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Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Bela Lugosi

Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó would change his last name to Lugosi after his move to the United States in the early 1900s to commemorate his Hungarian (now Romanian) birthplace of Lugos. This was a smart career move. His new, lyrical, and much shorter name would be easier for English speakers to remember, and they would indeed remember it... Although, they would often refer to him by his more popular nickname: Dracula. This film would be the greatest achievement and greatest burden of Bela's life. After bringing the Dark Prince to life on the stage, his totally unique, sexual, and fear-inducing performance of the caped crusader of death, reborn on the silver screen, would make him a bona fide sensation. Many assert that The Phantom of the Opera was the first legitimate horror film, but it would be more accurate to give that title to Dracula. Lon Chaney's films belong in a category all their own, while Dracula, when it first hit theaters, was a conundrum. No one knew what it was, how to feel about it, how to package it, nor how to label it. All they knew was that Bela shook them to the core, and they kind of liked it.

Bela's creation of the Count as his own was a groundbreaking moment in the history of film. The vampire had always been terrifying, but never before had this creature been so... seductive. Bela's regal presentation matched with his exotic accent, intensity, and total absence of morality, made him a somehow more foreign and yet more relatable villain. He was a more appropriately felshed out representation of man's dark side and the provocateur of his sexual nature. He did not hide in shadows. His Dracula bewitched with the eyes and commanded women to "come" to him, which they did, willingly. As such, his phenomenal performance and his creation of the supernatural monster changed the game of film, paved the way for a new genre, and introduced audiences to a side of themselves they may not have wanted to see...

His private life did not fare as well as the dark hero of his screen self. Forever trapped by the Dracula stigma, Bela would be continually typecast in horror films, which decreased in quality as the years progressed. A truly gifted actor who had portrayed a number of varied characters on the stage, he ached to fulfill his obligation to his craft, but was forever pushed creatively into a corner. His cape was his cross, one that he had to bear to pay the bills. The results of his acting projects were mixed.  The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Black Cat, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein remain positive highlights, but for every classic, there were plenty of clunkers. Most infamously, toward the end of his life when he was battling a morphine addiction-- that born as he battled a painful battle with his sciatica-- he teamed up with notorious director Ed Wood. While the director's films-- Glen or Glenda? and Plan 9 from Outer Space-- are not exactly quality material, they were generous opportunities for work that gave the impoverished Bela a small ray of hope in his deteriorating life. However, it was too little, too badly, too late. Bela would pass away from a heart attack at 73. He was buried in his Dracula cape. But did he stay buried??? His lost soul continues to wander, hunting the new, willing  victims that continue tofeed his immortality.

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