My Favourite Vampire with Sarah from Good Nightmare

This post accompanies The FrankenPod episode My Favourite Vampire

Dracula is one of those monsters who is so pervasive and terrifying, I’ve already explored how he has been contorted and manipulated to fit our social anxieties. Despite the very “of their time” nature of Dracula adaptations, the appeal of certain adaptations divisive, and not by the age of the reader or viewer and the contemporary adaptations of their time. The novel Dracula has a timeless appeal that may not be entirely the case with a movie. The 1931 movie has an enduring quality, but it has visibly aged and has lost its edge, the 1992 movie is still narratively compelling but the effects and augmentation of the original text place it firmly in the 90s. I asked a fellow Australian podcaster, Sarah, from Good Nightmare to tell me why the novel is such a favourite of hers.

In order to fully explore Dracula we would be remiss if we didn’t cover the 1931 movie

Fun fact the Spanish language Dracula was filmed on the same set, but at night, so they were able to perfect the shots that the American crew may have botched a little. Many many regard the Spanish version as the superior film. I have not watched the Spanish version but I instead watched the American Universal Studios Version of Dracula directed by Carl Laemmle jr. and starring Bela Lugosi as the titular Count.

 

The 1931 movie features a lot of close-ups of Dracula, with lights focused on his eyes. This way of depicting the hypnotic gaze is effective but more than a tiny bit ridiculous. Also, we never see a bite, we just see people leaning ominously in and the scene fades or the vampire moves slowly and ominously out of shot. The movie is as subtle as a brick, but let’s face it you don’t come to Universal Studios Monster canon for a nuanced story. They have very obviously styled Lucy as a “modern woman”, and carried out some serious 1930s slut-shaming, because she deserved to be bitten, unlike the pure and innocent Mina. Hey everyone, can we have an adaption of Dracula in which we don’t care about Lucy because she is less chaste or special than her friend Mina? Please. If there is one please let me know because I would love to see it.

I’ve said some nasty things about the film, but I do really appreciate some very special elements that the film brings to the Dracula narrative,

The movie gives us an origin story for Renfield (which means we get soooo much supernaturally crazed Dwight Frye which I am 100% here for)

Helen chandler’s performance is wonderful, over the top and just beautiful. Obviously, Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Eric Van Sloan as Van Helsing are the most iconic characters in the movie but Helen Chandler as Mina Harker almost mare me like the character of Mina more. The bushy moustaches of the Transylvanian villagers are something to behold, honestly, this movie’s moustache game may be the best I’ve seen. An honourable mention has to go to Jonathan’s Suits. They almost made him interesting.

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We need to talk about Igor…

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of the cultural legacy of the Frankenstein myth.

When I was little I thought Igor came from the story of Frankenstein.

When I was a teenager I thought they created Igor for the film.

Now that I’m an adult I have no goddamn idea. The “Igor” of the 1931 Frankenstein… was not called Igor, his name was Fritz. So where did this rambling, pivotal, yet utterly disposable character come from? Is he really a 20th century Universal Studios creation or is there something more to this embodiment of the strange, the gatekeeper to monstrosity and unnerving manservant that we call “Igor”.

 

Its an iconic image, the obsessed mad scientist connecting the wires to his creature and the machinery that presumably has something to do with the whole process. He might cackle, he might yell to the heavens, he might even wear steampunk goggles. But in this equation of the isolated man and his dangerous obsession, there is often a third party, someone to flick the switch. Enter Igor.

Or Ygor.

Or Fritz.

His character generally fills at least one of these three roles:

  1. The other that acts as a buffer between the doctor and his creation, such as in the 1931 brain mix up, we can blame almost anything on Fritz in his role as the assistant.
  2. The humanity to the Doctor’s crazed monstrous mania. He is in on the project, and tries to stop the Doctor or appeal to his better nature, in vain.
  3. A human exposition facilitator. In the novel of Frankenstein which features no assistant, the primary story telling of the creation process occurs over a large passage of time and through Victor’s narration. So without an overarching voice narration, an assistant can ask the questions that will allow the Doctor to fill the audience in on what is happening.

 

Presumption; Or the Fate of Frankenstein (1823)

Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation would set up some the more outlandish and comedic elements of the modern Frankenstein myth. In this play Victor’s friend Henry Clerval from the novel and the new character invented for the play, Fritz, assist him in his experiments. This allows for a broad distribution of blame for the subsequent events rather than all the responsibility lying at the feet of Doctor Frankenstein. Fritz also functions as an audience surrogate or even narrator in many parts.

 

Frankenstein (1931)

Dwight_Frye
Dwight Frye in A Strange Attraction 1932

Fritz (Dwight Frye) is definitely a scapegoat and entirely expendable. The criminal brain mix up is a game changer, it takes the blame away from Frankenstein, and places the emphasis on nature rather than nurture. He is a low stakes victim and by virtue of his cruelty towards the Creature and unfortunately due to his appearance. The ablist judgements at play in portrayal of Fritz and his successors give the audience an excuse to dislike the assistant right from the outset, which I think we can all agree is an issue and deeply problematic.

 

Son of Frankenstein (1939)Son_of_Frankenstein_movie_poster.jpg

We are introduced to Bela Lugosi’s Ygor. Ygor also has a physical impairment which was the result of an attempt to hang him for grave robbing. The former blacksmith can control the “Monster” making him a formidable opponent for Frankenstein’s son. The cultural othering of Ygor or the assistant as being a different nationality and therefore strange.

 

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Marty Feldman as Igor

Young Frankenstein (1974)

This time played by Marty Feldman, and named Igor, this comedy portrayal of the assistant would shape our understanding of the character forever. His exaggerated and unnerving appearance combined with Feldman’s incomparable and unsettling performance has buried the “Igor” deep into our collective cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth.

 

We will be watching Victor Frankenstein soon. I’m excited to see how Daniel Radcliffe deals with the somewhat intangible legacy of Igor.

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