61 Days of Halloween: Dracula (1931 – Spanish Version)

One odd fact about the Pre-Code Era (and I believe this may have continued into the dawn of the Golden Age), that I was only vaguely aware of until I was reminded of it in the brilliant overview of Poverty Row I read; was that studios large and small would film foreign-language versions of their own titles for foreign markets. A majority of these films were in Spanish and German.

Subsequently when I went to try and find films for my Poverty Row April theme, I wanted to find some of these films but they were not readily available on the internet. So fascinated by this concept was I that I was ready to write a post about it and how some studio, if they have them in good shape, should dig these titles for a box set presentation.

I still may do that, but by chance I discovered that the Dracula Legacy Collections, which like all these sets is out-of-print but frequently available for resale, contained the Spanish version of Dracula. So I had to get it, and get it I did.

Standard operating procedure for these films was that they would use the same sets that the English-language film was using but shoot overnight while that crew was on break.

If you happen to view this film I strongly suggest that you watch the intro interview with Lupita Tovat Kuchar (confirm) where she goes into the detail. Now, when dealing with a film like Dracula the inherent fear of the foreign-language version is that it’s going to serve merely as a diversion, and be a curiosity but not have any merit of its own. This is not dissimilar to the fear about many modern day remakes; if this version isn’t offering something slightly different why have it at all.

Following that train of thought this Dracula is to the English one what Let Me In is to Let the Right One In; it gives its own spin to the tale. To be quite frank there are things about the Spanish version that I absolutely adore and think work better than the standard-bearing classic. Blasphemy I know, and many of them are film-nerdy kind of things, but I think the overall influence will be felt.

There are some shots, and edits executed differently than in Browning’s. The overall edit is quite different because I couldn’t peg an entire scene as being new but they evolved slower. Whereas, the English version has a lot breaks within lines, this film seemed to have more breaks between them, thus, more silence and added a bit to the foreboding. The lack of scoring is somewhat similar but there are some spots where a score comes in that are different, that and the music itself is a different composition.

When it comes to performance, I cannot say that someone tops Lugosi as Dracula. However, (name) does do very well. (name) as Renfield is a standout. There’s a certain raw, honesty to his persona that make his over-the-top version of the madness ring truer. Perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that there’s a less presentational, theatrical cast surrounding him so his madness, loudness rings truer. It’s funny that the Spanish-language telenovela many years would become shorthand for hammy acting, yet this cast (with some Dracula facial expressions notwithstanding) is a bit more natural.

The more deliberate pacing which allows this film to clock in at 104 minutes as opposed to 75 minutes, allows for a properly timed, more well-executed finale in my estimation. Essentially, this film under the steady hand of (name) working with his cast through an interpreted, corrected most of the things I thought needed a tweak in the other Dracula. Now, granted there are trade-offs to each, but this version is very good indeed and worthy of viewership.

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61 Days of Halloween: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

One thing that’s a bit strange about Dracula as a property at Universal, at least through a modern person’s eyes, is that after the first film Dracula was done. Frankenstein was indestructible; The Wolf Man perpetually had his struggle between his two natures; the Creature is a victim always and The Mummy, is, of course, a mummy. So this is the one where it instantly deviated from its central figure once the first film was over. It had to because of its own pre-established rules about the nature of the vampire. However, many modern franchises have rewritten and retconned such things down the line.

With the fact that the original Count Dracula was out of the equation that would mean a new way to tell a vampire tale would have to be found, and naturally new descendants, similarly cursed would need to be found. Choosing a daughter first is an interesting choice for the time, however, the resourcefulness of the film doesn’t stop there.

The film introduces her as a woman, Countess Marya Zaleska, who seeks psychiatric consultation to free herself from an evil influence that she dances around explaining. So in this film there is a conscience and torn nature introduced to the equation. However, this is not the only duality introduced in this film. As I picked up on and this Sight on Sound piece elucidates:

You see while in Dracula the count preyed mostly on attractive members of the opposite sex, Countess Zaleska’s victims tend to be of the same sex. Dracula’s Daughter is in fact the first vampire film that shows any hint of fanged homosexual preference. This notion is perfectly illustrated in the pivotal scene where the Countess asks her manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel) to fetch her a model to paint. In comes Lilli (Nan Grey), a slender beauty with jazz age hair. While the Countess tries to contain her urge to feed she begins to paint the comely model, who has propped herself against a wall. As Lilli tries various poses to find the right one that appeals to her painter’s liking she makes the mistake of lowering her conservative dress, nearly exposing her breasts in a scene that must have set the censors in a tizzy at the time. The Countess, seeing such delicate bare flesh, cannot contain herself any longer and approaches the young lady with a look of lust in her eye. After she hypnotizes Lilli with that giant ring of hers she begins to bite. While the scene’s subtext flew by audience’s heads at the time of release, the obvious underpinnings of Countess Zaleska’s lesbianism is blatantly obvious to modern viewers. Thus the Countess’ vain attempt to fight her urge for blood can be seen as a metaphor for what the Countess is truly trying to fight, her urge to be with other women, which, if you think is controversial now, just imagine what it must have been like seventy seven years ago.

Around the time the film was released Dr. Theodore Malkin (a professor) wrote and published an essay that equated the vampire from literature and cinema to the “predatory nature of homosexuals” (Poupard). While misguided in nature, the link between vampires and homosexuality has grown even more prominent. Hammer Studios even formed a niche in evocative and expertly made films that featured lesbian vampires (particularly The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire). The lesbian theme was the most overt until The Lost Boys and, more importantly, Neil Jordon’s Interview with the Vampire (based on Anne Rice’s erotic Vampire Chronicles series) came along that male homosexuality became more pronounced within the vampire mythos.

Now, at times, just the mere mention of subtext is enough to send some running for the hills. Don’t you worry about it none, this is most definitely not one of those films that you’d feel lost in without some kind of guide book. It actually starts just after the first one ends and introduces its character perfectly. The only thing it plays close-to-the-vest with the panache of figurative literalness (A phrase coined by the Hayes Committee for the implication, as opposed to statement of illicit details) is the aforementioned undertone.

As I recently mentioned, surprises are welcome in sequels and this one has a few of them which makes it worth checking out all by itself but they’re well-handled, too.