The film begins in eastern Europe, where Renfield (Dwight Frye) has been summoned to the massive, decrepit castle of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) to arrange passage to England, for Dracula and his wives. Renfield falls under Dracula's powerful stare, and at the end of the sea voyage the crew of the vessel are all dead -- and Renfield is completely insane.
In England, Refield is under the care of Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), who runs a sanitarium. His daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) is engaged to John Harker (David Manners) -- but she's also attracted the attention of Dracula, who had drained the blood and killed several people in London. Dracula seems intent on seducing Mina and turning her into the undead, just like him.
But there's hope in Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), a doctor who embraces rather than dismisses the superstitious tales of the vampires. He suspects and soon knows what Dracula is -- and he has the means to defeat the vampire and save Mina. That is, if Dracula doesn't destroy them all first...
Dracula is a beautiful work of horror. Even with the limited special effects of the time, the audience will believe vampires can transform into bats or wolves, or drain someone's blood with their dark embrace. The acting is excellent (especially Lugosi and the seductive,foreign count, Frye as the lunatic, and Van Sloan as the blend of the scientific and superstitious) and the atmosphere of danger, dread, and repressed sexuality creates a truly memorable film.
There have been nigh-innumerable adaptions of the Dracula story and its legacy, but the original Dracula remains the best.
Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch