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Sink Your Teeth Into A Pair Of Draculas

The 1931 ‘Dracula’ and its Spanish alter ego both screen at the Digital Gym Cinema

Bela Lugosi delivered an iconic performance as the blood sucking count in the...

Credit: Universal Pictures

Above: Bela Lugosi delivered an iconic performance as the blood sucking count in the 1931 film "Dracula." That same year, Carlos Villarias was the "Spanish Dracula" in a film that Universal Pictures shot on the same set as their English language film version of the Bram Stoker story.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the 1931 'Dracula' and the Spanish version that was shot simultaneously.

Transcript

You are not seeing double but this month the Film Geeks at the Digital Gym Cinema present two "Draculas," both made in 1931 by Universal Pictures.

All right, before we get to the twin vamps, let me explain my connection to the Film Geeks at the Digital Gym Cinema. I volunteer my time as a film programmer (and baker) for the Film Geeks because I am passionate about bringing more genre films to San Diego audiences.

To me, there's no point to being a film critic if you are not also a film activist advocating for films that you think people need to see.

That's one of the things I respected about Roger Ebert. He not only wrote passionately about movies but he also held a film festival where he used his clout to bring attention to films that he felt were being overlooked.

So I work with the Film Geeks (my primary partner in crime is Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival) because I want to share films I love, or that I think deserve attention and the Digital Gym's micro cinema is a perfect venue to show films with a small targeted audience.

The Film Geeks are in the midst of a year long series highlighting the horror films of Universal Studios. The series, called the Universal Suspects, will showcase 40 monsters in 31 movies over the course of the year. This month, the monster is Dracula.

Everyone’s probably familiar with Bela Lugosi's famous opening lines in the 1931 "Dracula."

He appears at the top of the stairs, surrounded by cobwebs, and dapperly dressed. He greets his guest by saying, "I am Dracula ... I bid you good evening." Then in response to the howling wolves he adds, "Listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make."

In 1931, Bela Lugosi brought Bram Stoker’s blood sucking seducer to iconic life. The image of Dracula he created still impacts pop culture today and even cereal boxes for Count Chocula rip off Lugosi's look while Sesame Street's The Count mimic's Lugosi's Hungarian accent.

So you'd have to live under some cultural rock to not be aware of Lugosi'd Dracula in one form or another.

But what you might not be aware of is that Universal Pictures simultaneously shot a Spanish language version of "Dracula" on the same sets but with a Latin cast.

Carlos Villarias played the Spanish count and the same script was virtually identical. What was different, though, was the tone and visual style. This is especially true in a scene where Dracula's brides come for poor Renfield.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Universal Pictures

"Dracula's Daughter," a sequel to the 1931 "Dracula," will also be screening this Sunday at the Digital Gym Cinemas as part of the Universal Suspects Dracula triple feature.

The English version was directed by Tod Browning (who would go on to direct "Freaks" the following year) and the Spanish version was made by George Melford, who did not speak a single word of Spanish and had to work through a translator.

Browning shot during the day and Melford would shoot on the same sets each night.

Some consider the Spanish version, with its more overt sensuality, the better film. You can judge for yourself when both versions screen at the Digital Gym Cinema. Lugosi’s "Dracula," along with the sequels "Dracula’s Daughter" and "Son of Dracula," screen this Sunday at noon while "Spanish Dracula" screens as part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival on March 22.

This is a rare and tasty opportunity to see the complete Universal "Dracula" collection on the big screen and to see how the character was portrayed in the two movies.

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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