Unnecessary Movie Review: Spanish Dracula (1931)

In which I watch a DVD I’ve owned for years, long after doing so could have any meaning. And rest assured that I wrote this review two weeks after the Dracula review, when both movies were fresh in my mind — but then spent six weeks not finishing the screen grabs. Mainly I’m lazy (sorry!) but also (shameless plug) I was busy writing a book about vampires.

Where’s this fit in the Dracula franchise?

Did you guys know that in olden times, Hollywood sometimes shot movies twice — once in English, once in something else for international distribution? The English-language crew would shoot all day, then the other-language crew would take over the sets and film all night using a translation of the script. That’s what’s going on here: It’s the same movie as Classic Dracula, minus English, plus Spanish, and triple-minus Bela Lugosi.

All I’d heard about Spanish Dracula is that it’s sexier than Classic Dracula (and therefore better), but I didn’t know what “sexier” would mean in 1931. Less Herbert Hoover?  I figured mainly lingerie improvements. There’s a lot of unsexy lingerie in Classic Dracula.

In fact, this movie is sexier right in the first 30 seconds, simply because its people are more human. The stagecoach ascending the mountain is rocking like crazy — and in Classic Drac, Renfield discusses how it is too rocky, then asks the driver to slow down, and it feels so awkward and roundabout and talky and stiff. In Spanish Drac? A passenger is thrown out of her seat against him and he reacts. Boom! All the info Classic Drac spent a minute talking about is conveyed in one natural-looking, two-second incident. AWESOME, I thought, we are off to the races!

Spanish Drac does a lot of exciting stuff like this. Tightening dialog, adding transitions — it is 20 minutes longer but it feels one full day shorter. Scenes just make more sense, so they’re less exhausting to watch. For instance, there’s a point where the good guys notice Dracula has no reflection. In English, they marvel at the mirror forever like dopes. In Spanish, they are startled, then get a hold of themselves like men of fucking science.

Later: in Classic Drac, Insane Renfield strolls into the drawing room at the perfect instant to deliver atmospheric blather about rats and blood. Haha, what? The lunatics roam your house? What? Compare to Spanish Drac, which shows Renfield talking to Dracula through the bars of his cell, shows the orderlies discovering the bars are bent and the cell is empty, then shows Renfield listening outside the drawing room and only entering when the conversation piques his insanity. The additions take not even three minutes and now his entrance is coherent.

So Spanish Dracula is very satisfying on one level. HOWEVER, on another level? It never feels quite so deeply like it’s a movie about a blood-drinking, nocturnal affront to all that is holy. You know? And we can blame Carlos Villarias — which we will, in a minute! — but first, let’s slather blame on almost every other aspect of this movie.

Like the Renfield Situation. Remember our theory that U.S. Renfield was gay, and how that committed the Classic movie to a startling, no-holds-barred kind of vampiricism? “Here comes English-speaking Renfield — and there goes Classic Drac, right on that dude’s neck nooo problem.” So what’s the Carlos-on-Renfield quotient? “With this movie being so much sexier, probably we are about to witness mano-on-mano tongue,” you almost certainly thought, as Spanish Renfield sat down to dinner and got roofied.

Well, if mantongue is what you wanted, then pack your bags, because you’re moving to Disappointment Town. Team Spain got to the gay necking page of the script, scratched their heads, and crossed it out.

Instead, Spanish Drac gets Renfield right where he wants him — then waves over three lady vampires. They handle the biting.

Technically this is more in line with the book’s action, but it also means Spanish Drac is taking a step back from Classic Drac’s brink. Our Spanish villainy occurs inside kosher boundaries. And actually, so do our Spanish heroics…

Which brings us, finally, to Spanish Dracula himself. How’s he do? Is he an otherworldly psychopath? Is he equal parts suave and sinister? Or maybe he smolders with the Latin and/or Iberian allure we might, if we are slightly racist, expect!

None of the above. He is more of a dork than you would imagine. It’s almost confusing. His stare isn’t alien, his hands don’t turn vulturish. I kind of think Villarais plays it… arch? Ironic? There are points where he leers in a way that seems calculated to get laughs. If true, that is not necessarily a bad choice for the part. “Lemme get this straight: I’m playing a 500-year-old mastermind who sleeps in dirt, in a clean tux, can turn into a bat, and is moving to London to shag? And the whole audience is in on it before I even walk on screen? Okay, I know how to do this…” You made an artistic decision, Carlos Villarias!

That’s how Villarias rolls in the first half of the movie, anyway. In the second half, he’s sort of looking serious while trying to kill the good guys. He is not light, then, or anything really, except denouementy.

So there you go. I don’t see a point in not comparing these movies, and that means you’re gonna judge one is better. So which is it? Well, that depends! Do you want a well-made monster movie with a very good damsel in distress? Or do you want a horror movie?

Closing Argument

Gavel Bang! Rank It!

Obviously, watching this, I found myself rethinking Classic Drac. I don’t know how you could watch SD on its own, unless you never watch CD at all. And while Spanish Drac is more enjoyable — except for Bela Lugosi, who wins by 30,000 miles — it made me re-see Classic Drac’s disjointedness as a kind of energy; let’s say Spanish Drac is better in the sense that a JJ Abrams movie would be better if compared to the same movie by, I dunno, Lars Von Trier. I hereby bump Classic Dracula up to #140; it seems more worth rewatching now. Spanish Dracula, you are good, but your engine is fueled by fun, not by compulsion and alienation, so I’m seating you at #301, between The English Patient and Y Tu Mama Tambien. I liked both those movies a lot while watching them, but have gradually forgotten them almost entirely. I award you Ten Languages, which you’ll be an enjoyable footnote in all of.

About hotspur

hotspur is the videogum name of Luke Rooney, who usually makes the Kessel Run in 17 or 18 parsecs because, like, what is the rush? We will get to Kessel when we get to Kessel, just sit down and enjoy the run for chrissakes.
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13 Responses to Unnecessary Movie Review: Spanish Dracula (1931)

  1. flanny says:

    I have never actually found myself attracted to a Dracula, but Spanish Dracula is literally the least attractive Dracula I have ever seen.

  2. Lingerie Improvements will be the name of my new band.

  3. gnidrah says:

    Hammer Horror version with Christopher Lee FTW!

    • hotspur says:

      To my horror, I have never seen that one. I am ashamed to admit this.

      • gnidrah says:

        Oooh, do! I first saw it one Halloween in an old chapel, entirely lit by candlelight, and it scared me to bits.

        • hotspur says:

          Perfect! That’s how I saw Phantom of the Opera (original), although the audience was not suitably reverent. (Mostly drunk.) I will add Hammer Drac to the list.

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