Dracula (1958, AKA Horror of Dracula)

DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher.

CAST: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt, Miles Malleson, Janina Faye, Charles Lloyd Pack, Olga Dickie, George Woodbridge & George Benson.

SYNOPSIS: Jonathan Harker (Van Eyssen) arrives at Castle Dracula in order to end once and for all the 'reign of terror' of the infamous count (Lee). Before long, however, he allows himself to be seduced by a voluptuous vampire woman (Gaunt), and ultimately becomes the hapless victim of the king of the vampires himself. Harker's friend, Dr Van Helsing (Cushing), sets out to the castle to solve the mystery of Harker's disappearance, but he arrives too late and, stake and hammer in hand, must end the existence of his one-time ally in the battle against evil, now a vampire himself. Having done so, he takes off in hot pursuit of Dracula, who by now has set his sights on his next victim: Harker's fiancee, Lucy (Marsh). Again, however, he is too late. At the home of Arthur Holmwood, Lucy's bereaved brother, the Count has already begun the process of seducing his next victim, Holmwood's wife, Mina (Stribling). With the help of Holmwood (Gough), Van Helsing must destroy the Count before time runs out.

After the unexpected success of 'The Curse of Frankenstein' in 1957, the first of the gothic horrors for which Hammer became famous, the studio wasted no time in setting about a worthy successor, and Bram Stoker's chilling novel, already filmed successfully in 1931 with Hungarian Bela Lugosi in the title role, was the obvious choice. Christopher Lee's Count Dracula was no mere imitation of the ghoulish Lugosi original, however, but was instead a handsome European aristocrat whose first appearances are as a gentlemanly and charming host to unsuspecting guest Jonathan Harker. It is only fifteen minutes into the film, when his true, feral nature is revealed in a shockingly vivid moment that has justifiably lived on as one of the film's most enduring images (right).

Indeed, much of the film's power lies in the haunting images presented, many of which have gone on to become the best-known and most definitive cinematic images of vampirism of all time: The opening of Dracula's eyes as nighttime falls; the flowing cape as Dracula strides down the walkway from the castle; the swirling leaves that announce the Count's arrival on the veranda outside Lucy's bedroom; and of course Dracula's unforgettable demise at the film's climax. While much of the atmosphere is due to Fisher's direction, it is important not to underestimate the contribution of other key elements of the Hammer ensemble. Jack Asher's eerie lighting combines brilliantly with Bernard Robinson's sets, and James Bernard's score superbly heightens the sense of terror, sexuality and fairy-tale fantasy that is at the centre of Fisher's vision.

'Horror of Dracula' represents the finest work of both Terence Fisher and Hammer itself, perhaps rivalled only by 'The Devil Rides Out' (1968). It is also the best of the Cushing-Lee pairing that had begun the previous year and ended with 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' (1974).
Several sequels followed, beginning with 'The Brides of Dracula' (1960, with Cushing as Van Helsing again, but minus Lee), 'Dracula, Prince of Darkness' (1965), 'Dracula Has Risen from the Grave' (1968), 'Taste the Blood of Dracula' (1969), 'Scars of Dracula' (1970), 'Dracula AD 1972' (1972) and lastly, 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' (1974).

Gallery

Blood splashes onto Dracula's tomb in the memorable opening shot:

Christopher Lee as Dracula welcomes his guest:

Valerie Gaunt sinks her teeth into John van Eyssen's neck:

Dracula glides elegantly down the walkway of his castle:

Christopher Lee 'seduces' Melissa Stribling:

Dracula's unforgettable demise:

 

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WWW.DICTIONARYOFHAMMER.COM
David L Rattigan 2005
 

 

 

 

 

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