By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Classic vampire movie is more creepy than violent.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The main message is "beware of vampires." But while some would succumb to Dracula's charms, others, like Van Helsing, continually look for ways to solve the problem of exposing and defeating the monster.
Positive Role Models
The chilly Van Helsing is probably the movie's best role model, an analytical fellow who does not appear to get rattled in the face of horror. He takes responsibility, looking for ways to outsmart and defeat the vampire and restore things to normal.
Violence & Scariness
Blood is shown in one scene, when Renfield cuts his finger in Dracula's castle. Blood is mentioned and discussed many other times, and there are small puncture wounds in the necks of Dracula's victims. There is persistent talk of death, and some threats. Much of the violence is only suggested, but some of it is still chilling, such as spiders and bats; the shadow of a dead sea captain, tied to the helm; a mad, giggling Renfield slowly approaching the camera. Dracula is destroyed (offscreen) with a stake to the chest.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Dracula is shown to have three wives, though they are not seen again after he arrives in London. There's some very subtle, almost imperceptable innuendo as Dracula seduces Mina away from John Harker.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Renfield enjoys a glass of wine in Dracula's castle. (Dracula does not partake, since he never drinks...wine.)
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this classic black and white Dracula contains some mild, but frank talk about death and blood, and some blood is shown. There are some subtle, but still creepy images, though most of the horror is suggested or offscreen. Sexuality has always been part of the Dracula legend, and some almost imperceptible innuendo is present in this movie. Some young viewers may find the movie a bit stiff, but as one of the most iconic movies of all time, they'll likely appreciate it's chilling imagery, if nothing else.
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What's the Story?
Solicitor Renfield (Dwight Frye) arrives in Transylvania, and despite grim warnings from the locals, arrives at DRACULA's castle so that the Count (Bela Lugosi) can sign the papers on his new abbey in London. Later, Renfield has become Dracula's insane servant, and the count insinuates himself into London society, befriending Jonathan Harker (David Manners), his pretty financee Mina (Helen Chandler), and their friend Lucy (Frances Dade). After Lucy meets a strange fate, the suspicious Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) begins to investigate; he wants to prove that Dracula is indeed a vampire. But even if he can do this, can he stop the horrible creature?
Is It Any Good?
Dracula seems a bit stiff and stagy, and indeed it was adapted from the successful stage play of the time, rather than directly from Bram Stoker's famous book. Often, actions are described rather than shown. Moreover, director Tod Browning was forced to cast the star of the play, Bela Lugosi, rather than his first choice, actor Lon Chaney (who had recently died). Now, however, it's difficult to picture any other actor in the role, and almost all of today's vampire lore can be traced back to Lugosi.
Browning was more familiar with and adept at macabre material than any other director, and he instills the movie with a creepy, sinister mood that's hard to shake. Part of this is thanks to the master cinematographer Karl Freund (who would go on to direct the equally creepy The Mummy the following year), and part of it is thanks to some purely unsettling imagery. Perhaps best of all is the dialogue, which yielded many memorable lines. All in all, it's a chilling classic.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence. Which scenes were the scariest, or most vivid? What was shown and what was kept offscreen? Is the scariest stuff always the most explicit?
What kind of character is Dracula? He's not the hero -- so what role does he play? What makes him so timelessly appealing?
- In theaters: February 14, 1931
- On DVD or streaming: September 26, 2006
- Cast: Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler
- Director: Tod Browning
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 75 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: January 22, 2023
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