I’ve been thinking about Dracula, specifically Bela Lugosi‘s portrayal of the character in the greatest horror-comedy of all time, 1948’s Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It dawns on me that the screenplay of that film and Lugosi’s performance within it have done more to solidify Dracula’s standing among monsterdom than perhaps anything else. By that I mean that it presents the bloodthirsty count as a major player who not only can wreak havoc in his own world (as in the original Lugosi Dracula from 1931), but is also an imposing figure on the world stage. He’s not just Dracula terrorizing Transylvania; he’s an ubelieveably formidible proponent of evil who can bring the entire world to its knees if not stopped.
The Dracula of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is akin to a James Bond villain, or a major megalomaniacal comic book fiend like Superman’s Lex Luthor or the Fantastic Four’s Doctor Doom. Someone who is cunning, intelligent and can have legions at his beck and call at any time…and manipulate them to enact his diabolical schemes. You see this played out specifically in Mad Monster Party and The Monster Squad and countless films from around the globe, be it the classy Hammer horrors from England or the bombastic Paul Naschy monster epics from Spain, from the slapdash cult curios like Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) to the big-budget actioner Van Helsing (2004). Which is quite ironic when you take into account how many “die-hard” classic monster fans despise the Abbott and Costello film as what they label the “death knell” of the Universal Monsters.
The truth is, as I explored in my review of the film, the monsters were actually treated with respect and given a new lease on life via their encounters with Bud and Lou. And Dracula? He became the biggest baddie of them all in the process. He runs the show and strikes ultimate fear as the most evil of monsters, which makes the heroes’ inevitable victories over him all the sweeter. Bravo, Frederic I. Rinaldo and Robert Lees (scribes behind “A&C Meet Frankenstein”) and bravo times ten to the irrepressible Bela – who at age 65 essayed the role of his most famous character with all the gusto (and maybe more so) that he did back in the original 1931 “Dracula” movie (when he was merely 48)!
Paul Castiglia has been writing and editing comic books and pop culture articles for 20 years. Among his many credits are editing the Archie Americana series of classic comic book reprints, writing comic book stories featuring classic Tex Avery animation characters, and contributing a chapter to a book of essays on Vincent Price. His website is Scared Silly: Classic Hollywood Horror-Comedies.