Director: Tod Browning
I had attempted to watch this film many months ago; unfortunately, the copy from my local library was severely scratched, and stopped dead three-quarters through. Since then I have seen two versions of Nosferatu, so this time was consciously comparing the three films to each other. Clearly the figure of Dracula looms large over cinema history, and for a character whose main motivation is 'I want to suck your blood,' he has been portrayed in many different ways.
Bela Lugosi's portrayal is famous for its theatricality. Unlike the melancholy of Kinski's Nosferatu, or Schreck's gleeful portrayal, Lugosi is aristocratic but clearly menacing, wearing a dinner jacket as he goes about his business. The close-ups on his face, with their strategic lighting, can only be described as entertainingly camp. It is understandably iconic.
The other star of the film is the production design. Dracula's castle is wonderfully gothic, its huge spider's webs dwarf Renfeld, making him the fly caught by Dracula. The catacombs of Carfax Abbey are also great, highly suitable for Dracula's needs.
The problem with the film is the direction from Tod Browning. He has the camera look away several times, drawing attention to the action he deliberately avoids: Dracula emerging from his coffin. Why, I don't know. Perhaps Browning couldn't think of a way of doing it without it looking humorous. Or he wasn't very imaginative. The ending is another problem: we are denied Dracula's death on screen, leaving us feeling unsatisfied.
See the film to see Bela Lugosi's performance and the production design, two factors that have continued to influence vampire films throughout film history.