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Horror of Dracula

“I am Dracula and I welcome you to my house.”

Known simply as Dracula in the UK where it originated, this is one of Hammer’s seminal horror films and starred one of their most iconic duos, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, in the roles of Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing respectively.

Released in 1958 as a full color film, this version of the classic vampire tale takes its own direction as many such films on the iconic vampire have. It’s one of the films that made Hammer a household name in horror for many years, and for good reason. It came out on the heels of their own take on Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein, largely due to the success the earlier film brought them, which also featured Cushing and lee.

Classic Christopher Lee

We start off following Jonathan Harker (played by John Van Eyssen) as he travels to Castle Dracula and we quickly realize that there is no Renfield here, as Jonathan takes on most of that role in this film while having the trappings of the original Harker, and some interesting decisions make him very different from this standard Dracula character.

The focus then shifts from Harker to Van Helsing who wishes to find out what happened to his friend, but the locals are reluctant to aid him, barring one barmaid who steers him in the right direction. Once Van Helsing is introduced, things do slow down a bit to catch him and us up with what is going on, but then the chase is on again.

Through Van Helsing we meet the Holmwoods: Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough), his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling), and Harker’s fiancĂ©e and Arthur’s ill sister Lucy (Carol Marsh). And we spend a large portion of the film interacting with this group as they have to deal with Dracula and his machinations.

This one is not a slow burn, unlike many movies of the times. It does have moments where the pace is toned down a bit, but these are mostly to build more tension. We meet Dracula very early on, and it doesn’t take long for the movie to let us know that he’s not one to trifle with, despite his friendly initial greeting to Harker. The ending is especially active and downright frantic, which fits the situation well.

"I am very cross with you, Dracula."

The cast, and especially the main cast, is excellent here. I expect that from Cushing, Lee, and Gough, but I want to also give Marsh and Stribling a lot of credit here as they play their roles so well, even if Marsh is mostly bedridden. Mina is a more active character than Lucy is in this picture, and Stribling brilliantly plays her and how she handles the changing situations she has to deal with. Van Eyssen is also great as Harker, which is important as he’s our only protagonist for the earliest portion of the film.

The character of Dracula in this film is such a great mix of threatening, charming, tragic, erotic, and bestial. It makes him a dynamic figure when he’s on screen, even when he’s first introduced, and he acts so very normally. Lee has a way of just glaring that is perfect for the role, letting you know that he means business, in more than one meaning of that word. His presence is so effective that we can feel that ominous figure watching our protagonists even when he’s not on the screen.

"No one gets me out of bed this early!"

This is a gem of a movie. This is one of the reasons that Hammer is so well known for classic horror, and why they’re still beloved by fans today. Cushing and Lee can make any movie better just by being in it, but here they make a solid production even better. The sets are evocative of the time, Dracula is a figure that reflects that mix of eroticism and fear that we come to expect from this story, the cast sells their roles and situations well, and the use of decent, if limited, special effects all combine to make this an easy film to recommend.

--Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would play this duo several more times in other Hammer Dracula films, although some lacked one or the other. They also teamed up for many other horror films as well, both before and after this one, and not always for Hammer.

--Michael Gough is widely known for his many roles in TV and film. This includes Doctor Who, where he was the Celestial Toymaker in that first Doctor story and Councillor Hedin in the fifth Doctor story ‘Arc of Infinity.’

--Like their immediately previous horror outing Curse of Frankenstein (which I will review soon), Universal put Hammer on notice to not copy their classic movie in their own rendition, and the fact that this one does deviate from the book more than most Dracula films is at least partially due to this threat.

--The ending scene with Van Helsing and Dracula was heavily cut originally from what I’ve been able to find, and restored, or partially restored at any rate, for release on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s rather gruesome for the time in which it was made, so I see why it was cut, but I’m glad it’s back.

Four bloody vampire fangs out of four.

Morella is a Gen Xer who likes strange things a bit too much.

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