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Written by / 10/29/2015 / No comments / , , , ,

ENGLISH VS SPANISH DRACULA: FEATURING DWIGHT FRYE

The Best Version Especially thanks to Dwight Frye
The American version of the 1931 groundbreaking classic DRACULA, directed by FREAKS legend Tod Browning, starring Bela Lugosi in the title role, is all but stolen by UNIVERSAL PICTURES madman mascot Dwight Frye, who played the "Igor" type Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN and as the scene-stealing lawyer turned bug-eating lunatic Renfield, takes the screen and runs with it, using more creativity in his expressions and movements than the somewhat despondent camera by Browning, letting the suspense unveil slowly, almost by accident, and often, alas, too lethargic does our story unveil...

Dwight Frye caged
So sure, the original version can be, at times, ascetically bland as far as movement/direction goes, with splendid exterior paintings and dark-lit castle interiors standing on their own merit, resembling backdrops of a lavish stage-play as opposed to scenery contained within a motion picture. But what works are Bela Lugosi's spooky closeups and Dwight Frye's insanity-driven sequences... he's not a full-blown vampire, devouring insects in an insane asylum next-door to Dracula's new real estate, eventually turning into an ambiguous "rat" against his boss, providing screeching clues to the expository Van Helsing and pretty boy Jonathan Harker, all serving the main purpose to save ingenue Mina, played by Helen Chandler, one bite away from being Drac's eternal bride: Meanwhile, the darker atmosphere of the Spanish version, filmed at night after Browning's scenes were completed by day, has a more creatively maneuvered camera gliding from scene to scene; establishes the opera audience when we first enter London; includes more intriguing and clear dialogue reminiscent of the Bram Stoker source novel; adds smoke to the rising vampire's casket; and has a thirty-minute edge on fulfilling the central plot that Browning's somewhat choppy version leaves the viewer to figure later, on their own: like chasing a proverbial dragon tail in order to discover the nature of the beast...

Bela Lugosi with Frye
But the Spanish actor in the title role, although slightly resembling the future British Christopher Lee vamp, mostly during rare dark-lit angles, seems like a hired costumed monster at a children's party... often coming across as just plain goofy. Unlike the pointed, narrow-eyed Van Helsing in the original, the Spanish scientist-slayer resembles a bland New York banker tired of his day job. And nutty sidekick Renfield, despite being a doppelganger for the not-yet-famous character-actor Timothy Carey, hams it up to such unnecessarily stage-acting buffoonery, he does the opposite of what Frye's over-the-top style accomplished in the original. Thus, Tod Browning's feature is and always will be the best of the two versions...

Literally Creepy Frye
Although it should be noted, in Cult Film Freak's opinion, both versions of DRACULA pale to James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN and the follow-up, BRIDE OF... (and Whale's THE INVISIBLE MAN also featuring Frye), wherein creative camerawork and intense jump cuts (that horror directors would use years later... for example, the forward-cuts toward Sissy Spacek in CARRIE when she turns and stares at John Travolta's approaching car): Whale glides his stories along like, say, an Orson Welles would a few years later, as FRANKENSTEIN is a more fleshed-out theatrical experience (even Mel Brook's spoof pays serious homage to the brilliant visual style). Either way, Browning's DRACULA remains a cultural Gothic classic, and no matter what's been said about Night beating Day, his version far exceeds its Spanish sibling, for the cast alone...

And Dwight Frye takes the prize, providing an edgy, nervous lunacy while surprisingly, Dracula himself, Lugosi, actually seems to hide his teeth/weapons, more implied and mysterious than outright terrifying... it would take years later when bloody fangs became the most important element of the timeless master of darkness whose "children" eternally howl in the night. Meanwhile, Bela's eyes are literally hypnotic, and it's believable as humans melt under his spell... as can any modern audience: You just have to let go and let it all work despite the CGI standard's we've become accustomed to. While the more fleshed-out, visually dynamic and overall superior British Hammer  Films 1958 venture, HORROR OF DRACULA, is highly recommended unlike the later Francis Ford Coppola version, which should be avoided like a garlic cross wrapped in wolfsbane.

ENGLISH VERSION: ***1/2
SPANISH VERSION: **
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