Title: Horror of Dracula (1958)
Director: Terrence Fisher
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh
Horror of Dracula is one of the most important of all the Dracula movies mainly because it’s the first time that Christopher Lee donned the fangs and cape for the role; in my opinion one of the most ferocious and savage of the Dracula’s. Christopher Lee doesn’t say much in this film (actually he only has about fourteen lines!) but his look, snarl and hiss painted a very feral picture of Count Dracula. Lee would go onto play this character many times over for Hammer films and even other directors outside of Hammer films, but it was his portrayal of the character on Horror of Dracula that will forever remain his best. But it wasn’t just Christopher Lee who made this film such a memorable experience, many important elements came together to make this version of Dracula one of the best out there. For one, we get Peter Cushing playing one of his most memorable roles, that of Vampire Hunter Dr. Van Helsing, a vampire expert! We also have Terrence Fisher, now Terrence Fisher wasn't just any old director; he was one of the best that Hammer ever had. He directed many of the most memorable Hammer films, amongst them The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) The Mummy (1959) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and these are just a few of the best ones, he did many other films for Hammer; so we have a true master of horror behind the director’s chair.
Horror of Dracula starts out with Jonathan Harker arriving at Dracula’s castle to work as Dracula’s librarian. That’s right, on this one; Harker isn’t in Dracula’s castle to sell him a piece of land in London. Nope, on this one he is here to work for hire as Dracula’s book keeper. Dracula welcomes Harker to his castle, feeds him, and then proceeds to make him his prisoner! Now, if you know anything about Count Dracula, then you know this is standard operating procedure for the count. He bids you welcome and then when you are all nice and comfortable, he goes for the jugular! But, what Dracula doesn’t know is that this Jonathan Harker already knows that Dracula is a vampire, and he’s come here disguised as a “librarian” to kill him! We also have a professor in the "black arts" and a very knowledgeable guy in the field of the supernatural, Dr. Van Helsing to go up against Dracula! Will Dr. Van Helsing have what it takes to eliminate Dracula forever?
So what works for me with this movie is how persistent it is with its horror movie ambiance. Some of the best movies always keep that horror atmosphere going all the way through, the mist, the spooky woods, the castle on top of the hill, and this one most certainly keeps it going, which I love. The film is filled with many spooky images, many memorable horror film moments. There’s this one scene in which a vamped out Lucy is walking through the woods, holding a child by her hand and we all know her intentions are to eventually feed on the child. Wow, there’s some spooky moments right there, the woods just seem so haunted, the vampire vixen, so beautiful, yet so evil! And the scenes where Van Helsing and crew go into a mausoleum to stab Lucy the vampire through her heart? Wow, awesome stuff, actually, kind of gruesome for a film coming out of 1958, I’m sure back in those days, seeing a bit of blood splashing on Van Helsing’s face must have been truly shocking for audiences of the 1950’s! Those scenes with Dracula appearing on the girls bedroom window as he is bathed in falling leaves and the night sky, so memorable! Actually, the whole film is filled with these classic images; while watching it you’ll feel like you are in the presence of a classic film. True, this film does take some liberties with the book, but then again, what adaptation of Dracula doesnt right? What matters in the end is if the resulting film is effective and I can assure you, this one is.
This was the first time that Lee and Cushing would embody these characters and since they are doing it for the first time, they perform with a certain intensity that was never to be repeated in the rest of the sequels. That scene where they confront each other in the last moments of the film are some of the most classic moments on any Hammer film, ever! Actually, if you’ve never seen a Hammer horror film, then this is the best one to start with, in my book it remains the best one of the Hammer Dracula’s. It was followed up by a film called Brides of Dracula (1960), which by the way was also directed by the awesome Terrence Fisher, that was a truly excellent sequel to Horror of Dracula. Even taking in consideration that Christopher Lee didn’t’ return in the role of Dracula, Brides of Dracula still remains a great Hammer production, truly atmospheric, very much a classic vampire movie. So if you want a double dose of spooky, old fashioned awesomeness, I recommend a double feature with those two films! Hammer would later repeat the formula presented in Horror of Dracula through a series of sequels, which to be honest, with few exceptions, were always good horror film fun for me because they were always bathed in that old school gothic atmosphere. Hammer did a good thing by embracing that gothic setting for their Dracula films, it's what people loved about these movies. The atmosphere and the spookiness in these films is the stuff that Halloween movies are made off. This is the reason why Horror of Dracula is my Halloween movie recommendation for Halloween 2013. If you guys want to see a movie that captures all those things you love about Halloween encapsulated in one spooktacular film, but with a touch of class, than look no further than Terence Fisher’s Horror of Dracula, a true horror classic and one of the best Dracula films ever made!
Rating: 5 out of 5