Dracula ★★★★

A fever dream of a horror film, one as hampered by its early-sound status as it is benefiting from it. Tod Browning's supposed insistence that non-diegetic music wouldn't be understood by its audience means there is a desolation of noise in addition to the Gothic production design. It's sometimes on the stagier side of things, but Browning's extensive experience in the silent era puts him above his less experience peers. And personally, I'm not the biggest fan of Browning's work besides his 1927 masterpiece The Unknown. I think Browning, while talented in his own right, benefited in part by those he surrounded himself with, and was only as eccentric as his pals on any given production.

Here, in addition to the cast who act just as hypnotized as Herzog's "Heart of Glass" team, Dracula also has a pretty spectacular crew. In addition to Browning, Milton Carruth handled editing, Karl Freund shot the film (and helped direct when Browning was unavailable), and production design with such people as Charles D. Hall and Herman Rosse giving the film its iconic look. Carruth is one of Universal's more prolific editors, already having worked on the peak of early sound cinema with All Quiet on the Western Front, before moving on to more horror films of a similar vibe to Dracula, like The Mummy, Murders of the Rue Morge, and Dracula's Daughter. He also came to work with more masters of the coming decades, like Jacques Tourneur, Alfred Hitchcock, and Douglas Sirk. Freund, unlike Carruth, had been in his own field since the silent era. He had shot several of Germany's finest films of the time, like The Golem, The Last Laugh, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and Metropolis. He had experience with the likes of Carl Theodor Dreyer prior to Dracula, and afterward he would work with the likes of John Huston, George Cukor, Robert Z. Leonard, Vincente Minnelli, Mervyn LeRoy, Frank Borzage, and Victor Fleming. And as for Hall and Rosse, they have ties to a variety of films before and since, whether that be extravagant early musicals like King of Jazz, to other early horrors like Frankenstein or The Invisible Man, to repeated work with Charlie Chaplin in both silent and sound eras, and even leaning toward arthouse in working on films like Pál Fejős's Lonesome.

I know this is just some name's rattled off, and to be honest, anyone who worked on Dracula doesn't need any sort of justification for having had a good career. They were on one of the decade's most famous films. But I see a lot of people not as familiar with the era going back into this film and saying how the era and its technology ages the film and worsens it, in comparison to Murnau's silent Nosferatu or Herzog's eventual take on the idea decades later (or Hammer Films, as another popular example.) I do agree to some extent that Dracula has aged worse in several aspects than other films of its time. But in other, more important and entertaining ways, it remains its own thing, absolutely dependent on its weird acting and gorgeous production design. It even veers towards amateurishness at points, but never in a way that ruins the effect of that silent dread peering through this uncomfortable experience.

The silent and understated dread of being a character in an early 30's horror film is not something I would ever want to experience, regardless of how flamboyant or awkward I might act in the process.

puffin liked these reviews