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Classical Notes

Scary music, the Universal language

Posted at 2:32 PM on October 31, 2006 by Don Lee

Even as an impressionable boy, I wondered what was so scary about Dracula. I'm talking about the 1931 film version starring Bela Lugosi. To me, that one wasn't nearly as frightening as the other Universal horror classics that became my Saturday afternoon TV ritual: the various Frankenstein, Wolf Man and Mummy movies.

A key difference, I realized in later years, was the music underscoring the action. There wasn't any for Dracula. Fake fangs and a heavy-browed glower were Lugosi's only means to convey a sense of menace--an effort undermined by the sound I could hear: pops and crackles from the badly worn celluloid.

The filmmaker did select music for the opening and closing titles of Dracula, a score that seldom gets trotted out on Halloween, perhaps because it points mostly to the pathos embodied alongside the peril in those old movie monsters. The same music was used in The Mummy in 1932. So I forward this request to Bill Morelock for his consideration on this evening's Halloween show: the (haunting) main theme from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.