That says it all. In this 1931 chiller "Dracula," the Hungarian prince of horror Béla Lugosi plays Count Dracula of Transylvania, who invites the hapless Renfield (Dwight Frye) to his castle to finalize the transfer of Carfax Abbey in London to him. Of course, it turns out that Dracula is a vampire, as he hypnotizes Renfield to be his slave, and then travels to London and attempts to turn Mina (Helen Chandler), the wife of John Harker (David Manners), into his vampire bride.
I've never read the Bram Stoker novel, but I'm told this is a very loose translation, adapted more from the Hamilton Deane stage play due in part to the 1929 stock market crash. But to me, that's not so important; what's important is how this movie looks on its own. I'll start by saying that if "Twilight" has desensitized you into believing that vampires aren't scary, just watch Lugosi as the vampire and all thoughts of that will be wiped away. Already established in playing the role on stage, he set the trademark of Dracula, from how he looked to the accent with which he spoke. He's so charming when he has to be but is also scary as hell with that devil's stare of his. You see that look on his face and you just know you're in for a world of terror. It's also worth mentioning that director Tod Browning had worked with silent movie star Lon Chaney Sr. several times, and wanted him to play Dracula in this movie; however, Chaney died of throat cancer, opening the door for Lugosi.
So of course, Lugosi makes the film a classic all by himself, but what about the rest of the movie? Well, I can't avoid mentioning Dwight Frye's performance as Renfield; he's remarkable in his mannerisms and facial expressions. Just watch the scene where he laughs at the foot of the staircase of the boat after the crew has been killed, and the scene where he laughs so wickedly the maid faints, and that's just to name a few. It's a nutty performance, but so over-the-top that it's perfect.
There's also Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing; it's a very straightforward performance, but he takes part in several iconic scenes, like when he deduces that Dracula is a vampire, and their suspenseful confrontation a few scenes later. The role of Van Helsing would be immortalized by Peter Cushing years later, but Van Sloan still does a fine job.
Like most of the movies back in this time period, it's pretty quiet, although the opening credits have music from "Swan Lake." I can't say if this is symbolic or not, although when I hear it during the credits, I think of "Black Swan." Of course, when I hear that music in "Black Swan," I think of "Dracula." Whatever; I'm rambling. Anyway, the lack of music helps build the atmosphere, as you're surrounded with the creepy mood of castles, fog and bats. It's like being trapped in a dangerous part of town; you're always on edge, keeping your eyes and ears open.
There's not much else I can say about this film that hasn't been said a million times; just that virtually everything about this film is iconic. Sure, we don't see Dracula sport any fangs or see shots of people actually being bitten, but I think that adds to the subtlety and mystery of the whole thing. There have been many "Dracula" films made since this one (including a Spanish language version of this film that's very good in its own right), but none have replicated this movie's ingenuity. It's a work of art, plain and simple, from the performances to the set design to the cinematography--it's all top notch, and it only gets better every time I watch it.