Some movies are so bad they’re good, and some movies are just ... bad. My husband and I enjoy watching them both and I thought it would be fun to share the best of the worst. So without further ado, here’s my bad movie review of the week. I leave it up to you to decide whether the movie is bad, or just the review. ;-)
I’ve seen many vampire movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this particular version of Dracula. As with Frankenstein, my review may be coloured by the fact I’ve read the book. In fact, after reading the book I did a lot of research trying to figure out how the vampire went from being the loathsome creature depicted in the book to a romantic hero. I never did find a definitive answer, so in the end I abandoned my research. But I think Hollywood had a lot to do with it, although perhaps not with this particular film.
The movie begins with a carriage travelling along a mountain road. They’re in a hurry to reach the next village before nightfall because of the nosferatu. One of the passengers, a solicitor named Renfield, insists that he needs to keep going to Borgo Pass because he’s meeting another coach there. The villagers try to warn him about the danger, but of course he doesn’t listen, and the innkeeper’s wife gives him a cross to wear for protection.
As the sun sets we’re treated to a shot of inside the castle where rats and possums and insects all scurry for cover as a coffin begins to open. Out climbs a woman in a long, filmy dress. Dracula is seen just standing on the stairs and we get a close-up of his intense stare.
Renfield and his luggage are practically thrown from the coach when they reach the Borgo Pass, but Dracula’s coach is waiting for him. He continues his journey at breakneck speed and as they drive up a long, narrow mountain road we see a bat flying over the heads of the horses. When the coach stops, Renfield starts to scold the driver, then realizes the driver is gone.
The door to the castle opens by itself. For some reason there are a couple of armadillos wandering around, and three very cheesy looking bats hover by a stained glass window. Dracula glides down the long staircase to bid Renfield welcome and leads the way upstairs.
They discuss Dracula’s intention to lease Carfax Abbey in England. Renfield has brought the papers with him for Dracula to sign, and Dracula tells him he’s already booked passage on a ship. After pouring Renfield a glass of wine to have with his dinner, Dracula takes his leave. Needing some air, Renfield opens one of the French doors leading outside and then promptly faints. Dracula’s three wives are closing in on him when Dracula himself appears and shoos them away.
Next we cut to the ship that’s being tossed about by a storm at sea. When it reaches port, the only one still alive is Renfield, and he’s now batshit crazy (pun intended). He’s taken to a sanatorium run by Dr. Seward that just happens to be adjacent to Carfax Abbey.
It’s a foggy night in London and we seen Dracula strolling about. After draining a flower seller, he ends up at the symphony, were he ingratiates himself with Dr. Seward who introduces him to his daughter Mina, her friend Lucy, and Mina’s fiancé Jonathan. Lucy seems especially smitten with Dracula.
Late that night Dracula pays Lucy a visit and the next day we catch a glimpse of the operating theatre where Lucy is pronounced dead from blood loss. This is where we first see Van Helsing, who points out that there’s been several victims all dying of the same thing, and all with two small puncture wounds on their necks. He tells them they’re dealing with a nosferatu.
Meanwhile, at the sanatorium, Renfield begs Dr. Seward to send him away so he doesn’t “give Mina bad dreams” with his nightly cries. Van Helsing wants to help Renfield, but Renfield gets very upset when Van Helsing shows him some wolfsbane, which is known to ward off vampires. Van Helsing tells Dr. Seward to keep an eye on Renfield, especially at night.
That night, Dracula pays Mina a visit. The next morning she’s describing the dream she had about the mist to Jonathan and Van Helsing insists on looking at her neck. There are two marks on it, just like the others had.
When Dracula comes to pay a social call, Van Helsing glances at the mirror in the music box and Dracula has no reflection. He does this many, many times, just to make sure the audience gets the point, then shows it to Jonathan. Dr. Seward sends Mina off to bed and Van Helsing turns the music box so Dracula can see it. Dracula sweeps it from his grasp, then apologizes and leaves.
Van Helsing tells Dr. Seward and Jonathan that Dracula is the vampire they’re looking for. Meanwhile, Mina sneaks out to the garden where Dracula is waiting to bite her again. She’s found later by a maid. Then we hear a report of a woman in white luring children from a park and biting them. Mina believes it’s Lucy, who’s risen as a vampire.
Jonathan is all for taking Mina away, but Van Helsing convinces him that she’ll be safer under his protection. He hangs wolfsbane in her room and a wreath of it around her neck. The men discuss vampires and Van Helsing says they have to discover Dracula’s resting place if they are to save Mina.
Van Helsing is alone when Dracula comes in and tells him that Mina is his now and he should go back to his own country. Van Helsing in turn vows to destroy him. Dracula tries to mesmerize him but Van Helsing’s mind is too strong. He pulls out a crucifix and Dracula is scared off.
Later (or maybe it’s the next evening) Jonathan is sitting with Mina on the terrace and she’s telling him how much she loves the night. Dr. Seward and Van Helsing are off to the side discussing how best to help her. A bat flies overhead, squeaking, and the next thing you know, Mina is leaning into Jonathan trying to bite him. The other two men pull her off.
That evening Dracula hypnotizes the nurse looking after Mina and she takes down the wolfsbane and opens the window for him. He comes in and bites Mina (who’s already taken off the wolfsbane she was wearing).
Van Helsing and Jonathan follow Renfield to Carfax Abbey and then see Dracula there with Mina. They call out to her and Dracula, assuming Renfield has led them there, kills Renfield. By the time Van Helsing and Jonathan are able to break into the abbey, Dracula has carried Mina down to the crypt.
The sun is coming up and the men find Dracula in a box full of dirt. The other box holds nothing but dirt so while Van Helsing makes a wooden stake Jonathan goes looking for Mina. Though we don’t see Van Helsing actually stake Dracula, we do hear a lot of groaning. Mina is off standing in a corner and with Dracula’s death she regains her senses.
Van Helsing tells Jonathan and Mina to go ahead without him, he “has things to do.” They leave and that’s the end. Seriously, what is it about these 1930s movies and their abrupt endings? Hubby suggested that it was like Bela Lugosi died during the filming of it and they couldn’t finish it.
The underlying story in this film is rather choppy. After showing Dracula’s wives at the beginning, they’re never mentioned again. We have no idea who Renfield is when we first see him. We have no idea where Van Helsing came from or why he’s there . . . And we never find out what happened to Lucy or even if that really was her wandering around the park. And what the heck was with the armadillos wandering around Dracula’s castle?
The original Nosferatu, which closely followed the book, did so without permission. Stoker’s estate sued the filmmakers for copyright infringement and won their case. All the copies of the film were to be destroyed. However one copy survived and was duplicated over the years and was restored in 1996.
The producer of the 1931 version was wise enough to legally obtain the rights to adapt the book to film. It’s just too bad he didn’t stick closer to the true story.