Skip to content

Horror of Dracula (1958)

by on 2011/01/25

There’s a pair of enlarged incisors behind that stiff upper lip.

This Hammer Horror classic was the first time movie great Christopher Lee played Dracula. Lee’s portrayl was unique – British all the way through to his black, unbeating heart.

With ram-rod straight bearing and perfectly-pressed woolen cape, Lee is absolutely striking in his first few moments of screen time as Dracula. All 6 ft 4 inches of Lee greets the hapless Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) in his great hall, and strides up the massive stone stairs like a giraffe climbing up a step stool.

For Bram Stoker fans, this won’t be the only thing you’ll notice. In fact, you’ll be a little disoriented by the opening action.

Let’s just say that the story is based very, very loosely on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Jimmy Sangster script was rather like someone took a pair of scissors to the novel and swapped out who marries whom, who’s trying to kill whom, and where the action starts.

For example, Jonathan Harker is brought into Dracula’s great, drafty castle …in Germany, I think …as the staff librarian. Dracula lopes up the stairs to show him Jonathan his room, and the librarian tells us: “At last I have met Count Dracula. With god’s help, I will end this man’s reign of terror.”

Disorienting. No Brides of Dracula, no real estate deals, just Jonathan Harker vampire hunter and his fiancée Lucy. But I went with it.

Things don’t go particularly swimmingly for Harker. Before you can say clotted cream and scones, he finds that he’s a prisoner in his room. When he breaks free of his quarters, he encounters a large-bosomed lady begging for help – with the most resplendent mullet to ever pre-date Billy Ray Cyrus.

The damsel in distress is not as distressed at it would first appear and Dracula sweeps in to rescue Harker (briefly) from her taloned grasp. Regrettably, Harker’s assignment both as a librarian and a vampire hunter is short-lived thanks to the red-eyed, snarling Dracula.

Cut to Dr. Van Helsing  (Peter Cushing) ensconced in his home office talking vampires. Vampirism is a medical condition and Dr. Van Helsing is the specialist. Turns out Harker and Van Helsing were in cahoots, and Van Helsing’s lost contact with his field researcher.

Harker leaves behind his girlfriend Lucy’s who’s perplexingly come over all invalid since her beau Jonathan fell off the grid. Her worried family, brother Arthur (Michael Gough) and his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling) are the very picture of reserved concern about their ailing, suspiciously pale Lucy.

Time to call in a specialist.

By now you know the dance. Dracula picks off the pretty ladies of the household, one by pretty one. Sporting some terrific négligées, these prim English roses show us some wonderful moments of repressed sexuality.

After Lucy’s turned, despite the Van Helsing’s stern advice and the garlic flowers everywhere, Dracula happens along to release wife Mina from a life of needle-pointing and smiling wanly. And the chase is on to save Mina, with Arthur and Van Helsing in pursuit.

All and all, this is a damned entertaining film. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are great, both looking every inch their respective parts. Christopher Lee was born to play a flashing-eyed villain and Cushing has the face of a driven, possessed crusader. Beautiful gothic settings, lovely women, bursts of action. Directed by Terence Fisher, Horror of Dracula is a movie that deserves our love just for the title credits’ font alone.

 This is simply a must for vampire fiends. Experience the classic – tea service optional.

* * * *

Unrated but scenes with bright orange blood, low-cut dresses

82 minutes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: