Saturday, October 10, 2009


1931 was a frightful year indeed, for it not only brought the world Bela Lugosi’s Dracula but Universal released Drácula, a Spanish-language version with a completely different cast but using the exact same sets as the English version. The English cast would film during the day and the Spanish cast would film at night. The result was an interesting alternate take on the story, while still following the same plot.

An unwitting solicitor travels to Transylvania to finalize Count Dracula’s leasing of a ruined abbey in England. The solicitor becomes the vampire’s mad servant, the two travel to England where the Count prowls the night before being confronted by Professor Van Helsing, a man experienced in the paranormal. The basic plot is identical to the English version of the movie.

Conde Drácula: Carlos Villarías plays the vampire of the film, and facially he has similarities to both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. He does a fine job menacing the screen with his presence, especially when the movie zooms in close on his eyes when he hypnotizes people, but he just doesn’t quite match up to Lugosi’s incredible screen charisma. Still, he’s pretty badass.

Renfield: Pablo Álvarez Rubio makes a much more likable sane Renfield than Dwight Frye. When he loses his mind, he rants and raves with the best of them, but he’s just not nearly as disturbingly memorable as Frye.

Doctor Seward: José Soriano Viosca is the head of a sanitarium, and more likable than his English speaking counterpart.

Juan Harker: Barry Norton is not nearly as useless as the English language Harker. He’s still not particularly bright or useful, but he’s not useless.

Profesor Van Helsing: Eduardo Arozamena plays the vampire hunter, and he’s not bad. He lacks the intensity of the English version, but his tense standoff with Dracula shows that he’s quite resourceful himself.

Lucía Weston: Carmen Guerrero plays the doomed friend of the heroine, but she’s better than the English version. She’s much more of a wistful, romantic sort and her fantasizing about Dracula’s castle and whatever come across as less morbid and more romantic and ultimately tragic.

Eva Seward: Lupita Tovar is great as the Mina analog. At first, she’s simply there, but as her life becomes increasingly endangered, she gets more and more into the movie. By the end of the movie, when it seems like she’s been corrupted by Dracula, she really plays things up, becoming an aggressive, sensual character.

The director, George Melford, was able to take advantage of the less prudish Spanish market as well as taking up the challenge of trying to best the English language team. The result was a film that is, on a technical level, often better than the English version. Camera angles are more atmospheric, some of the camera tricks are better and so on. Both films do also share some of the same “stock footage” that doesn’t involve human characters. This version is actually longer than the English one, though that can also be a negative factor, since some scenes do tend to drag on a bit longer than they need to. But overall, its a much more ambitious take on the visuals than the English version.

The Spanish script was handled by Baltasar Fernández Cué, and while the story really doesn’t veer off from the other version much at all, the ending is much, much, much more coherent. It actually makes sense and it also wraps up the loose end of Lucy/Lucia becoming a vampire. The ending of this movie is far superior to the English version. Though I will admit, it is quite amusing listening to characters moving about a London setting all speaking in Spanish.

This also uses “Swan Lake” for its beginning and ending, though there is nothing at all in terms of music during the film itself. Aside from dialog and foley work, its deathly quiet at times.

There is a lot to like in Drácula. The movie has moments of camera brilliance, the story is more coherent (and better) at the end and the supporting cast of good guys and victims are all much stronger than their English language counterparts. However, I can’t say that it’s a unilaterally better film. Dracula and Renfield are arguably better in the English version, and Van Helsing seems to be a toss up. Both are interesting pieces of cinema history and Drácula is probably best viewed as a fascinating companion piece/alternate take to Dracula that is in many ways superior.

So, not a lot of clips of the Spanish Dracula are to be found easily online that aren't somebody else's review of it. So no trailer today.

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