Director: Terence Fisher
Writer: Jimmy Sangster
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, Olga Dickie, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt, Janine Faye, Barbara Archer, Charles Lloyd Pack, George Merritt, George Woodbridge, George Benson, Miles Malleson, Geoffrey Bayldon, and Paul Cole
Composer: James Bernard
Release Date: 5/7/1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Posing as a librarian, Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) gains entrance to Castle Dracula—with an ill-fated outcome. Before long, however, Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough)—Harker’s colleague and brother-in-law respectively—seek to locate and destroy Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), now in the process of turning Mina and Lucy Holmwood (Melissa Stribling and Carol Marsh) into vampires.
A loose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this offering (released as Horror of Dracula in the United States) earns its reputation as one of the greatest Hammer films of all time. Specifically worth praising are Dracula’s Gothic set pieces, gory makeup effects, and fanged creature designs, which deserve credit for establishing the vampire as a pop culture icon.
Viewers may note that unlike Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee never quite delivers the charm, elegance, and sophistication that one would expect a centuries-old vampire to possess—likely a result of Lee’s limited dialogue and screen presence in this film. Nevertheless, by using brute physical strength to attack, dominate, and intimidate his victims, Lee’s Dracula comes across as a menacing and terrifying creature—far more so than his unassuming counterpart from the Universal Monster series, who instead relies on hypnotism, affability, and subtle manipulation when luring others into his thrall.
Speaking in distinct British accents, the residents of Klausenburg fail to make credible the geographic setting of Dracula’s homeland.
Also problematic are the antics of an undertaker (Miles Malleson) and a frontier official (George Benson), whose bumbling buffoonery serves to undermine the urgent, life-or-death business of Arthur Holmwood and Doctor Van Helsing.
Portraying the vampire curse as a form of addiction, the Hammer version of Dracula should be commended for depicting evil as an enticing force—in contrast to the 1931 film, which provides a somewhat simplistic, black-and-white representation of the spiritual conflict between good and evil.
Dracula benefits from iconic performances—especially from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—and fresh updates on the vampire legend. Hammer and Gothic horror fans will therefore appreciate this film, which offers a compelling twist on Stoker’s novel.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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