Tribute Review: Horror of Dracula

Back in June this year cinema lost one of its most iconic actors, Sir Christopher Lee, so I opted to watch one of his most classic films; his first role as Dracula.

Based upon Bram Stoker’s classic novel, this 1958 movie is produced by Hammer Studios and compared to the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula, this is a far bloodier and darker affair. When Jonathan Harker visits Castle Dracula he forces the inhuman count to flee to the city, bringing the threat to those he cared about.

When you have a novel so regularly recreated in film form it often becomes a matter of which version you saw first is the version you enjoy the most. Or you can compare them all even closer to the text to decide which is best, which can be unfair.

The Horror of Dracula is only eighty minutes long, and at first I was very concerned they had twisted the novel’s narrative too greatly; when Jonathan first arrives at Castle Dracula he already knows what The Count is, and what has to be done to defeat him.
Certainly the film takes a few minutes to get going; we are waiting for Peter Cushing (Star Wars, for non-horror fans) as Van Helsing to arrive. Cushing is great as the knowledgeable vampire hunter. As someone who grew up with Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, I never really accepted Anthony Hopkins as Helsing, here Cushing looks like the intelligent hunter that can match wits with the monster.

Once Dracula leaves the castle, the film follows beats of the book closer than I expected. There are exceptions however, for example the character of Renfield is completely missing and none of that plot exists. The story follows specifically the seduction of Lucy, her late night visitations from the tall, shadowy creature and the duo of Helsing and Arthur (played by a youthful Michael Gough – Batman) trying to save her.
The film has great atmosphere and set work; Lucy’s room is very exact to how I saw it in the book. Sir Christopher Lee has a great presence as Count Dracula, although I wish there was more of him; as the Count and as the monster he was very convincing! I can see why he came back to the character over half-a-dozen times.

But, the film does feel a bit clunky at times. Asides from the opening with Jonathan (can no one get this part right?) there’s a laughable scene where the all knowledgeable Doctor Van Helsing is listening to a recording of himself explaining what vampires are and how they can be defeated. Yes, it is as ridiculously heavy-handed as exposition can get!

I enjoyed it, and I should look into the other Hammer Dracula films with Sir Christopher Lee. A very theatrical, short but gory interpretation of the novel.

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