Folks can argue until they're blue in the face about who played the best Count Dracula on film. Was it Bela Lugosi in Universal's 1931 production? He's certainly the actor that most people picture when they think of Dracula. Maybe Christopher Lee? He probably played Count Dracula more than any other actor, and he may be the most sinister version of The Count committed to film. Personally, I think the finest portrayal of Dracula on film is by Carlos Villarias.
(mutter mutter mutter)
Oh, you've never heard of Carlos Villarias? Jeez, well I suppose I better tell you about him. He played Count Dracula in the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula. In the early days of sound film it was common for English and alternate language versions of films to be shot at the same time. This is the case with the Spanish language Dracula. They shot the English language version during the day, and the the Spanish language crew came in at night and shot on the same set.
What is it about this version of Dracula that is so great? For one thing, I think Carlos Villarias' version of the count is far more sinister than Lugosi's. He was the only actor in the production that was allowed to see the rushes of the English language version, and he was encouraged to mimic Lugosi's portrayal. Where Lugosi can sometimes come off as hammy and theatrical, Villarias' portrayal is more nuanced and frightening.
I also prefer Pablo Alvarez Nubio's Renfield. Dwight Frye is awesome in the English language version, as he is in virtually everything I've seen him in, but Alvarez Nubio's portrayal of Renfield is really off his rocker, and the character feels even more dangerous than Frye's take.
The crew for the Spanish language version of Dracula would study the rushes from the English language production, but instead of copying what the day crew did, they decided they would try to outdo them. The way shots are framed is often more dramatic, and the lighting is more ambitious. The camera moves fluidly through the scenes, and at times it makes the English language version look they were shooting a play. The Spanish version just LOOKS so much better.
So where can you find the Spanish version of Dracula? It was considered lost for decades, until a print was discovered and restored in 1970. Now you can find it on the DVD/BluRay of Lugosi's Dracula as an extra, as well as on the massive Universal Monsters BluRay collection. Coming up soon, however, you'll have a rare opportunity to see the Lugosi version PLUS the Spanish language version in theaters nationwide!
On Sunday, October 25th, and Wednesday, October 28th, Fathom events will be screening the two versions of Dracula as a double feature. If you haven't seen either of them in the theater, then you can't afford to miss this opportunity, but you REALLY can't afford to miss it if you have never seen the Spanish language version. To see that version at all in a theater is rare, but to see it for the first time in a theater is something you absolutely must do.