This nightmarish vampire classic based on the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker stimulated numerous horror films.
Renfield (Dwight Frye) is warned not to go to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania, especially at night because of vampires, and he is given a crucifix for protection. Dracula (Béla Lugosi) raises the corpses of three women out of their coffins and welcomes Renfield. Noting how spiders spin their webs for flies, Dracula says, "Blood is the life." Renfield gives him a lease for an abbey in England. Renfield cuts his finger and bleeds; Dracula approaches, but shies away before the crucifix. As the three women approach, Renfield faints; Dracula leans over him. On the ship in a storm a crazed Renfield calls forth Dracula from a casket at night, asking for small lives with blood and promising loyalty. The corpses are found, and Renfield is put in an asylum, where he craves to eat bugs and small animals. Dracula attacks a girl in London and goes to a Wagner opera. There he hypnotizes a maid so that he can meet the asylum's Doctor Seward. Lucy Weston is attracted to the count, who says there are things worse than death. A bat hovers by Lucy's bedroom window, and then Dracula leans over her neck.
The next day they discover that Lucy died from lack of blood and has marks on her throat. Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) explains that undead vampires devour blood but cannot stand the herb wolfsbane, as is seen by Renfield's reaction. Dracula goes to Mina Seward (Helen Chandler). She tells Van Helsing of her bad dream, and he finds marks on her throat. He notices that Dracula does not appear in a mirror. The count will not look in the mirror and breaks it. Later Mina walks into Dracula's arms and is found unconscious. The crazed Renfield is seen leaning over a fainted maid. Mina says that she saw the dead Lucy and warns John. Van Helsing promises to help release the soul of Lucy and uses wolfbane to protect Mina. Dracula is unable to hypnotize Van Helsing and is frightened away by the crucifix. Dracula has fused his blood with Mina's, and she asks John to steal the crucifix. When attendants try to shoot the hovering bat, they are told that is useless. One attendant says to the other, "They're all crazy except you and me, and I'm not sure about you." These are almost the only sane words in the entire macabre tale. Dracula gets Mina from her bed, and they go to the abbey, where Renfield has led the professor and others. Dracula strangles Renfield and carries off Mina; but Van Helsing finds the coffin he hides in during the day and drives a stake through his heart.
This strange and twisted tale appeals to dark and unconscious fears and superstitions to weave a mood of horror. The Christian ritual of drinking blood for immortal life is given a literal and devilish twist but cannot stand daylight or the crucifix symbol. The story represents the desires of the old to prolong their physical lives by exploiting the life-blood of those younger. Like a terrible nightmare, one is intrigued and relieved when its foreboding threats are ended.