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Spanish 'Dracula' finds new blood, more than 90 years after its release

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In 1931, Universal Studios shot its classic horror film starring Bela Lugosi as the bloodsucking count from Transylvania.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DRACULA")

BELA LUGOSI: (As Dracula) I am Dracula.

FADEL: After the production of "Dracula" wrapped every day, a whole new crew and actors arrived at night to redo all the scenes in Spanish. NPR's Mandalit del Barco tells us more, as part of our series on Latinos in Hollywood.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The Spanish-language version of "Dracula" starred Carlos Villarias as the caped vampire out for blood.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DRACULA")

CARLOS VILLARIAS: (As Dracula, speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Villarias had been a stage actor in Spain, and his resemblance to Bela Lugosi was uncanny, recalled the late actress Lupita Tovar. She was just 20 when she played the lovely Eva, who's seduced by Dracula. In a video for the complete legacy collection of "Dracula," Tovar reminisced about working the graveyard shift.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUPITA TOVAR: We shot all night long. We use exactly the same sets. So matter of fact, we had the same marks the English guys got. We step in the same place.

DEL BARCO: She said the scenery was creepy - dark shadows, lit candles and cobwebs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOVAR: Once you went into that set, it was a different world. You became under the spell of Dracula. You know, if anybody will touch me, I think I would scream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

TOVAR: I was frightened. I really felt a scare of Dracula, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DRACULA")

TOVAR: (As Eva, speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Tovar said her character Eva's wardrobe was more risque than in the English-language version.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOVAR: The dresses that Helen Chandler wore were all covered up. What they gave me were what you would call sexy.

DEL BARCO: The actors were from different Spanish-speaking countries. But the director, George Melford, didn't speak the language. So his directions were translated for the cast and crew.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOVAR: We wanted our version to be the best. And according to the critics, I think it was.

DEL BARCO: This version of "Dracula" was 29 minutes longer than "Dracula" in English. Lupita Tovar's son, Pancho Kohner, says director Melford and Villarias would watch the scenes shot during the day, the dailies, and make improvements, setting up better camera angles and adding more exciting elements.

PANCHO KOHNER: They didn't have to contend with the Hays Office, the censorship. My mother wore a low-cut negligee, and it was very sexy. My father, who was on the set, he was producing it, made sure that it was a better film.

DEL BARCO: Kohner, who became a producer like his father, helped his mother write her memoirs before she died in 2016 at age 106. He says she was a high school student in Oaxaca when Robert Flaherty, the director of the film "Nanook Of The North," discovered her. Fox Studios had sent him to find the most beautiful girl in Mexico.

KOHNER: My mother came then to Hollywood with her Irish grandmother as her chaperone, spent a year at Fox Studios doing small bits, but she didn't speak English. When talkies came in, they weren't going to renew her contract.

DEL BARCO: Someone at Fox recommended her to Universal Studios, where she met the head of dubbing, Paul Kohner.

KOHNER: Who instantly fell in love with her.

DEL BARCO: Without a contract, Tovar was reluctantly getting ready to head back to Mexico. She went to say goodbye to her suitor.

KOHNER: Paul Kohner said, wait. Give me 24 hours. And he quickly went to see Carl Laemmle, head of the studio. And he said, we're wasting half the studio. At 6 o'clock at night, we turn the lights off until 6 in the morning. We should bring in a fresh crew, Spanish-speaking actors, shoot the same film that we shoot during the day at night in Spanish, using the same equipment, same everything. It'll cost peanuts. Laemmle said, you're a genius.

CHRIS WEITZ: That was part of his plan in terms of keeping my grandma around.

DEL BARCO: Chris Weitz is the grandson of Tovar and Kohner, who were married more than 50 years. Weitz is now a well-known film director; so is his brother, Paul. Together, they're writing a script for a movie about the making of Spanish "Dracula." Paul says they'll focus on their grandparents.

PAUL WEITZ: It is a love story between two immigrants.

DEL BARCO: Chris Weitz says Spanish "Dracula" is also an immigrant story.

C WEITZ: Dracula comes over from Transylvania to England, and he's generally considered bad news. And he's a bloodsucker. He's a parasite - and this kind of view of immigrants, as opposed to what we really believe about the role of immigrants in this country, which is, like, it's kind of the lifeblood of how the country works.

DEL BARCO: For a time in the 1930s, hundreds of movies were reshot not only into Spanish but French, German and Italian. It was a mini boom in Hollywood before the film industries in other countries geared up and before dubbing or subtitles came into vogue. And now, in addition to Spanish "Dracula" the movie, there will soon be a TV series. Ben Odell is producing the series for Vix+, the new streaming service by TelevisaUnivision.

BEN ODELL: It's a single-cam workplace comedy about this kind of cast of quirky characters trying to make this thing, which ends up being great.

DEL BARCO: Odell says this production will be shot in Mexico with actor Eugenio Derbez directing and starring as Dracula.

ODELL: In our version, he's a ham. Like, he loves the attention. He loves the applause. He's a theater actor, so he's disgusted by the movie business. You know, when he's offered this movie role, he turns it down at first. He's like, don't they know who I am?

DEL BARCO: The Lupita Tovar character is based on stories from her memoir.

ODELL: Lupita was very afraid of her father, who was an alcoholic, and he was abusive. So it's this idea that there's this monster at home. She doesn't want to go back to Mexico. With the silent era ending, she thinks she may be forced to go back.

DEL BARCO: Odell says the cast and crew of the original "Dracula" worked under the worst circumstances.

ODELL: They had to come in at night and work crappy hours, and they had a lower budget. But they ended up making a better movie. And it was like, that's such a great American immigrant story. And it's such a great Latino story because oftentimes, you know, in order to succeed when you come to this country, you have to work harder. You have less support, less opportunities. And you still have to try to deliver. And they overdelivered, as often is the case. So it just - it was a beautiful kind of underdog immigrant story.

DEL BARCO: So more than 90 years after one of the most famous monster movies was made, Dracula is being revamped yet again. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONSTER MASH EN ESPANOL")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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