A SHORT HISTORY OF VAMPIRE MOVIES – PART II THE 1930’S
1931; Universal Pictures (B&W); Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.; Director: Tod Browning; Screenwriters: Garrett Fort & Dudley Murphy from the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston and from the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker; Camera: Karl Freund.
Lon Chaney, Sr. died in 1930, and so did his golden opportunity to portray Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire, Count Dracula. Universal was basically up a creek without a paddle, so-to-speak. Studio executives considered Conrad Veidt, who was Germany’s greatest silent horror film star who had
been in DERJANUSKOPF (1920), THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919), WAXWORKS (1924), and THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1925). Veidt was actually the logical choice, since he had just completed Universal’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1927), an incredibly successful film based on Victor Hugo’s novel. Unfortunately the actor had other previously arranged obligations elsewhere. Paul Muni of SCARF ACE (1932) fame was also considered, as well as actors William Courtney and Ian Keith, the latter
would later go on to play a vampire in Republic Pictures’ VALLEY OF THE ZOMBIES (1946). The role, as everyone knows, went to Hungarian-born
actor Bela Lugosi, who had starred in the stage version of Dracula around the same time.
With the exception of several minor roles in major films during the silent era, including F.W. Murnau’s DER JANUSKOPF (1920) and Tod Browning’s THE THIRTEENTH CHAIR (1929), Lugosi was virtually an unknown actor; unknown in America, until March 27,1931, after the release of DRACULA. As a result of the film’s enormous box office success, Lugosi became a superstar of the horror film from that moment onward.
To this day, no other actor is most associated with the name Count Dracula than Bela Lugosi. Lugosi is indisputably the epitome of the classic movie vampire, possessing the handsome, suave and debonair charm of an aristocratic nobleman. Lugosi’s Dracula is cunning and clever and very resourceful with centuries of knowledge at his disposal. His vampire is both
mysterious and romantic; a polished gentlemen turned into a nondescript living monster.
Browning’s film is not a faithful and strict adaptation of Stoker’s novel. The film was actually based more on Hamilton Deane’s play. The majority of DRACULA is virtually a photographed stage play, with few close-ups and a less-than-normal fluid camera by Karl Freund, an excellent cinematographer from the vintage movie years, responsible for the luminous, stylized and often theatrical photography of such films like THE GOLEM (1920), FAUST (1926), METROPOLIS (1926) and DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1932). It is obviously in the film’s stagey style wherein lies the movie’s greatest disappointment to many modern-day viewers. The scenes are static, cold, and often uninteresting and boring, and the climax is far from thrilling for this type of vehicle. In addition, the vampire trappings are totally obsolete. However, though the film is an overall disappointment to many modern viewers, primarily those seeing the film for the first time, DRACULA offers some of the most atmospheric sets and moments in a horror film, especially the ghostly sets of both Castle Dracula in Transylvania and Carfax Abbey in London, created by Universal set designers with impeccable detail and style. Technically speaking, DRACULA is a superior piece of filmmaking, although it’s special effects,
which were once considered innovative, are dated by today’s standards.
Despite its unfaithfulness, DRACULA follows the story line of Bram Stoker’s novel relatively close, beginning with Renfield’s arrival at Castle Dracula in
Transylvania. Count Dracula naturally devours the Englishman’s soul, as he has done with most of his countrymen, and sets sail to England, where he begins sinking his teeth (off screen) into the necks of Englishmen and seducing young maidens with his mysterious charm. As the vampire carries out his evil doings, he is eventually revealed as an inhuman monster by his arch nemesis Professor Van Helsing (played by Edward Van Sloan). The exchange in dialogue and the confrontations between the two foes is well written for its time, but less than thrilling for today’s sophisticated moviegoer, who demands much more than theatrical dialogue and mundane special effects..
The entire film in general is breathtaking, and is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror films ever to come out of Universal’s early stockade of horrors.
DRACULA is a relic of an era long vanished and one of cinema’s true masterpieces, one that modern viewers and connoisseurs or classic horror films can appreciate, like good bottle of wine – for those who drink wine!
1931 Universal Pictures (Spanish Version) (B&W); Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.; Director: George Melford; Screenwriters: Garret Fort and Dudley Murphy from the script written for the 1931 version, based on Bram Stoker’s novel.
With the enormous success of DRACULA (1931), Universal produced a Spanish version of the film directed by George Melford. The film, currently
made available on videocassette, stars Carlos Villarias as Count Dracula. Villarias has an uncanny resemblance to Bela Lugosi, and like his counterpart, he makes an effective Dracula. Lupita Tova is equally
convincing as the heroine, and Dracula’s intended victim.
DRACULA was filmed at the same time as the Bela Lugosi version was being made, using the same sets and the same script (in Spanish, of course). There is one difference, however, this version is thought to
be more frightening and visually appealing than its English counterpart. Since the film is readily available on video, fans should decide for themselves.
Fans should look out for the one and only scene of Bela Lugosi in this Spanish version. Apparently, Browning scrapped the scene of the vampire walking in London from the original version. The edited scene was latter picked-up by director George Melford, who felt that Lugosi bore an uncanny resemblance to Carlos Villarias, thus he inserted the sequence secretly.
1931/1932; (German/French) (B&W); Producer: Baron Nicholas De Gunzburg; Director: Carl Theodor Dryer; Screenwriters: Dryer & Christen
Jul, suggested by Sheridan le Fanu’s novella Carmilla; Camera: Rudolf Mate.
In addition to being the first sound vampire film, beating Universal’s DRACULA into release, VAMPYR is also the very first of many vampire films to be based upon the novella Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu. VAMPYR is regarded as one of the true masterpieces of the golden era of the horror film, but, like DRACULA, the film is considered to be very dated and a bit on the boring side for modern viewers.
Atmospherically photographed by cameraman Rudolph Mate for director Carl Dreyer, the film very subtlety tells the story of a man’s (played by Julian West, who also produced the film under the name of Baron De Gunzburg) journey to a small village that is plagued by an old female vampire (played by Henriette Gerard). Dreyer uses strong symbolisms to establish the film’s mood by the simplest means, such as a chilling nightmare sequence in which the hero imagines himself buried alive in a coffin and the vampire lady peering at him through the lid’s transom.
This scene is still most frightening, even today, as the camera replaces the actor’s position in the casket, allowing the viewer the uncomfortable feeling that they too are trapped alive inside the coffin. This is the single most important element of the film; the uneasiness created by such foreboding scenes. Interestingly, this rather disturbing scene most probably served as a predecessor to many of those “buried alive” sequences in the later Edgar Allan Poe horror films. Photographer Mate shot the entire film through a special gauze lens to create the film’s dream like effect and Dreyer only filmed during dusk and dawn. Mate’s polished cinematography in films such
as this would later contribute to his long film career in America, where he directed the visually stunning sci-fi classic WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE.
VAMPYR, like NOSFERATU (1922), was given a very limited release in America. American distributors felt that audiences would not appreciate
the subtle qualities of the film after having enjoyed such traditional horror films such as Universal’s DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (Both 1931).
In hindsight, the distributors were correct.
1933; Majestic (B&W); Producer: Phil Goldstone; Director: Frank Strayer; Screenwriter: Edward T. Lowe.
Directed by Frank Strayer on a low budget, that is, compared to Universal’s DRACULA (1931), FRANKENSTEIN (1931), MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932) and THE MUMMY (1932), VAMPIRE BAT stars Lionel Atwill as mad scientist Otto Von Niemann. The film tries hard to imitate many of the earlier sound horror Universal films. In fact, if we did not know any better, one would actually believe that they were watching a Universal picture. The similarities are obvious. To begin with, Lionel Belmore repeats his burgomaster role in Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN and Dwight Frye’s lunatic batkeeper named Herman Gleib resembles his Renfield performance from Universal’s DRACULA. Even the mood and atmosphere is highly reminiscent of the old Universal horrors.
In the film, Atwill perpetrates the hoax that a vampire is killing the townspeople when, in actuality, it is he who is draining the blood of the villagers to keep his experiment alive. Atwill’s henchman-servant Emil Borst (played by Robert Fraser) is sent out for victims by Atwill to nourish a blob of living tissue he keeps alive in a tank. In the film, Emil wears a flowing
cloak as he seeks his victims at night, thus first creating the image of a vampire and second panic and paranoia. Atwill controls his servant’s mind by way of some hocus pocus telepathic control. Meanwhile, Atwill tries to pin the crimes on lunatic Frye, and naturally, the villagers already suspect the poor bat-keeper. After a chase through the countryside, the townspeople trap him in a cave and kill him. Fay Wray (who, by this point, had already starred opposite Lionel Atwill in three horror films) is the heroine while Melvyn Douglas (star of both THE OLD DARK HOUSE and GHOST STORY) is the hero who saves Wray from the clutches of Atwill.
VAMPIRE BAT, a low budget programmer, did not fare well next to Universal’s DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, two big budget productions.
Because of the vast differences in production values, VAMPIRE BAT should therefore not be judged too harshly. In fact, the film should not be compared to the Universal pictures, nor is it fare to compare the film to Atwill’s previous horror films (DR. X, THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and MURDERS IN THE ZOO). When viewed today, VAMPIRE BAT appears as a very dated exploitation movie, mainly because of its obvious budget restrictions, its shoddy, but familiar borrowed sets, and its typical formula script by Edward T. Lowe, normally an imaginative screenwriter who would later script Universal’s formula monster movies HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). But Frye is excellent once again as a lunatic and Atwill is ideal as the mad scientist, delivering his lines with sinister glee.
CONDEMNED TO LIVE
1935; (B&W); Director: Frank Strayer.
This very rarely seen, hardly known mild horror film is directed by Frank Strayer, the director of THE VAMPIRE BAT.
In the film, Ralph Morgan and his wife Maxie Doyle seem like your average European couple, but this is far from the case. Morgan is a full-fledged
vampire who has been concealing his sanguine secret from Doyle. Naturally, she finds out, and in the process, she falls in love with Russell Gleason, learning to never jilt a vampire.
For nourishment, Morgan’s dwarf hunchback assistant commits ghastly murders (DR. X-style) and conceals the evidence. Very rare!
MARK OF THE VAMPIRE
1935; MGM (B&W); Producer EJ. Manix; Director: Tod Browning; Screenwriters: Guy Endore & Bernard Schubert; Camera: James Wong Howe.
With the success of DRACULA (1931) and FREAKS (1932) behind him, director Tod Browning set out to remake his previous pseudo-vampire classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is indeed a remake of the Lon Chaney classic, however because it offers many of the characteristics of Universal’s DRACULA, primarily because both films feature Bela Lugosi as their principal vampire, in this case he portrays Count Mora the pseudo vampire. Because of Lugosi’s presence,
MARK OF THE VAMPIRE closely resembles DRACULA in both mood and style. Lugosi’s part in this film is rather small, but quite effective, as he and
twenty-one year old Carroll Borland as his daughter vampire Luna pretend to be vampires when really they are merely actors hired by Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) to trick some criminals into believing the house is haunted by the undead.
Universal’s DRACULA had not yet been produced when LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT was released, therefore the original has a style and mood all of its own, whereas MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was produced under the influence of DRACULA, to capitalize on its success. Like the original, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE uses its vampire trappings to disclose a murderer. The entire scheme works on film, but the hoax, however, does not. By 1935, audiences were spoiled by the likes of real monsters and their “true” supernatural elements as in DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE MUMMY (1932) and THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). These monsters were not a hoax, at least, not on film. In 1935, the climax of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was considered a let down when the vampires are revealed merely as actors, and therein lies the film’s major flaw. However, prior to that moment, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a superior piece of horror film, actually superior to DRACULA in many ways (technically speaking). Browning delivers some very eerie moments that actually surpass many of the trappings used in DRACULA, therefore the film should not be judged so harshly when compared to other classic horror films. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a first rate Gothic thriller right up to the hoax and although he does not deliver any dialogue, Lugosi is instrumental in establishing the mood of the film.
1936; Universal (B&W); Producers: EM. Asher & Carl Laemmle, Jr.; Director: Lambert Hillyer; Screenwriter Garrett Fort, based on Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker.
Universal was very good at making sequels to its original horror films, and DRACULA’S DAUGHTER is actually a very competent sequel to DRACULA, even though the film lacks the key personality of such horror superstars as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. DRACULA’S DAUGHTER is
smoothly directed by Lambert Hillyer, the director of THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) from a good, solid script written by Garrett Fort. And even though the film was produced on a lower than normal budget for a Universal picture made during the first cycle of sound horror movies, DRACULA’S DAUGHTER appears to be as expensive a film as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN or THE MUMMY.
Cast in the title role is the beautiful actress Gloria Holden. As Countess Marya Zaleska, the ill-fated daughter of Count Dracula who seeks a cure to her unholy condition, Holden delivers a modest but restrained performance. In the film, she is tempted by the film’s real villain, her evil manservant Sandor (played by Irving Pichel), complete with a pale face and hair parted straight down the middle. Sandor influences the Countess to perform acts of vampirism because he fears that she will not fulfill her promise of making him immortal.
With DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, Universal has managed to produce a beautifully atmospheric, well mounted vampire tale that offers both continuity with the original film and interesting new characters to satisfy the viewer’s appetite for fresh material. Actor Edward Van Sloan, who in between DRACULA and this film starred in both Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE MUMMY (1932), reprises his role as Professor Van Helsing while co-star Otto Kruger is convincing as the film’s
skeptical hero and fearful-at-times vampire killer.
The film clearly represents and documents the end of an era of quality horror films produced by Universal Pictures during the early to mid 1930’s. Once the studio was purchased from the Laemmles, Universal would never make another Gothic horror film quite as technically good as DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (discounting SON OF FRANKENSTEIN made in 1939 under Universal’s new regime). The change became evident following SON OF
FRANKENSTEIN with the studio’s formula-style horror vehicles that followed, such as FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1943), HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), to name just a few.
THE RETURN OF DR. X
1939; Warner (B&W); Producer: Bryan Foy; Director Vincent Sherman; Screenwriter: Lee Katz.
Humphrey Bogart starred in only one horror picture during his entire career: THE RETURN OF DR. X. Apparently, Bogart was forced into the picture
as part of a multi-film contract with Warner. The actor hated the idea of sitting in a make-up chair for two hours prior to filming and an additional two hours after to apply and remove the make-up that made his character appear as one of the undead. The make-up for Bogart’s vampire was created by make-up artist Perc Westmore.
Bogart’s lack of enthusiasm shows in his bland performance as the vampiric undead, electrocuted to death for committing murder restored to life by Dr. Xavier (John Litel). Now Boggie, the living dead, runs around with a scalpel because he needs blood!
THE RETURN OF DR. X, directed by Vincent Sherman, was, in the opinion of many, an entire waste of Boggie’s talents, as well as a waste of actors Wayne Morris, Dennis Morgan and Rosemary Lane’s time, because the film did not really enhance any of their careers in the horror genre let alone their careers in general. The film was nothing more than a simpleminded
programmer. Furthermore, the misleading title suggests that the film is a sequel to the classic Warner horror film DR. X (1932) with Lionel Atwill. This is not true. In actuality, the same play that inspired the original DR. X inspired a much later film entitled THE INVISIBLE MENACE with Boris Karloff. THE RETURN OF DR. X, a more traditional, formula style horror film reminiscent of Boris Karloff’s THE WALKING DEAD (1936), was in no way a sequel or a remake, and certainly John Litel’s stodgy performance as Dr. Xavier cannot hold a candle to Lionel Atwill’s original characterization. In addition to resembling THE WALKING DEAD, THE RETURN OF DR. X offers many similarities to both MAN MADE MONSTER (1941) and THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (1956).