Monday, October 30, 2023

Dracula - dead, but not always loving it

 Obligatory Halloween post

I've been in a bit of a Dracula frame of mind lately. We all know there are LOT of Drac films out there from over the decades. And of course, some better (and less stupid) than others.

A stupid one, at least in terms
of casting choice

This little phase for me started a few weeks ago. I decided to pay for a few months of AMC+ to do my third or fourth rewatch of Mad Men, one of my favorite all time shows. But you also get some Shudder content with that, and I saw that my fave horror host, Joe Bob Brigg, had been doing his thing the last few years with his latest show The Last Drive In. I noticed he had an episode with the original Nosferatu. So I watched it. 

I probably never saw it before due mostly to it being and old black and white film. Those always seem so hokey. The organ music and what not. But what surprised me was this version had the original orchestral score from its first limited release (it was halted during its original run by Bram Stokers wife, and she nearly caused all copies to be destroyed). That made a HUGE difference. As with all great scores it was a character in itself. It lended so much weight to the now somewhat goofy goings on and helped a lot with the mood of it. And Joe Bob coming in now and again to explain some of the crazy backstory of the film and those involved also added interest. 

I have to say, I found it very spooky. unnerving in a way that more modern stuff just doesn't have. Maybe that dream like quality many old silent films have. 

Not long after, maybe that same week, I watched the Klaus Kinski version from 1979. Creepy in its own way, it had that sort of hyperrealism but also surreal thing that most Herzog films have, such as the great Aguirre the Wrath of God. 

I also rewatched Bram Stokers Dracula last week, but I had seen that many times. I mostly watched it because I heard a humorous podcast about it (and Australian pod called The Weekly Planet, with a youtube channel called Carvan of Garbage).

And just tonight, for laughs, I watched the Bela Lugosi Drac. I had seen that, but it had been a long time. It was a little over an hour long, so I whipped it through before dinner. I guess it counts as my Halloween movie. 

So without going into a long text about them, I thought I would just share some random thoughts:

First and foremost, I think 1922 Nosferatu is the most chilling at this point, in some part due to what I said above. But the biggest reason I think is the sheer inhumanity of The Count. He has none of the sympathy you can feel for the Lagosi and Kinski Dracs. No love longings or regret at his fate. This Count is more like an insect man, totally operating out of some almost alien instinct. This makes him extra frightening. Another thing I just love about the 1922 is the war of wills from hundreds of miles away Mina (I think she is Lucy in this) seems to be fighting on the pyschic plane with The Count, and man she never met and knows nothing about. Like so much in his film its way ahead of its time in concept. 

I was not blown away by the 1979 Herzog film. I found Kinski's portrayal almost comical. A several minute focus on him running back and forth across london carrying coffins made me laugh. Also in this version there is an amazing scene towards the end where plague-stricken townsfolk dance and feast in the town square, which historically was apparently a thing. The ending to this also had a twist that many folk, including myself think about at the end of a movie when a human-like monster is killed. Isn't this murder?

Not a lot to say about Lugosi Drac. Growing up with cartoons and such that parodies it does not help the mood. Everybody from Bugs Bunny to the Three Stooges have made fun of it. But it's interesting just how small the story is. It was based in large part of a stage play that Lugosi actually appeared in. Very little is explained about Dracs motives other than the usual stuff coming out of Van Helsing. And the ending is anti-climactic to say the least. What I did love was the understated brides of Dracula. When Renfield passes out, they come from behind pillars in a sort of methodical stalking mode, but looking almost like Elvish princesses. They are so focused on the prey. Scary. A moment ahead of its time, and I think more effective than the orgiastic brides from the Coppola film.

Francis Coppola's Dracula from the 90's is the biggest depiction of the story, adding a ton of origin material, but also maybe the most faithful. Lots of its dialogues are from the book. Its heavy on the love story, and I'm not sure how much I like Dracula being depicted so demonic in forms and powers, but so human at the same time. He bubbles and cries at least a couple times in this. So many schlocky moments. But damn if this had the best depiction of Van Helsing of all time. 

Not sure how soon I'll do it, but I have a hankering to watch some Hammer Dracula at some point, which I have not seen since I was a kid. 

Cheers and happy Halloween!

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