31 Films of Halloween – 10/2/15: Dracula

Each day during October, Madison Film Guy will post a new mini-review/recommendation/musing on a contemporary or classic horror film to help celebrate my 31 favorite days of the year: the countdown to Halloween! Today’s film: 1931’s Dracula.


Dracula, 1931

Recommending a fresh take on Bela Lugosi’s original Dracula seems like a solid, safe pick for the 31 Films of Halloween. Universal-ly (pun intended) acknowledged as a true horror classic, Lugosi’s Dracula remains—nearly a century later—the definitive take not only on the Dracula story, but on the vampire genre itself.

But here’s the twist.

If you can find it, I strongly recommend re-watching Dracula (obviously, you MUST have seen it before) with the turn-of-the-century Philip Glass score. It will knock your socks off.

In 1999, Universal Studios Home Entertainment commissioned composer Philip Glass to compose an entirely original score for Dracula, and then distributed the scored version on DVD and VHS. When Universal later released its classics collections in 2004 on DVD, the Glass score was available on an alternative audio track on the original movie. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the Glass score transforms Dracula and makes a truly classic film truly great.

In bringing Bram Stoker’s novel to the screen, Universal produced a gold-standard horror classic largely on the strength of two things: Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance and director Tod Browning’s success in establishing a dark, foreboding, dream-like atmosphere. The former has become so seared in the cinematic psyche that Lugosi and the role will forever be inseparable. The latter is often overlooked, but combined with Lugosi’s performance, Browning’s construction of images and mood and moments—Dracula’s welcome, the appearance of the vampire brides, and so on—was simply masterful.

Where Browning stumbled, however, was in the pacing and stagey-ness of the film. While the languid pace supports the dreamy ambiance, there are moments when the film slows to a virtual crawl. Combined with the pervasive quiet—Dracula is a “talkie” but might as well have been a silent film in its disregard for dialogue and sound throughout much of its 85 minutes—the pacing occasionally drains the energy right out of the story.

The Glass score, however, brings the entire film to life, energizing the slowest scenes and adding extra zing to the film’s highest points. In the wonderful scene in which Van Helsing tricks the Count into revealing himself (or not revealing himself, as it were) in the mirror, the Glass score punctuates the dramatic moment, rises with the inner fury and fear of the vampire, and then retreats as Dracula composes himself and exits. The music lingers as Dracula excuses himself. “I dislike mirrors,” Dracula grins. “Van Helsing will explain.” As movie quotes go, it’s one of the best in the original film. With the Glass score and the dynamic filmmaking behind it, it’s one of the smartest, best moments in horror film history.

I love Dracula with the Philip Glass score.

Van Helsing will explain.


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