Far and away the best Dracula movie yet made, Hammer's 1958 take on Bram Stoker's novel is a classic piece of cinema that in my view ranks as the finest gothic horror film of all. If the famous company hadn't made any more Dracula movies after this one, these days it would be thought of as equalling David Lean's Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in the rankings of British cinema's great literary adaptations. Instead, it is simply regarded as the first film in a fondly-remembered, though essentially campy series of genre pics that took a dip in quality with every subsequent episode, ending with some real dreck in the early 1970s. But Terence Fisher's movie, only his second gothic horror, did justice to the story in a way that no other filmmaker has been able to repeat. It's scary, sexy, action-packed, laced with atmosphere, and shows no signs at all of the low budget it was made under. The photography is gorgeous, the sets even better, and the music just perfect. The ending, a violent piece of hand-to-hand combat between Count Dracula and his nemesis Dr. Van Helsing, was unlike anything else seen in British cinema up to that point, and the special effects still impress today. But what really makes the film work are the performances of Christopher Lee and (especially) Peter Cushing in the lead roles. Lee's star-making turn as Dracula ensured his status as one of the great cinematic villains, and has typecast him for the rest of his career. Cushing meanwhile, enjoys one of his two signature roles (the other of course being Baron Victor Frankenstein), and he provides us with by far the strongest and most impressive Van Helsing on film. His vampire hunter is a dangerous, Christian fanatic, and a celibate, lonely scientist who battles Dracula not for personal reward but because he knows he is the only man strong and wise enough to be able to do so and survive. This Van Helsing doesn't provide comfort and advice to violated women and their weak husbands; he simply gets on with the job of hunting down and destroying the vampire, and is utterly merciless in doing so.
Whilst this movie's classic status makes it a must-have for Hammer fanatics, and for fans of British cinema in general, it must be said that Warner Bros' DVD of the film does not exactly go nuts in the extras department. Indeed, this is an almost bare bones release, with the original trailer as the only extra feature worth a mention. Considering this movie's status as possibly the best and most influential horror film of the 1950s, it would have been nice if Warner Bros had considered setting up the recording of a commentary from the likes of Lee, Jimmy Sangster, and Anthony Hinds whilst, if you will pardon the remark, the gentlemen in question are still with us.