The story of this film every living person knows of and that is a reason why this film does not have the punch it could have had. This film is one of pure influence on pop culture from the stander of a vampire to the way the character of Dracula is presented. As such, the images that made this film great have been bastardize over time. However, if you are able to block out the ways in which this film has been ruined, what you are left with is a film the is eerie, creepy, and sort of like watching a Nightmarish stage play.
Tod Browning is probably the best man at the time to do this film. With the rise of horror films and Hollywood wanting to make an official version of Dracula (already in existence at the time was F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu), a typical director would have made a straight adaption which would be good, but would be compared to Nosferatu (granted, in the 1990's Francis Ford Coppola would go on to make another straight adaption). Basing this film on the stage play, what we get is a version of the tale that flows more easily, gives the impression that this is real, and provides people with a feel of eeriness. Granted, by today's standards, something like rubber bats being flown around the screen are aggravating and just ridiculous. But that is all part of the magic of the film: to make it seem more like it is on stage. With that in mind, Browning does a wonderful job with this film.
Now, there is one thing I must talk about: Bela Lugosi's performance as the evil Count Dracula. Like with the direction, I am glad Lugosi did not have himself look like Max Shrek at all. While that look worked for Shrek, this Dracula works because he is presented as a typical man. Just like the random guy you will meet while walking down the road. Then you have Lugosi's voice that as now become a staple for all Dracula's: thick accent, slow speech, very charming. It is rumored and is a myth that Lugosi could not speak English during the making of this film. Well, that is kind of false seeing as how he lived in America for about a bloody decade. So, why did he make Dracula speak in the way he does? Simple: Dracula has spent years studying English, but rarely gets a chance to use it. Seeing as how he lives in Romania, he has to speak the native tongue in that area to get around. Same thing with his movements: creepy, a little nerve racking, and always disturbing. Even more when he fixes his eyes and the penlight shines in them.
It is quite sad that I rarely hear anything about Dwight Frye's performance as Renfield. Next to Lugosi's, Frye's is the best in the entire film. The reason is due to how he changes on a dime from being insane to being completely normal. If anything, he is more disturbing than Dracula. Mainly with his cracked voice, his laugh, and the way he acts when describing what Dracula has offered him. Watching his performance is like meeting something of a real lunatic in today's age. As I said: pity he is not recognized enough anymore.
This being a horror film, is it scary? No. Not at all. But is it a great film? Yes, due to the accomplishments it created in the horror genre, the impact it has left on people, and the way it set the stander for all Vampire films. Granted, this film is heavily outdated with some of the most overacting I have ever seen, but come on. This was made in the 1930's and most of these people (mainly the extras) were probably taken from the Broadway show. So, this was to be expected. But if this film has proven anything, it is that Bela Lugosi is still the true modern Dracula.
Directed by Tod Browning, who would go on and direct the equally impressive Freaks, Dracula is shot in such a style that it soon becomes its own entity. The film is its own style with shadow playing a huge role and the dank and dusty castles and caves soon becoming standard vampire movie fodder.
The real greatness in Dracula comes from Bela Lugosi. I own a copy of Stokers novel and who does Dracula look like on the cover? That's right. He created the role for the stage and made it an icon on the screen. No one ever filled Lugosi's shoes in the 75 + years since the release of the film. It's easy to see how Dracula scared the hell out of audiences back in the '30's. Not only was he the walking dead, he was also an erotic character to a degree. Lugosi's presence was center stage in the film.
Of the Universal monsters Dracula was the first and one of the best (I have to tie him with Frankenstein). A classic tale that never really had justice to it in the decades sine its original release.