I'm not exactly what you would call a fan of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, but I enjoyed both Twilight (2008) and New Moon (2009) and will no doubt see Eclipse (2010) if and when the urge to do so arises.
With the pending release of the first half of the saga's final chapter Breaking Dawn, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a trilogy of little-known gems from the vampire genre.
The first of these is one that has a direct link to the most famous vampire film of all-Dracula (1931). As I'm sure everyone knows, this film made Bela Lugosi a star with his take on the Count. It also became famous as the first Dracula film with sound. Lugosi, despite the typecasting that would later all but kill his career, was one actor who was able to make the transition from silent to sound pictures due to his distinguished voice.
Since sound movies were in their infancy in 1931, though, many films were filmed more than once in other languages (at least until dubbing became more practical). Laurel and Hardy made several of their films in Spanish and German, as did Buster Keaton. These name stars would usually be surrounded by newer casts who spoke the appropriate language in the non-English versions of their films. The stars would read their lines off blackboards.
Dracula, likewise, would have a version in Spanish to tap into the lucrative foreign market(although Universal executive Paul Kohner used this film as an excuse to keep Mexican actress Lupita Tovar in Hollywood; the two later married). This film used the same sets and script as the English version. The crew, directed by non-Spanish speaking George Melford, would work at night when the crew of the Lugosi film left.
This tactic gave them an advantage because they were able to look at footage from that film and determine how they could improve on certain shots. As a result, much of the camera work in this film is better than in the Lugosi film.
One of this film's greatest moments is when Renfield(played by Pablo Alvarez Rubio) first encounters Dracula (Carlos Villarias) in the Count's castle. In the Lugosi film, we clearly see the Count approaching before Dwight Frye's Renfield does (which, I suppose, is meant to be the classic "Behind You!" motif). In this film, though, we don't see Dracula until Renfield does; hence, we are as startled by the Count's appearance as he is.
There is, however, one moment which is superior in the Lugosi picture-when Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) reveals that he knows Dracula's secret by having him look into a mirror. In this film, Dracula slowly turns his head at the mirror Van Helsing is holding and then stares at it for at least three seconds before finally taking his cane to it. In the Lugosi film, though, Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing shows him the mirror and Dracula instantly smacks it to the ground with a murderous look on his face. That look still gives me the chills and is appropriate for someone who dislikes mirrors.
Another plus to this film is that the ladies are more appealing than those in the Lugosi film. Tovar's Eva is a more sensual female lead than Helen Chandler's Mina.
This version is also, shall we say, more explicit. For instance, we actually see the vampire marks on the ladies' necks here (that must have been tough getting past the censors at that time).
I do agree with the consensus, though, that the only thing keeping this film from becoming as embraced as its English-language counterpart is the lack of Lugosi as the Count. Villarias just doesn't hold a candle to Lugosi and, at times, is more laughable than scary; particularly when he's gritting his teeth.
This film is one of the few alternate language versions of a Hollywood film from the 1930s that is available today. It resurfaced on home video in 1992, which was, coincidentally, the same year that the great-looking but dramatically lacking Bram Stoker's Dracula was released.
Both the 1930s Draculas are now together on DVD. I'd say film historian (and Universal Horror expert) David J. Skal said it best(in the DVD's documentary The Road to Dracula) when he compared the Lugosi film to a familar house and the Spanish film to new rooms that were suddenly discovered in it.