An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…
These reviews reveal plot twists.
Setting: Mostly the fictional town of Carleton, California, but there’s also a brief sequence in eastern Europe (we spy a Berlin newspaper in one scene). It’s the 1950s.
Faithful to the novel? This 1958 B-movie horror begins with a portentous voiceover telling us all about Count Dracula, the infamous vampire who terrorises innocent people and spreads his dominion around the world. We’re told that various attempts to destroy him have been unsuccessful and then see a group of men break into a tomb only to find the coffin empty… Then we cut to an artist called Bellac Gordal, who’s about to travel from Europe to California and stay with his cousin. On the train, however, he’s killed and replaced by Dracula (Francis Lederer). In the US, Cora (Greta Granstedt) hasn’t seen her cousin for a long time so doesn’t notice it’s an imposter. She welcomes Dracula into her home but he soon focuses on Cora’s grown-up daughter, the wholesome Rachel (Norma Eberhardt). He also turns Rachel’s friend Jennie (Virginia Vincent) into a vampire. (If we think of this as a loose remake of the book’s plot, Rachel is the Mina equivalent; Jennie is Lucy.) But when people start to suspect he’s not Gordal, the Count has to start killing. Meanwhile, Rachel’s finding it difficult to resist him…
Best performance: Francis Lederer plays Dracula as a man rather than a monster. There’s no Bela Lugosi cape (instead he wears a suit) and you almost feel sorry for him. The actor had the distinction of living in three different centuries: he was born in Prague in 1899 and lived until 2000. As well as a successful film and theatre career, he fought for the Austrian-Hungarian Army in the First World War. Lederer later played Dracula again, in a 1971 episode of TV show Night Gallery. Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of actors’ backgrounds, Cora actress Greta Granstedt had a notorious incident in her past. In 1922, when she was 14, she shot her 17-year-old boyfriend with a pistol. She claimed it was accidental, though newspapers said she’d stalked him from some bushes and wanted to hurt him because he’d been with another girl. The boyfriend eventually recovered and Granstedt was sentenced to time in a reform school.
Best bit: A few neat tricks are used to show off Dracula’s vampirism: when he first arrives in Carleton he appears out of thin air; we later get the clichéd no-reflection-in-a-mirror shot; and there’s also a great moment when he forms from a cloud of smoke. In the latter, the actor speaks dialogue as the smoke dissipates around him. The effect was achieved by having Lederer talk backwards as smoke is blown around him and then reversing the shot.
Review: For a horror film, this is incredibly safe material. We’re in a pre-rock’n’roll, small-town America where Cora bakes cakes, Rachel has a child-like enthusiasm for life and her boyfriend drives around in an enormous convertible. There’s no sense of danger to anything, and the whole film falls very flat. It’s directed with no attitude, there’s a bland cast, and lots of night-time scenes are shot in broad daylight. One notable – and very effective – aspect of the film is that it’s in black and white… aside from the shot of gushing red blood when Jennie is staked!
Four dull and useless worlds out of 10