Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes Dishonorable Mention Dracula (1931)

Norma Desmond would be proud.

A face like that needs to go out on a high note.

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.


The Mummy, the Heroine, and Trivia

"No man has ever suffered as I did for you."

“No man has ever suffered as I did for you.”

I’ll admit it right here and now.  I’m horribly jealous that my brother down in Virginia gets to see one of the best, least-known Universal monster movies on the big screen… The Mummy (1932).

After countless, not so good remakes (early 1990s, I’m looking at you), it’s easy for the original to get swept under the rug with the rest, but to do so would be a mistake.  It has a lot of surprises, and packs quite a punch.

The movie opens with the mummy of Imhotep (Karloff) being discovered by Dr. Muller and his impatient young assistant.  Imhotep was buried alive for sacrilege, with the Scroll of Thoth in his tomb.  The young man reads the scroll aloud, and the mummy walks!  The poor man cracks up spectacularly after, and when questioned about what happened to the mummy can only gibber, “It went for a little walk!”  A few years later, the very old Ardeth Bey (Karloff, naturally) leads Mullen and his new assistant Whemple to the tomb of the princess, Ancke-es-en-amon.  She becomes the Cairo Museum’s main attraction, and at night Bey slips in to read the Scroll of Thoth over her body.

But she doesn’t rise from the dead.  Not quite.  Across town, however, the beautiful biracial Helen (Zita Johann) falls into a trance and walks to the museum, but cannot get inside.  Realizing that she now carries his beloved’s spirit, Imhotep turns his attention to her, and makes it deadly for those who try to stand in his way.  But rather than kill them with his hands, he uses sorcery, and those scenes are quite intense.  We hear a dog’s death-cries offscreen, and Helen describes it perishing under the claws of a cat.  Another archaeologist dies from a heart-attack when Karloff clenches his fist.

Eventually he kidnaps her, dresses her as the princess, and shows her (through excellent flashback) their tragic love story.  Imhotep and the princess were lovers, but Ancke-es-en-amon died young from an illness.  The bereft priest tried to raise her from the dead via unholy means, was caught, buried alive with the scroll, and the slaves who carried the deed out where killed, so none would know his grave.  (Trivia time!  This was the first impaling shown in an American film.)  He now tries to turn Helen into a living mummy like himself, but she rebels and calls on the goddess Isis for help.  The goddess destroys Imhotep as Helen is reunited with her love interest, the young British archaeologist, Whemple.

It’s a very powerful and tragic ending… Karloff’s face registers the hurt his character feels, as well as his anger at being damned.  That’s more pathos than the monster, or even villain, usually gets.

Helen’s very existence is also interesting.  This was 1932, but she is half-British (white) and half-Egyptian (black).  She is played by a white actress, but ends up with a white hero, which is unusual, to say the least.  Jim Crow laws were in full-swing, and interracial marriage was illegal.  Helen is treated as an equal by the white British upperclass, and gets the guy.  Hollywood is still very uncomfortable with the idea of interracial romance and interracial sex, so it’s that much more surprising that during the 1930s that Helen’s British heritage seems to be presented as dominant (no one brings up the “one drop” rule) and that she winds up with Whemple, especially when the rest of the movie is remarkably dated in terms of its views on race and “blood.”

If you have the ability to see The Mummy on the big screen, take it.  This poetic, nightmarish film deserves more recognition than it gets, and even provokes thought.  That’s more than you can say for a lot of movies, regardless of their genre.