Drácula (1931)
(Release Date: March 20, 1931 [Madrid, Spain])
(DVD Release Date: November 5, 2004)


The Spanish Dracula... Viva Los Muertos!The Spanish Dracula... Viva Los Muertos!The Spanish Dracula... Viva Los Muertos!1/2

¡Drácula habla español y bebe sangre española!

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J.C. Maçek III
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Universal Studios Classic Horror!

The impact of Dracula on literature, culture and film can scarcely be measured. By no means was Bram Stoker's magnum opus the first Vampire Novel, but let's just say we don't see many little kids dressing up like ol' Varney on All Hallows Eve, now do we? Almost as impactful on Horror, Halloween and Goth in general was the Universal Studios Classic Horror series groups from Frankenstein to Phantom of the Opera to The Wolf Man to... the subject of today's Horror Review... Dracula himself. Back in the '30's Universal practically invented so many of the Horror motifs which we now consider to be ubiquitous from the big, dark castles to the sound effects to spiders, rats... the whole nine hundred ninety-nine yards.

Yes, so much of this became part of the zeitgeist in 1931, with the release of Dracula. However, Universal wasn't content with just the one Dracula we're so familiar with. Filmed at night on the same stages with the same marks and a very similar script, Universal also created a Spanish Language Drácula. That's right... the English-Speaking cast and crew would start at 8 AM and finish after dark, the Spanish-speaking crew would start after dark and end at 8 AM. With all these similarities there's no question that, regardless of shooting times, the two versions won't be as different as night and day. That said, regardless of languages spoken, many fans consider this Spanish-Language version of Drácula superior to its Daytime counterpart.

Me? Well I certainly see their point, and I feel that any fan of the Big D should at the very least give this one the old Transylvanian Try. If nothing else, this is a cinematic curiosity, worthy of comparison for the different takes on the exact same thing. But in truth, looking back on these old Universal Horror flicks, it's hard to truly find oneself horrified, for the very same reasons that these have become classics. With so many gothic contributions, it's no surprise that after all these years many of the conceits developed at Universal now feel like clichés. After all, even the very entries in these Universal franchises eventually became parodies of themselves.

But tune the old brain-pan back a little less than a century and forget what you know. Yeah, B-Movies though they may have been (even then) just about all of these are very good flicks, and undeniably influential to film on the whole. Drácula is no exception. Based, like its Eego counterpart, on the play (by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort) much more than Bram Stoker's original novel, Baltasar Fernández Cué's Drácula screenplay follows the plight of Senior Renfield (Pablo Álvarez Rubio) from just before his first meeting with Conde Drácula (Carlos Villar) through Drácula's arrival in England and up to the familiar ending that true fans know like the back of their glands. Gone is Jonathan Harker, in is Juan Harker (Barry Norton), who has no relationship with El Conde. Gone is Mina Murray, in is Eva Seward (the seriously hot Lupita Tovar). Gone is Lucy Westenra, in is Lucia Weston (the also hot Carmen Guerrero). Doctor Seward (José Soriano Viosca) survives almost intact (though is now the "Mina" character's father), and, lest we forget we're watching a Dracula flick, we do indeed have the esteemed Doctor Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) practically cracking his knuckles in anticipation of kicking some Vampiric Hiney.

The atmosphere created by director George Melford (who spoke only English) is undeniably classically gothic, and the mood he sets with his leading man is alternately chilling and enthralling. (Uncredited Spanish-Speaking co-Director Enrique Tovar Ávalos most certainly helped, methinks.) There is an air of the disturbing at every corner, even though the tools to bring this forth don't feel fully formed just yet. And while it's unfair to criticize the obviously incongruous elements (such as denizens of Whitby, England speaking only Spanish), there are a number of unintentionally humorous moments here. The acting, though often excellent, is commonly over the top and wildly expressive (not much more than any '30's flick, though) and the special effects, while inventive for the time, still feel like stage parlor tricks today. However, even adjusting for inflation, it's hard to imagine a film of this budget turning out this well today.

Perhaps none of the actors here are going to be granted posthumous acting awards (hell, I could be wrong), but they pull off their parts quite well. Villar's Vampire is the Tuxedo-Clad Romantic of the stage much more than the hideous creature of the night that Stoker originated. Yes, he's more "Puttin' on the Ritz" than "Vlad Tepes", but Villar could give even Lugosi a run for his iconic money with that hypnotic stare (even if it does get comical sometimes). Arozamena's Van Helsing is stern and commanding in his opposition to these evil forces, and notably, Tovar's Eva is no weeping willow, but a strong feminine presence worth rooting for. Rubio is the one to watch here as Renfield. True, his part calls for a lot of comedy (some of it intentional), but take note of the varied performance that Rubio offers up here. He begins as the consummate professional businessman, devolves into the raving lunatic lackey of the Vampire, and alternates thereafter between horrific menace and pitiful insanity. Rubio more than cuts it, and makes a well-traveled part all his own.

Fans of the novel must swallow their pride along with some of the strange elements of this plot. Aside from the aforementioned combined and renamed characters and the Count's reinvention as an aristocratic gentleman (both traits taken from the stage play and shared with the English Speaking counterpart), there are several scenes which simply beg for more exposition, and some that seem rushed and glossed over. To be fair, however, this is no worse than most adaptations of just about any novel, especially Dracula... and yes, that includes Nosferatu. Further, this version is almost a half-hour longer than the English-language version, and it paces itself that much better. The language barrier perhaps even serves to improve this film in some ways, separating we Yanks from the '30's overacting a bit more than we might be from an English-lingo film of the same era. This is a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing flick, and it's not hard to imagine why so very many people consider this the superior version.

One rumor is that Dubbing was still in its infancy, one is that Dubbing was considered, then dismissed, but whatever the reason Drácula exists in all its Spanish Glory, I'm happy that it does. Regardless of which version you prefer (and let's face it... you don't have to choose) this one is a must for any fan of our Patriarchal Vampire. Taken for all with all, Drácula (the Spanish Version) gets Three and One Half Stars out of Five from Conde Kneumsi. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to do some more updates on this new Summer of Horror page. If I finish it soon, the Maestro has promised to give me a cat. A CAT! No more Spiders and Roaches for me! Okay, I'm lying... The 4400 is on. Wonder if this new hottie speaks Spanish? She doesn't look like she bites! I'd let her bite me!

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Drácula (1931) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
The man REALLY responsible for this website,
and for the Vampire Screenplay he never finished!
Should've tried it in Spanish, maybe!
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