Movies

Why Every Fan of Universal’s Classic ‘Dracula’ Needs To See The Spanish Language Version

Carlos Villarías as Dracula

In 1931, Universal Pictures released Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. The film and Lugosi’s portrayal of Bram Stoker’s vampire Count would solidify the look, mannerisms, and iconography of both the character Dracula and vampires for years to come. But that same year, Universal Pictures released into Latin markets, Drácula, a Spanish language version of the film that until yesterday I had never seen.

Yesterday, May 26, was #WorldDraculaDay. Celebrated because on that date 122 years ago, Bram Stoker’s classic novel “Dracula” was first published. To celebrate I spent the afternoon watching the classic Universal film starring Bela Lugosi, along with all of the bonus features on the Dracula: Legacy Collection Blu-ray. Those bonus features included Drácula.

Rather than overdubbing the English version of Dracula in Spanish, Universal filmed Drácula simultaneously with the Lugosi version. Using the same sets, the English crew would film during the day and the Spanish crew would film at night. With its own Writer, Director, and cast, the crew behind Drácula created their own unique vision of the Universal vampire film. In an introduction to the film, actress Lupita Tovar, who played Eva in Drácula, shared that the crew behind the Spanish version of the vampire tale set out to have their film “be the best” of the two releases. After yesterday’s viewing of the film. I think they achieved just that.

Before you stake me in the heart for horror film blasphemy I want to stress that I still think the English version of the film is great. It is THE vision of Dracula I have had for most of my life, however, after watching the English and Spanish versions of the films back-to-back I saw a lot of areas where the English version was lacking compared to the Spanish version.

Dialogue

One thing the English version of Dracula is known for is the amount of on-screen time lacking dialogue. While many feel this adds to the mysteriousness of the film and adds to the character of Dracula, I wonder if that was the true intent, or if it was really the result of a film created by a director known for his silent films. Tod Browning was a huge silent film director, and it makes me wonder if this is why there are so many scenes in Dracula that are acted out or hang for extended periods of time and have no dialogue.

Lupita Tovar as Eva in the Spanish version of Dracula
Lupita Tovar as Eva and Barry Norton as Juan in Drácula

The Spanish version of the film has significantly more dialogue and I think it improves the film by giving us more depth to the story and the characters. There are things that are simply implied in the English version that is further explained in dialogue in the Spanish version, which I feel improves the overall film. Additionally, I think the added dialogue and decrease in silence greatly improves the pacing of the film, despite the Spanish version having a runtime that is 30 minutes longer.

There’s no doubt that in some instances the use of silence enhances Lugosi’s performance, relying on facial expression and cinematography to set the mood of the scene, but I think there is a balance that could have been struck after watching the Spanish version of the film.

Cinematography, Editing & Effects

While Karl Freund brought some unique tracking shots to the English release of Dracula that hadn’t previously been seen in American cinema, I feel that many of the shots in the Spanish version are better framed and bring you into the scene further than in the English version. This makes the viewing experience a bit more intimate and in many instances just looks better.

In terms of editing, one thing I liked more in the Spanish version was how scenes were intercut with one another giving a better sense of time and things happening simultaneously as the film unfolds. The English version of the film feels very linear with one scene happening after another making them feel like each scene takes place after the other in time. Again, I wonder if this is a result of the English film’s director coming from a silent film background.

Another area I felt the Spanish version excelled was in the use of special effects. The effect used when Dracula awakens from his coffin is far superior in the Spanish version compared to the English version. Using smoke and the gradual appearance of Dracula feels more supernatural, fitting of the character.

Conde Drácula rising from his coffin

Even in smaller things like the appearance of the spider when Renfield is welcomed into Dracula’s home looks more realistic in the Spanish version than in the English.

Acting

While there’s no denying the brilliance of Lugosi’s performance in the English version of Dracula, I felt overall the Spanish version had stronger overall performances from the entire cast of actors. I’ve always felt that Dracula suffered from the over-acting that was common in the early days of cinema, but the Spanish version doesn’t seem to suffer from this at all. The acting is, for the most part, more natural looking and more realistically performed throughout the film.

In terms of individual performances, I do think Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula is superior to Carlos Villarías’ Dracula, however, there were stylistic choices that Villarías made in his performances that I definitely liked more. For instance, his greetings with other characters were less cold, he kisses the hands of the female characters when greeting them or shakes the hands of the men. I felt it added to the charm of the character and made it more believable that people would be willing to initially invite Dracula into their social circle. Lugosi’s greetings always felt creepy and cold, which I feel would be more offputting for people at first meeting.

Another small part that I thought felt more real was Villarías initial reaction to a crucifix when Renfield cuts himself at castle Dracula. While Lugosi shielding himself with his cape has become synonymous with the vampire character, Villarías reacts in a way that I felt was more realistic to the situation. In the scene, Dracula is attracted to blood dripping from a cut on Renfield’s finger and is turned away when a crucifix falls out of Renfields coat. Rather than showing a fear to the crucifix, Villarías plays the part as if he was repulsed by it. Like finding a fly in a fine wine you were about to partake in, I think the reaction is perfect, even if Lugosi hiding behind a cape has become more iconic.

Conde Drácula shows disgust after seeing the crucifix
Conde Drácula showing disgust for a crucifix

Overall, I think the Spanish version of the film is far superior to the English version, but that doesn’t mean the English version is any less special or any less iconic. The film and Lugosi’s performance have shaped the modern vampire in cinema and television for over 80 years. If you’re a fan of Dracula its fascinating to see that an equally, if not superior version of the film has existed for nearly as long as the one we’ve all grown to love, but we were blind to it simply because it was intended for Latin audiences. If you have the chance to watch it, I highly recommend giving it a viewing. And if you have an afternoon to kill, watch it back-to-back with the English version and you’ll see some of the differences between the two films and where one may be stronger than the other.

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