sometimes there’s scenes without dialogue at all. And because they’re still kind of getting used to the I guess that transition between silent films and talkies so it’s still all about the physicality in the acting and stuff. And the facial, you know, cues and the body language. Less is more guys, less is more. But uh you know.
So Renfield’s now escaped again and is going down to the crypt at Carfax Abbey after Mina and Dracula. Dracula has now abducted Mina, who has now got this train going on, like a full-on bride.
And so, when Renfield’s like right at the bottom of this huge sweeping staircase. He’s like, “Master, I’m here! Aren’t you pleased to see me??” And he’s like well I’m back into chicks now mate.
And Mina’s — God this is giving me vertigo, like so Mina is, is just kind of not looking where she’s going with this really long flowing thing on. And there’s no handrail it’s a really long like steep – that’s a 20 foot drop, love, I’m not being funny. And you’ve got them sort of framed in a long shot so there’s Dracula above them on the stairs, Mina’s in the middle in white, and then Renfield’s at the bottom, because of course he is, that’s very much a Renfield position. And then Dracula is about to go after him and like, put him in his place.
Here he comes, creeping down the stairs, passing Mina on the stairs – oh God get a handrail guys, health and safety! And then just pointing with this little T-Rex hand. And Renfield’s like — you know in the time that Renfield’s been begging Dracula to let him live, he could have just run down the stairs, but he doesn’t. That’s all right, now he’s being strangled. Yeah now he’s been thrown down the stairs, it’s some beautiful falling-down-stairs acting, like it’s just gorgeous. I like a good tumbling-down-the-stairs scene.
There’s Mina being picked up and whisked off by Dracula into the crypt and the door slammed in Jonathan Harker’s face because, even when he’s carrying a full grown woman, Dracula still moves faster than Jonathan Harker does. Who, inexplicably, has a hat on, because you… you take a hat, you dress the part, when you’re trying to rescue your girl from a crypt.
At what point do you think oh my missus has been abducted better go get my hat from the hat stand?
Anyway, so Harker’s running around shouting Mina’s name. That’ll work.
But Van Helsing has spotted the crates, times two. And obviously Dracula is gone, huh, I think I’ll have a nap now … yeah there he is, and it’s great because that’s what you do once you, you know, slam the door and your opponent space you just lie down and have a little bit of a nap. Yep sure that won’t backfire.
So, a bit worried about the contents of the second crate, as, as they should be. And they’ve opened it a little bit but they’re not looking in it. Nah, they’re just gonna put the lid back down. No, they don’t want to see.
Van Helsing’s like, get me a big rock, hey. Get me a big rock, lad.
So Harker goes off to find something that Van Helsing can drive a stake through Dracula’s heart with. Finds a big iron bar, good lad. Meanwhile, Van Helsing’s doing the ‘manly’ work of cracking open that crate lid and he’s going to use a bit of the crate lid to to be a stake, but he’s going for Mina first. Nice.
Oh, what’s this boys, she’s not even in the crate, that’s good.
Just Dracula then is it? We’ll just stake Dracula first. Which would be like the clever thing to do right, because he’s the threat… Yep so she’s not in there, so Harker has dropped what he’s brought to the party, namely the iron bar, crowbar, and he’s just run off again yelling her name.
Like I guess that’s okay.
And now we hear the off… off-camera groaning of Dracula and the hammering of the stake – you don’t see any of that.
Mina is just hiding, like she’s just like a statue in a corner and now she’s kind of coming out of her trance a bit and she’s doing the “oh, oh, I can feel it too” acting.
And then she screams, and he’s like “Mina Mina Mina!” and runs after her it’s like the most action he’s had, like all film, and he’s done fuck all, and now she’s giving him an embrace for some reason, like he’s done any of the work. But he gets a cuddle because really he’s just – he’s just a lost little lamb, isn’t he. He needs somebody to look after him, doesn’t he really. That’d be you Mina. Lucky – lucky girl. What a lucky lass.
Staircase Scene: The End
Yep so they ascend that staircase again, and she’s in full bridal thing, and you know so that’s the image and he is like you know, on her — on the outside, so between her and the drop, which is quite nice, and they walk up the stairs together into their new life of luxury and interminable boredom and that’s the end of the film. [laughs]
That’s the end of the film and it just cuts to the end and it’s a Universal Studios production, thanks guys, and yeah so that was 1931 Dracula I hope you enjoyed that, I’ll probably do another one if you did, yeah. If not, tough luck, you’ve heard it now, thanks for listening.
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