on 23 December 2006
Considered by many to be the greatest 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 most important British 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 chillers that took a dip in quality with every subsequent episode, ending with some real dreck in the early 1970s. However, 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.
Though it sometimes receives criticism for the ways in which it differs from Stoker’s plot, Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is actually a smartly-worked distillation of the original story which reduces both the scale and the number of key characters, re-shaping the tale primarily as a duel between Count Dracula and his nemesis Dr. Van Helsing. The ending, a violent piece of hand-to-hand combat between the two, was unlike anything else seen in British cinema up to that point, with special effects that still impress today; but what really makes the film work are the performances of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the lead roles. Lee's star-making turn as Dracula ensured his status as one of the great cinematic villains, and though it largely typecast him for the rest of his career, there is no denying the impact that his feral, predatory vampire made on the horror genre. Cushing, meanwhile, also enjoys one of his signature roles, and he provides us with by far the strongest and most impressive Van Helsing on film, a model of Christian decency, a master of arcane science, and a steely assassin all rolled into one.
Horror of Dracula isn't a totally flawless movie; there are a couple of persistently annoying continuity errors, the comic relief could do with dialling back just a little, and the geographical setting is hopelessly unclear (a Transylvanian castle is in close proximity to a German-sounding town, populated by characters with English names). But if it isn't the very finest Hammer film (and I would suggest that 1958's The Revenge of Frankenstein and 1967's The Devil Rides Out are both a shade more accomplished), it remains the quintessential one, the most vital classic in the canon as far as Hammer aficionados are concerned, and a must-see for fans of British horror in general.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros' DVD of the movie does not do justice to the film itself, and neither does it go nuts in the extras department; indeed, this is an almost bare bones release, with the original trailer as the only additional feature worth a mention. Considering Horror of Dracula's status as probably the most famous and influential chiller of the 1950s, it would have been nice if Warner Bros had been able to set up the recording of a commentary from the likes of Lee, Sangster, and producer Anthony Hinds whilst, if you will pardon the remark, the gentlemen in question are still with us.
on 15 July 2005
Often regarded as the highlight of Hammer horror's oeuvre, The Horror of Dracula stands up today as a fresh and inventive take on what is maybe the best story ever written. Hammer is a studio that has had many a fine hour, and although this is one indeed; I think that there are several other films from their ranks that just top it. Just, being the operative word as this is certainly up there with the best of them. As you might expect, the story follows that of Bram Stoker's original novel; with a young man travelling to Dracula's castle, and not returning. This attracts the attentions of Professor Abraham Van Helsing; an authority in the field of vampirism who then sets out to slay the malevolent fiend that is the source of all the foul play in the movie; Dracula himself.
Although this is based on the classic story, Hammer very much makes it their own. Of course, the campy horror styling that that the studio has become famous for features strongly in the movie and serves in giving it that classic Hammer feel. Furthermore, this movie features both of Hammer's greatest stars; Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Christopher Lee may be no Bela Lugosi, but if there was anyone other than Bela Lugosi that I would want to play Dracula; Christopher Lee is that man. He isn't actually in it that much, but the moments when he is are the best in the movie. He has an incredible amount of screen presence, and all of that is transferred into the character of Dracula. In a similar way, Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing. Like Lee, Cushing has buckets of screen presence, but it's all in a very different style. While Lee is a defined evil, Cushing is more subdued, which allows him to adequately play the hero as well as well as he plays the villain. I've got to be honest, I prefer Cushing in the bad guy role; but he still makes an excellent hero.
Terence Fisher, one of Hammer's premier directors, directs the film and does a great job with it. The atmosphere of the Gothic period setting is spot on, and a constantly foreboding, and intriguing atmosphere is created throughout. The way that the smoke drifts across the graveyard in the movie is among the most atmospheric things Hammer ever shot. Dracula is a great story, and this Hammer yarn more than does it justice.
This is the greatest Hammer film ever made. Starring the two mainstays of British Horror Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Terence Fisher (the best Hammer director) directs with style and James Bernard produced a score that would be used in variations by many Hammer films over the years. For any musicians out there the chord Bernard uses to signal Dracula's presence is an augmented chord...
Christopher Lee is magnificent as Count Dracula. Bela Lugosi may have starred in the role first but Lee is vastly superior in every respect: He has more screen presence (helped by being 6' 5"), is better looking and most crucially unlike Lugosi he can act.
As Van Helsing Peter Cushing is mesmerising. Whether he is carrying out a blood transfusion or dictating into an early phonograph recorder, the script is delivered with absolute conviction. I always end up believing vampires exist after watching this film!
The ending to this film is perhaps the single greatest moment in the entire history of Hammer films. While the special effects look dated now the realisation of the ending is just a great piece of film making.
on 1 February 2011
In 1951 the British Board of Film Censors introduced the X certificate, which restricted admission to the designated films to people over the age of sixteen. Most British film makers tended to shun X certificate material, but Hammer Films bucked this trend when they achieved considerable box office success with two X certificate films, namely 'The Quatermass Experiment' (1955) and 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957). After Hammer's success with their adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel, in 1958 they decided to tackle the other great nineteenth century horror classic, Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. The X certificate classification allowed the director Terence Fisher the freedom to film scenes in which stakes are plunged into the hearts of vampires, and the vampires themselves bare their fangs whilst looming over their victims' necks.
Jimmy Sangster's screenplay is true to the spirit, if not the letter of Bram Stoker's novel. In the book, Jonathan Harker is an estate agent who visits Castle Dracula to sell a London property to the count. It takes Harker quite a while in the novel to discover the truth about his host. Since the movie has a relatively short running time of 81 minutes, in order to speed up the development of the plot Harker is a vampire hunter in the film. He takes a job as a librarian at Castle Dracula in order to hunt down and kill the count. Other changes to the book are less easy to explain. In the novel, Lucy is engaged to Arthur Holmwood, but in this film version Lucy is Arthur's sister.
The music score composed by James Bernard and the cinematography of Jack Asher help to create the film's suspense and underscore the moments of terror. Of particular note is Dracula's first appearance in dark shadow at the top of a flight of stairs. Christopher Lee has genuine screen presence as the count, and he successfully combines menace and sexual allure. As Dr Van Helsing, Peter Cushing is outstanding. He conveys an air of calm authority in scenes like the one in which he questions the innkeeper about the whereabouts of Jonathan Harker, but he is also able to show intense emotion, as in the reaction shot of him looking at the death of Dracula. In conclusion, this is not only a classic of horror cinema, it is a true cinema classic.
The American Warner Brothers DVD subdivides the film into twenty six chapters. The viewer is able to access subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portugese. The cast and crew feature is minimal, only listing four members of the cast, along with the writer, director and producer. 'Dracula Lives Again' provides a brief history of the Hammer Dracula franchise. It contains inaccuracies. For example, we are told that in 'The Brides of Dracula', "Cushing returns as Van Helsing fighting a brother/sister team of vampires." In fact Baroness and Baron Meinster are mother and son rather than brother and sister. The other bonus is the original cinema trailer, which provides an entertaining distillation of the main feature in less than three minutes.
In the mid seventies when I was thirteen or fourteen years old I saw Dracula, or Horror Of Dracula to give it it's American title , and to this day I still think it's the best cinematic ( or televisual ) interpretation of Bram Stokers novel I have seen.....and I've seen just about all of them. Not only that it remains one of the finest vampire movies ever made and by some distance the most pre-eminent movie that the Hammer studio put its name too.
Released the year after (1958) "The Curse Of Frankenstein "Dracula was the film that really put the Hammer studio on the map and establish its place in Anglo- horror history and achieve a measure of sacrosanct nobility in the process. Though it takes liberties with Stokers novel, missing out estimable chunks of the narrative due to pacing issues and more pertinently budgetary concerns (There is no Renfield or the asylum and no landing at Whitby alas) it ostensibly remains true to the source. It also undermines classical vampire mythology by limiting Dracula's supernatural powers. Van Helsing asserts at one point "it's a common fallacy that vampires can change into bats and wolves"
What made Dracula such a shock to fifties audiences, apart from the use of colour and more liberal use of gore, was directors Terence Fishers savy perception of the novels sexual undertones something he utilises in the film, portraying the Count as an irresistible sexual predator laviciously plundering virginal heroines who even though they are subconsciously repulsed by his advances are erotically charged by his ministrations. This was played more explicitly in the Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula and was one of that films real successes, the image of Sadie Frost as Lucy glorying in her rampant libidinous femininity is one of the films most memorable along with its stylistic flourishes.
However that modern adaptation lacks one vital element - truly memorable performances - and in this film we have two. Most significantly 6 foot five Christopher Lee with a mesmerising performance as Dracula. From an austere nobleman demonstrating suppressed power and grace to a snarling feral monster with bared fangs and blood red eyes Lee is unsurpassed as a screen Dracula. To audiences used to Bela Lugosi, s hammy stiff turn as The Count Lee must have been a revelation and once again it's down to Fishers perspicacity, the director stripping the story of its unyielding theatricality and gothic romanticism and making a lean hard thriller, but vitally retaining the stories core and the elements of fear and portentous atmosphere. Its not subtle and who knows if the budget had been greater( The film nearly ran out of money ) Fisher may have made a more faithful version but what Fisher put on the screen belies the lack of money.
Peter Cushing portrays Van Helsing as a man of science as much as a man of superstition or religious persuasion and strips him of the eccentricities later depictions would rely on but his steely authority and resolute intelligence shine through and though Cushing is no action hero he proves himself adept enough for the films memorable climax, which Cushing himself suggested, using the term "doing a bit of a Douglas Fairbanks". Michael Gough later to play Batman's butler Alfred provides great support as the bewildered Arthur Holmwood. The film lacks a truly convincing Mina but Melissa Stribling is still superior to Winona Ryder from the 1992 version. And of course there is no Keanu Reeves as Jonathon Harker to drag the films credibility down.
A series of ever diminishing sequels followed with Lee, the films greatest asset, becoming an increasingly marginalized figure. Nothing however can diminish the fact that this is a landmark movie. Taking the horror genre on from the Universal films of the 1930,s and imbibing it with more contemporary gloss and velocity. The script by Jimmy Sangster is pared down but still lyrical and the lighting and sets are first rate. A truly great horror film, Horror Of Dracula will always be in my top ten of that particular genus. It revitalised the British film industry and breathed empowering fetid breath into the undead in more ways than one.
on 8 March 2011
This is by far the greatest ever Dracula film and a classic. I first saw this film back in 1961 when I was just a kid (I was tall for my age then) I have since saw the movie quite a lot of times in various cinemas and at one point went three times in one week to see It! Between then and the present I must have seen this film about 500 times and I believe It to be my most watched movie of all time. I now own the DVd and have watched the DVD a lot. This is one horror movie that I will never tire of. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are perfect in their roles and the music and settings are fantastic. This has got to be the best horror film of all time,
on 28 May 2010
The impact and influence of the Irish writer Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula" cannot be denied or ignored and its significance in the history of horror literature and horror cinema is nothing short of phenomenal. Anyone who has ever read this famous story though may just agree with my opinion that certain chunks of it are extremely boring and heavy-going!
Fortunately, when Hammer Studios decided to film their version of "Dracula" in the late 1950s, they chose not to stick too closely to Stoker's original novel. The end result is a film that is regarded by many as a masterpiece of horror cinema. Hammer's "Dracula" (a.k.a. "Horror Of Dracula" - an alternative title that I hate) features an action-packed script by Jimmy Sangster and stylish, expert direction by the now-legendary Terence Fisher. This film also benefits immensely from the inspired casting of Christopher Lee as the title character and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing.
Both of these wonderful actors brought certain qualities to their respective roles and gave performances that many fans and critics now regard as being definitive and both of them successfully reprised their roles in other films. Lee's portrayal of Dracula has many layers. Initially he appears to be courteous and charming but we then find out just what an evil monster he really is and what vile acts he is capable of. Lee's Dracula also possesses a sexual magnetism that was not really seen in previous Dracula films. When night falls, beautiful women are only too keen to open their French windows and allow him into their boudoirs.
Cushing's Van Helsing is an educated man of science who is also equipped with sufficient knowledge about vampirism and the supernatural to be a worthy adversary for Dracula and other bloodsucking fiends.
This film contains pretty much all the elements you would expect to find in a gothic horror film - terrific sets and locations, brilliantly-staged set-pieces, atmospheric lighting, scary music and probably the greatest climax of any film ever made.
I do however have a couple of slight criticisms of this film.... Sometimes the acting by some of the supporting players is not of a high quality. I must stress though that the main stars are absolutely faultless and look out for a fine (but brief) comic turn by Miles Malleson as a frivolous undertaker. Miles was a marvellous actor and also provided some not-unwelcome comic relief in "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" and "The Brides Of Dracula". My other minor quibble is that the plot does contain one or two inconsistencies but the action is so well-paced that you don't really notice or care about this too much at the time.
If you have seen Hammer's "Dracula" before then you will probably want to own it on DVD and watch it over and over again. If you have not seen it, then what are you waiting for? Track down this DVD release and enjoy one of the best horror films of all time. I only wish I could award this film more than five stars. It is THAT good.
on 10 September 2012
This is a film worthy of the word 'best'. It is by far the best Hammer Dracula, AND may I go as far as saying it's the best Dracula film to date and with Christopher Lee in the best portrayal of Dracula, in my opinion.
You have the stars Christopher Lee as Dracula in his signature role, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in one of his with the simple yet effective direction of Terence Fisher with some of the most memorable scenes in horror film history; the first appearance of Dracula at the top of the stairs, Dracula's jump over the table as the vampiress bites Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing running across the table to rip the curtains down to reveal the sunlight which kills Dracula.
A film which deserves the description 'classic'.
on 14 June 2014
DRACULA aka HORROR OF DRACULA is in my opinion the best adaption of Bram Stoker's novel, surpassing 1992's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA by far. It is also one of the best Hammer productions.
What makes this 1958 adaption so good is certainly not the special effects overkill - it's minimalism here - but the clash of two of the greatest British actors of all time: Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Dracula. I consider Lee to be the only true Dracula on screen, yes he's that great.
What is most interesting is what Hammer managed to do with such a low budget of £81.000: the costumes are good, the sets, including a castle and a crypt, look fantastic and the photography is just beautiful.
Directed by the talented Terence Fisher, who also directed the sequel DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS.
While knowledge of Stoker's book is not required to understand DRACULA, I still recommend reading it, as sometimes it can be a bit confusing to understand what location the story takes place at.
Unlike modern adaptions, DRACULA does not rely heavily on gore and action but rather on atmosphere, story and a brilliant cast. There is a wee bit of blood (the staking scenes are quite well done, even by today's standards) but nothing really gory.
Reviewed version: 2002 Warner Bros. German DVD
Feature running time: 79 mins. (uncut)
Rating: Not Rated (would be a PG-13 today) (MPAA) / 12 (BBFC)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 / 16:9 (anamorphic)
Audio: English 1.0, German 1.0
Subtitles: English, French, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic, English HoH, and German HoH
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew notes
The Warner Bros. edition is a rather meager DVD with average picture and audio quality and hardly any extras. I recommend the Lionsgate UK DVD and Blu-ray combo released in 2013 instead.
Hammer's groundbreaking 1958 version of Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) is still one of the very best despite the many liberties Jimmy Sangster's concise and highly effective script takes with Bram Stoker's novel to whittle it down to an hour-and-a-half. It's not just the names that have been changed around and the cast of characters greatly reduced to Hammer's budget levels (admirably disguised here by Bernard Robinson's excellent production design). John Van Eyssen's Jonathan Harker is no longer a lawyer, but here is posing as a librarian to get into Dracula's castle with an ulterior motive - presumably on the grounds that the audience knows going in just what Dracula is so there's no point putting the hero through all that mystery when there's staking to be done. The budget doesn't stretch to the voyage and arrival of the ghost ship Demeter or even a Renfield for that matter, and this Dracula has no social interaction with his intended victims in Whitby or London - in fact, he never even leaves the continent. Nor is the vampire fascinated with Harker's intended - here he simply seeks her out as revenge. Yet the changes work surprisingly well, and even throws in a few good twists like the location of Dracula's hiding place.
Although he doesn't have much screen time, Christopher Lee is inspired casting, a feral, vicious creature rather than a Eurotrash smoothie while a very agile Peter Cushing makes a surprisingly physical Van Helsing, the final fight between the good doctor and the evil count surprisingly energetic and violent before the best of the studio's ashes to ashes, dust-to-dust finales. Although rather sedate by today's standards, this film still has a surprising degree of energy and it's easy to see why it made had such a profound impact on the horror genre for decades to come. The first colour version of the tale, it made a big selling point of being able to see the blood in all its vivid hues of red, although it also makes much play on the vampire's female victims being absolutely gagging for it (perhaps not so surprising with Peter Cushing and Michael Gough as the male leads), setting the groundwork for the tits'n'fangs formula that would become the studio's bread and butter over the next couple of decades. A surprisingly cheap picture, thanks to Bernard Robinson's elegant production design and fine direction from Terence Fisher before the drink got to him, it never looks cheap: if anything, it's rather seductively good looking. Unfortunately this is slightly compromised by Warners' widescreen DVD, which feels overcropped at 1.85:1 (the film was intended to be shown in 1.66:1) and there's also a slight wobble at the end of the closing credits.