You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Valentine to 1931’s ‘Dracula’: Universal Touted Film as a Love Story

Two months before the movie “Dracula” opened in 1931, Universal took out a Variety ad promoting it as “The story of the strangest passion the world has ever known!” That spin reflected the fear of some executives that women couldn’t resist a love story but might be put off by blood-sucking vampires — even though the novel and stage adaptation had been big hits. The movie opened on Valentine’s Day (!) and in his Feb. 18, 1931, review, Variety critic Alfred Rushford Greason (which sounds like a name invented by Bram Stoker) predicted success. He added, “It is difficult to think of anybody who could match the performance of Bela Lugosi.” He was right. The actor’s intense stare and distinct accent (from Austria-Hungary) set the standard for vampires for nearly 100 years. The creatures remained popular in movies, including the Christopher Lee/Hammer horror pics and the Francis Coppola “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” starring Gary Oldman. But the genre got new blood, so to speak, with the novels of Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer and their film adaptations.

In his review, Greason said “Dracula” created “a remarkably effective background of creepy atmosphere.” That was due to director Tod Browning and cinematographer Karl Freund. The horror genre was still a gamble back then. Universal had success with Lon Chaney’s “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (which some considered a scary film). But it was an unproven genre. To back up their investment, the studio simultaneously filmed a Spanish-language version of “Dracula,” directed by George Melford. This film’s crew and actors moved onto the soundstage at night, filming on the same sets that had been used during the day by Browning’s team.

The studio’s gamble paid off big time, and “Dracula” became its biggest hit of the year.

Two months later, Variety wrote an April 8, 1931, story headlined “U has horror cycle all to self.” The story said, “With ‘Dracula’ making money at the box office for Universal, other studios are looking for horror tales — but very squeamishly. Producers are not certain whether nightmare pictures have a box office pull or whether ‘Dracula’ is just a freak.” The story, with no byline, said this was one of the few occasions when a hit movie wasn’t followed by a cycle of similar pictures.

However, Universal recognized a good thing, and it followed “Dracula” with “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy,” as well as other fright-fare for decades.

Browning, with a long list of silent film credits, directed only a few more talkies, including the still-amazing “Freaks,” in 1932. Cinematographer Freund continued to work in films, and came out of retirement for his old colleague Lucille Ball and her comedy series “I Love Lucy,” helping to innovate the lighting for a filmed sitcom in an era when many similar shows aired live.

More Artisans

  • CAA Owner TPG Buying Payroll Specialist

    CAA Owner TPG Buying Payroll Specialist Entertainment Partners

    TPG Capital, the massive private equity firm that owns Creative Artists Agency, is buying payroll specialist Entertainment Partners for an undisclosed price. Entertainment Partners’ management team, led by president and CEO Mark Goldstein, will continue in their roles. The agreement was announced Tuesday with plans to close the deal during the second quarter. Related Sidney [...]

  • Jeff Goldblum performs in a sketch

    Inside the High-Pressure World of Late-Night Talk-Show Prop Demands

    Television production is an area where “Hurry up and wait” is a common refrain. However, for the prop teams that work on late-night talk shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” that’s not an option. They typically have only a matter of hours to deliver what’s necessary. Lou A. [...]

  • Smithsonian Handmaids Tale Costume

    Why the Smithsonian Chose to Enshrine 'Handmaid's Tale' Servant Costume

    The iconic red-caped, white-bonneted outfits worn by Elisabeth Moss and the other childbearing servants in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” created by costume designer Ane Crabtree, have become that show’s signature visual.  Hulu immediately knew it had a good thing, hiring groups of women around the country to parade in the garments to promote the show. [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    New 3D-Printing Technology Was 'Missing Link' for Laika's Latest Stop-Motion Project

    For the upcoming animated comedy adventure “Missing Link,” stop-motion studio Laika set the bar very high. To execute the designs created by director and writer Chris Butler, artists would have to speed up their 3D printing of character faces — and those faces would have to be the most complex they’d ever created. “Missing Link” [...]

  • The Old Man and the Gun

    Ohio’s Midwest Locations and Flexible Tax Credit Lure Producers

    With its small towns, rolling farmlands and industrial cities, Ohio embodies the American Midwest. Other location lures for filmmakers include the shore along Lake Erie, the campus of Ohio State University, the striking skyline of Cincinnati and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Buckeye State also provides producers with a 30% [...]

  • Nancy Schreiber Mapplethorpe Cinematographer

    DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

    Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs. “It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content