Classic Scene: Dracula’s Castle
Directed by Tod Browning
The Scene: After a journey through the Eastern Europe countryside encountering particularly superstitious locals, Renfield (Dwight Fry) has finally arrived at the castle of his mysterious client Count Dracula. He does not know what he expected to find, but the castle is an ominous foreboding place. A crumbling structure which wears it’s age proudly, covered in spider webs with armadillos wandering around, Renfield thinks he is alone until an accented voice welcomes him. Standing before him on the stairs is a pale charismatic man shrouded in a cape, Dracula (Bela Lugosi). He offers Renfield a friendly greeting but there is still a sinister undertone which is undeniable. Dracula leads his guest up the stairs and pauses upon hearing the cries of a pack of wolves outside and comments on it with the classic line “Listen to them. Children of the night…what music they make”.
The Deconstruction: Being the first American film to feature a supernatural terror, Dracula was largely responsible for blazing a trail for what a horror movie should look like. Director Tod Browning had made a name for himself in the Silent Era making strange and frightening films so he was the perfect choice to guide Dracula through uncharted waters. Drawing inspiration from the German Expressionist filmmakers, Dracula’s castle is shrouded in darkness with a vintage gothic flare. Cinematographer Karl Freund had worked with many of those same Expressionist filmmakers and knew exactly how to film this set for the desired effect. Actors Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye are consistently singled out for their incredible performances in Dracula, so building this scene around them is a stroke of genius. Audiences are introduced for the first time to Bela Lugosi who delivers the definitive take on the infamous vampire. Dwight Frye was already a veteran of the American stage and had a very fluid style which allowed him to deliver any kind of nuance necessary to have the ideal reaction to meeting such a character as Dracula.
Best Bit: As Dracula makes his way up the stairs there is a large spider web blocking off his path. In a clever trick of filmmaking, once the Count reaches it, the camera flips to Renfield and actor Dwight Frye delivers a shocked facial expression letting audiences know he just witnessed something out of the ordinary. When the camera returns to Dracula, he is now comfortably on the other side of the web. We as the audience know something just happened but we are not sure what, and frankly that eerie sense of mystery is an element many horror films have sadly forgotten.