Indie Inspiration

Indie Inspiration: The Dracula You Never Saw

For Hallowe’en Ardent Partner Samantha Swan looks at the surprising 1931 ‘Dracula’- not the one we all know, but the Spanish version of the same title – as unexpected indie inspiration.

Since childhood I have had a soft spot for vampire stories, and while that soft spot may be my neck, Todd Browning‘s ‘Dracula‘ (1931) is the vampire movie that spawned the legion of vampire movies that followed. When I was a kid I even liked movies that riffed on it, such as ‘Love At First Bite’, with Arte Johnson doing an incredible comedic take on Renfield. So that is why it is so surprising I never knew until recently about the Spanish version, ‘Drácula‘ made at the same time as Browning’s. By “the same time”, I don’t just mean it was made in 1931, I mean it was filmed at night where Browning’s was shot during the day, on the very same set.

Talkies were new and the feeling was the studio wanted a film that could play to the Spanish language market, and the cheapest most expedient way to do that was to shoot on the same sets at night. The Spanish crew had the advantage of watching dailies from the English crew’s version when they came in for the evening, and they figured out superior camera angles and more interesting and effective use of lighting in an attempt to compete with it. As a result, fans of this version consider it to be a much more artistically satisfying and effective film. The Spanish version is longer by about 20 minutes and some have suggested that the longer duration allows better development of the story in spite of its shorter shooting time and leaner budget.

I found this inspiring as I love the idea of being spurred on by others’ treatment of the same source material; I have a great mental image of the Mexican crew looking at Browning’s stagier dailies and saying “we can do better”. There are entire shots that the DP had as static set pieces that the Mexican filmmakers got moving. They put that camera on its feet and that camera moved. As a result, the Spanish Drácula feels more energetic, lively and with more of the kind of camera moves seen in cinema today.

In a way, what could feel more independent in spirit than a smaller, less financed little movie night shooting on the set of the bigger “legit” picture shot during the day? We’ve done it, we’ve been that small unendorsed bastard production; night shooting on the sets of bigger productions we’ve worked on, on sets we’ve “stolen” like bandidos. And while it’s great to be employed and nice to work on bigger projects, I can honestly say I’ve never regretted a single, stolen moment.

Enjoy some clips and a quick overview of ‘Drácula’ en español.

Happy Hallowe’en everybody!

 

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