“Listen to them. The children of the night. What music do they make. “
It’s a line embedded in pop culture and horror history. In large part due to the overall lasting impact of Death Browning other Bela Lugosiiconic adaptation of Dracula, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary. While most of us know this particular version like the back of our hand, did you know that there is another version that is also celebrating its 90th birthday this month?
In the 1920s, American movie studios began to see the profitability of selling their films to international markets. While silent films could be translated into foreign markets with relative ease, the heyday of the talkies era in the late 1920s turned out to be much more difficult. This was long before the days of overdubbing and the major audio tweaks we have in film today. As a solution, the studios came up with what seemed like an ingenious solution at the time: filming a completely separate version made specifically for sale on international markets. The most famous of these movies, you ask? Dracula, directed by George melford for Spanish speaking markets.
Universal, in a cost-saving initiative, used the same sets that Browning used in his own film. Tod Browning directed his scenes during the day and at night Melford and company appeared and filmed his version. Basically, Universal was making the exact same movie twice for multiple markets, which in hindsight seems like a nightmare. But without the common availability and invention of dubbing, there was no other way around it.
For Melford’s Dracula the role of the infamous vampire was given to Carlos Villarias. A native Spanish actor, Villarias brings a different energy to the role. While the portrayal of Lugosi brings a sense of nuance to the blood-drinking villain, the Count of Villarias is at times a bit more unhinged. A choice that works in its own right for this unexpected adaptation. The role of Mina was reworked in Eva for the Spanish version and portrayed by the wonderful Lupita tovar, who is the royalty of Mexican cinema. I was not only in this version of Draculabut she was in the movie too Santa Claus, which was the first completely sound Mexican film production.
Melford was allowed to participate in the production of Browning and spent time studying them during the day. Eager to make your movie stand out, the Spanish version contains more elaborate cinematography and effects. There are fewer follow-up shots, but overall the film is framed as a play (ironic, as its source material is the 1924 Broadway play rather than the novel). It’s almost like witnessing the movie for the first time if you’re a fan of Browning’s most popular and accessible adaptation.
Dracula it premiered on March 11, 1931 in Havana, Cuba, followed by a premiere in New York City on April 24 of that same year. The reception at the time was pointless and the movie was quickly forgotten in time. Or so we think. Like the infamous Conde, the Spanish version of Dracula it resurfaced in 1977, where it was partially screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This inspired Universal to finally release the complete film to domestic media in the early 1990s, where it found a new appreciation for its differences from its English counterpart. It has since been included as a special feature of the Lugosi film and is widely accessible today.
It’s time for me to get a little personal for a moment. In the late 1990s, the Spanish version of Dracula it was a way of bonding with my late grandfather. A native of Mexico, his first language was Spanish and he struggled to understand and follow the English-speaking media in his old age. Since I myself am not fluent in Spanish, I would try to find subtitled films for us to see. One of these being Dracula. We watched it together and he would love it; The experience was central to my burgeoning love for the horror genre as a whole as a child. It’s gone now but Dracula He will always remind me of the time and experience I spent with him, loving horror movies together.
Although the Spanish version of Dracula It hasn’t reached the pop culture heights of the Browning / Lugosi adaptation, it stands in its own right as a unique adaptation of the same source material. It also represents a paradigm shift facing Hollywood and cinema as a whole at the time. It exists in this strange place where we were moving from the past to what would be the future of the format. With this widely accessible version as a special feature of the English version, now is a good time like any other to celebrate this lesser-known Universal Monsters classic from the heyday of monster movies.