Following is a special guest post by a long-time pal of mine, Chris Moniz.
As the Halloween Season is upon us, I thought it appropriate to honor a great man…however undead he is. Ladies and gentlemen, Conde Dracula! That’s right, you read it correctly, Conde Dracula…not Count Dracula. You mean to say that you have not yet heard of Conde Dracula? Well may I assure you that my discovery of him has left a lasting impression on my “Monster Kid” psyche. I’ll explain.
In the middle-1970s I was throat-deep in television monster movie viewership. My weekly monster movie diet consisted of…among all of the horror/science fiction films on television…the Universal Pictures legion of horror monsters. The Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man (my favorite!), The Mummy, and all the rest were my friends, trusted and scary. I also collected fan magazines and books about my horror monster fiends. Well in one such book, Bela Lugosi as Dracula was featured heavily, with many rare stills from the production and publicity photos of the film. Adjacent to some of these Lugosi shots was a slightly different looking Dracula, albeit on the same exact film sets as the Lugosi Dracula. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Universal simultaneously filmed a special Spanish-language version of Dracula utilizing the same sets and costumes in the evenings, after the English version wrapped filming for the day. How intrigued my young mind was at the time.
Well fast forward to the early 1990s, and the newly-released Universal Studios Monster Classics Collection on VHS hits the stores. The obvious titles were released featuring all the usual monster movies, but then suddenly my eyes spy an odd looking video box amongst these expected Universal titles. It read, “The Special Spanish Version of Dracula”…holy joy of joys!! So, $14.95 (suggested retail price) later, I was home sitting in front of my T.V. ready to load the VCR with my prized possession. Then, one hour and forty-four minutes later, I experienced a rare treat for any fan of vintage monster movies. This Spanish Dracula, using the sets, costumes, and the basic gist of the Lugosi script, cast an interestingly unique light on the story of Dracula…at least in comparison to the Bela Lugosi version.
Tod Browning directed Lugosi and company with the usual dark humor and macabre atmosphere expected of Browning’s work. George Melford, along with a full cast of finely seasoned Spanish actors, succeeded in extending this film by twenty-nine minutes. As a devout fan of the pacing of Universal horror films, I was struck by the slower cadence of the Spanish dialogue, with its theatrically expressive, in particular the facial and bodily gesturing added for emphasis. Additionally, Melford took personal initiative toward the direction by adding little incidental touches of atmosphere that added eerily to several scenes throughout the picture…all of which gave a visual flow to the Spanish version, compared to the very “stagey” camera work in the Browning Dracula.
In 1931, Bela Lugosi’s mystique as “The Count” had yet to be known. That mystique would evolve, growing and ultimately engulfing Bela throughout his long career. As Conde Dracula, Carlos Villarias is superb. So, Villarias was equally capable of achieving success from his portrayal of “El Conde” as Lugosi did…who can tell? What is important, though, is the unique importance this Spanish Dracula holds in the overall realm of cinema…if only in its shining comparison to a simultaneously filmed English Dracula that is still considered a singularly landmark motion picture of the horror genre.
A huge thank you to Chris for sending me this entry for the Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon. I’ve been looking forward to contributions from Chris for some time. His love of classic horror is unequaled and his enthusiasm is contagious. I hope this is the first of many.
Be sure to visit this blog on or after October 12 to access many more entries dedicated to Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage.