Time for another list, and this time I decided to take a leaf out of the book of a favorite YouTube personality– Calvin Dyson (he reviews James Bond media) and start with a “dishonorable mention.” However, instead of listing the one I absolutely can’t stand, I’ll go with a movie that I otherwise like and was incredibly influential, but at the same time suffers from one of the worst endings ever.
Of course I’m talking about the original Universal Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.
Given its origins… it’s amazing that the movie has the iconic status it enjoys to this day. The movie was adapted from a Broadway play rather than the novel (Broadway adaptations are always watered-down and disappointing compared to the actual play). The director was drunk most of the time and the cameraman did a lot of directing (luckily Karl Freund was a capable director, even if he never found his niche). Aside from three standout performers (Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward van Sloan) the cast is wooden and forgettable, or worse annoying. Luckily the aforementioned men keep the audience er, well… hypnotized, until the very ending. And then the truly unforgiveable sin comes in.
Dracula strangles Renfield. It’s a very well-shot scene, with great acting from both Lugosi and especially Frye. But then the sun rises and Dracula retreats to his coffin. Now we’re down two-thirds of the capable cast, and are left with just van Helsing (van Sloan) and Harker onscreen.
The two men look for Dracula and Mina, to drive a stake through their hearts. They realize Mina is not yet a vampire, and the camera focuses on her (inexplicably clutching her breast) while van Helsing drives a stake through Dracula’s heart offscreen. All we hear is a sort of gasp when the Count is truly dead. Van Helsing sends the lovebirds away (why is never explicitly said), and the movie ends.
The movie opened so powerfully in Transylvania, and the scenes with Renfield sparkled with intensity. Bela Lugosi could always speak volumes with one look, so it really was a shame the film didn’t show the Count seeing that he would be destroyed after centuries of immortality. That would have been powerful. And the next year Freund would direct The Mummy, which featured a man being completely run through with a spear. They could have shown more here.
But for some reason, director Tod Browning was compelled to end his horror films with an old man saying goodbye to a young woman. Even when it was horribly inappropriate to the story.
But without this dishonorable mention, the rest of the list probably would never have been made. I think that probably makes Browning’s gaffe worth it in the long run.