[Bea’s Reviews] Horror Of Dracula (1958)

“Horror Of Dracula” (1958)

Horror Of DraculaWhile Lugosi’s Count of Counts was generally a one-off affair, Dracula was resurrected again by Hammer Films in the formidable shape of Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee which turned out to become a long-running franchise full of hits and misses. While the 70’s Hammer fully embraced sex, blood and nudity, in my opinion, the true essence of the series remains back in the first few instalments, back when mere mortal men feared him and women tremblingly desired him. In ”Horror of Dracula”, or ”Dracula” as it was known outside of the UK, there was still a lot of fear to be felt, but also, a sense of dark animal sexuality rather than simple gaudy lust.

When Hammer Studios was first formed, it primarily made comedies, film noirs, dramas and crime thrillers, but it was the mid- 50’s that truly saw the birth of Hammer Horror, and this was the time period that many a horror fan and Dracula fan will remember the most fondly because the moment they saw Christopher Lee with blazing red eyes and nasty, pointed teeth hissing like a demonic beast, they knew they were in for a ride.

Horror Of Dracula 01

Count RapeFace

Despite the time period of which ”Horror” was made, this is quite a sumptuous looking picture, in full colour. You can only imagine how the sight of bright red blood must have shocked movie goers back in the day. With this knowledge, the production milks every frame, every scene for what it’s worth. Although there are no technically fancy camera angles, Fisher more than makes up for it by really working every other facility- lighting, dramatic music score, composition… it all works very well. If that sounds a little airy-fairy, I should also mention that violence wise, while it still leaves much to the imagination, the make up and visual effects shows enough to really stand out. You see some pretty brutal stakings, cross burnings, bloody bite marks AND a decomposition, all of it blameless and all of it made by hand.

You can truly see the skill of all involved in the production in this movie, and once again, while it may be tame by today’s standards, you can’t deny the fact it was made with an eye to make it the best product it could possibly be. On top of what we see in terms of visuals, we have ourselves a talented cast. It’s not a diamond in the rough affair in terms of actors- the key players here, unlike Browning’s ”Dracula” all perform with charisma to spare, Melissa Stribling, Mina HOLMWOOD (not Harker) especially so. You wouldn’t think it, but Stribling’s performance is actually quite fascinating to watch. For the most part, she is a proper Victorian woman dearly devoted to her husband, Arthur (another deviation, yes) and her duty of care to sickly Lucy, (who is the sister this time) the fiancee of Jonathan Harker. However, when she falls into Dracula’s clutches, she becomes a little unsettling. It’s not an overt performance, but there is a look in her eyes that will make you think “What DID Dracula do to her?”. Another player that gives a wonderful performance (though this time, predictably so) is Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing. He may not be Dutch and he may not have a small dose of the crazy such as his literary counterpart, but I would feel a lot safer if I had Cushing’s Van Helsing in my corner. Self-assured, clear-thinking and effortlessly resourceful, he is a worthy nemesis for Lee’s cunning bloodsucker.

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Peter Cushing

And what of Lee’s performance, you ask? The guy is equal parts a barbarian as he is a pimp. Although the later notion is only lightly hinted, you get it from the get go that Dracula can be a sexual predator. He lays claim to women whenever he pleases and he throws them aside as if they were nothing when he is sick of them, sometimes in violent ways. Everybody is part of his sanguinous banquet, even if they don’t know it just yet. In that essence, he is like Stoker’s Dracula- he is a foreign, powerful virile creature who can make any man fear for their lives, and for the faithfulness of their women. I would be lying if I said that this Dracula wasn’t arousing, despite how vicious he is. Lee’s Dracula just has everything going for him, up until the moment Van Helsing finally disposes of him. This is one motherfucker you just don’t want to mess with. Despite the fact that the character would become cheapened through the series, folks loved The Lee and here, you can see why.

Horror of Dracula” is, at least in my blood-tinted vision, unmissable. Lee AND this film truly set the benchmark for further Draculas to come by the instrumentation of fear and sexuality. This is not a faithful adaption, but in this case,”Horror of Dracula” is still a marvelously self-contained take on the tale and is one of the best Draculas out there. See it, and call me in the morning… provided your throat hasn’t been torn out.

Review written by Bea Harper


2 thoughts on “[Bea’s Reviews] Horror Of Dracula (1958)

  1. Pingback: The House Of Hammer Vol 1 #1, Oct/1976 | Vintage (and not so vintage) Paperbacks

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