HORROR OF DRACULA (aka: DRACULA)(director: Terence Fisher; screenwriters: Jimmy Sangster/based on the novel by Bram Stoker; cinematographer: Jack Asher; editors: Bill Lenny/James Needs; music: James Bernard; cast: Peter Cushing (Doctor Van Helsing), Christopher Lee (Count Dracula), John Van Eyssen (Jonathan Harker), Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood), Melissa Stribling (Mina Holmwood), Carol Marsh (Lucy Holmwood), Olga Dickie (Gerda), Janina Faye (Tania), Charles Lloyd Pack (Dr Seward), Valerie Gaunt (Vampire Woman), Barbara Archer (Inga), George Woodbridge (Landlord); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michael Carreras/Anthony Hinds/Anthony Nelson Keys; Universal-International;1958-UK)
“It was for a long time regarded by horror fans as the finest horror film ever made.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This chilling Hammer version of the Bram Stoker classic, the studio known for making cheapie and third-rate quality films, in their first of seven Dracula films, shot in 25 days, in brilliant Technicolor and on a budget between $160,000 and $200,000, unbelievably create one of the most faithful (though it made some changes) and creepiest Dracula ever made; it was for a long time regarded by horror fans as the finest horror film ever made. However age has taken away its freshness and it doesn’t have the requisite outlandish scares a modern audience seems to require of its horror films. It’s a remake of Tod Brownings’ 1931 Dracula classic with Bela Lugosi in the title role. Terence Fisher (“The Curse of Frankenstein”/”The Gorgon”/”The Phantom of the Opera”) and writer Jimmy Sangster impressively keep things streamlined and moving at a fast clip and every scene is always filled with suspense.
It opens with librarian Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arriving after a long journey at the menacing Castle Dracula in Transylvania, where he’s been employed by Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) to index his vast book collection. We first see Dracula descending the opulent staircase as an imposing figure emerging from the shadows and in his cape acting every bit the aristocrat in his politeness in welcoming his guest, but eerily we can’t hear his footsteps so he creeps up unexpectedly on his guest. Harker already knows the Count is a vampire and his secret mission as an amateur vampire hunter is to find where Dracula sleeps during the day so he can rid the world of this evil monster. But before he can act Harker’s attacked by one of Dracula’s pretty undead victims (Valerie Gaunt), who suddenly bares her fangs while asking him for help and bites him on the neck. Dracula reveals himself as he goes into a snarling rage and shows his fangs as he tosses the undead lady vampire aside and then with his massive strength overcomes Harker. Nevertheless during the daytime Harker stakes the lady vic to free her tortured soul from an eternity of suffering and smuggles his diary out with a waitress at the local inn, but wastes too much time to stake Dracula. When Harker’s scholarly English colleague Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) visits an inn before he arrives at Castle Dracula to search for his missing friend, the waitress lays on him Harker’s diary. The locals are frightened and unfriendly, and offer no help to the stranger. Thusly, Van Helsing abruptly leaves as soon as he finds that Dracula has flown the coop. Back in some unidentified nearby neighboring country to Transylvania (either Germany or Austria), Van Helsing visits Lucy Holmwood (Carol Marsh), Harker’s fiancée, to tell of Harker’s death only to find her bedridden with a mysterious ailment and her snotty and untrusting brother Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) in a snit and treating the compassionate scholar snidely. As Lucy’s condition worsens and Dr. Seward’s belief that she’s suffering from anemia doesn’t add up, Arthur’s wife Mina (Melissa Stribling) comes to Van Helsing for a second opinion and he immediately notes her gruesome teethmarks and comes up with the old lock the windows at night and keep her bedroom filled with garlic flower treatment. Housekeeper Gerde (Olga Dickie) feels sorry for a complaining Lucy who is suffocating and takes out the garlic and opens the window. The result is that Dracula makes Lucy a vampire. Now an intense Van Helsing has his dander up and when Dracula attacks Mina, he uses his vampire smarts to finally outwit Dracula and after putting a cross in his empty coffin he chases him down at night before he buries Mina while she’s still alive and then Van Helsing finds the vampire in his castle and turns him bloodlessly to dust with the help of daylight coming into the castle’s crypt room when the curtain is opened and then the enterprising scholar makes a makeshift Christian cross out of two candlesticks and uses it to finish the job.
Van Helsing equates the vampire’s victims with drug addicts in need of a constant fix, and in the course of their attacks Fisher equates it to sexual lust—the women vics get a sexual charge out of the vampire attacks and Dracula knows how to prey on their frustrations.
Cushing is the glue who holds this production together with his marvelously fine obsessed and zesty performance as the man of science who is determined to rid the world of the supernatural evil Dracula. Lee has little film time (only seven minutes) as Dracula, but in the short time he’s onscreen he makes for a sinister vampire—an unforgettable one that can send chills up your spine and in my opinion this is the best cinematic Dracula performance ever. Horror of Dracula, in England it was known as Dracula, did wonders for the genre, liberating it to become more realistic (Dracula doesn’t turn into a bat here), sensual (oh, those low-cut nightgowns of Dracula’s female victims!) and graphic (the color version allows you see the red blood oozing out of the neck of the vics and on the fangs of the undead).
REVIEWED ON 5/17/2008 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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