Happy Valentine’s Day! This Day in Horror History February 14th, we celebrate a classic film that was billed as a love story for the ages!
Dracula released February 14, 1931
There may be no more iconic image in our genre than that of handsome, charming Bela Lugosi as the immortal Count Dracula in his impeccable evening wear and silk cape in the sprawling ruin of his ancestral home delivering some of those memorable lines in film.
“I never drink…wine.”
“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”
They’re burned into our memory, and evoke his presence whenever they are uttered, but it might be surprising for you to learn that bringing the legend to the screen was not an easy task.
There were budget concerns–the country was in the midst of the Great Depression after all–and worries about whether film audiences were ready for a full blown, feature length supernatural horror film. Still, they carried on, putting the full power of the studio behind the project and its director Tod Browning.
Unfortunately, with the studio’s power came the studio’s meddling when it came to paying its stars and the film was altered many times before its release.
Lugosi, who had played the role of Count Dracula on Broadway for 261 performances in 1927, was not the first choice to play the role on film. Universal initially wanted Lon Chaney, but he died two years before the project came to fruition.
Hungarian-born Lugosi lobbied heavily and perhaps desperately to play the role and was eventually cast, but the studio did its level best to screw him in the bargain. They paid him only $500 a week for the seven-week shoot, an abysmally small sum for a leading actor even during the Depression.
When execs and censors read the script, they sent many memos to Browning about what he could and could not show on screen hiding behind the rules of the Hays Code. They didn’t want the scene where Renfield is attacked by Dracula actually in the film, for instance, because they were afraid that audiences might perceive a gay subtext to the scene, and so they told Browning that Dracula was only to attack women in the film.
Further, when the feature was finished and a final print was sent to the studio heads, Carl Laemmle, Sr. informed Browning that the film was far too creepy and should be re-cut. Unfortunately, doing so created a multitude of continuity errors.
When it came time for the film’s release, once again the studio execs stepped in promoting the film as a supernatural thriller, but also as a love story, playing up the angle of the Count’s desire for Mina Harker and adding the tagline, “The story of the strangest passion the world has ever know!”
The film released on February 12, 1931 in New York City, and nationwide release came two days later on Valentine’s Day to promote that love story angle. It is estimated that it sold 50,000 tickets in the first 48 hours of its release which ultimately led to a $700,000 profit for the film.
It has been 87 years since the film’s release, and it continues to enthrall audiences. Some call it a love story, others a horror classic, but I believe it has stood the test of time because it is inherently both.