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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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
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.
Dracula seeks revenge for the loss of his female vampire partner by invading the household of the vampire hunter, Jonathan Harker, who killed her by driving a wooden stake through her heart. After vampirizing Jonathan Harker, he has managed to start that process on Harker's fiancée Lucy, who lives with her brother Arthur and his wife Mina in a house nearby Dracula's castle and grounds. It turns out that the grounds are important, as Dracula must have native soil with him wherever he travels. There is a serious sexual undertone throughout, as Dracula first goes after Lucy (the fiancée) and then her brother Arthur's wife Mina. Lucy's vampirization and her calling out to Mina's and Arthur's young daughter, a child, is creepy and disturbing, as Mina would make her a child vampire. Keeping the whole film on a rational level is the role played by Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, a committed vampire hunter who is on to Dracula's trail. The unearthly vampire squares off against the rational scientist, the confrontation dealing with saving Arthur's wife who is Dracula's next victim. The number of hours of night and day are both crucial elements. Dracula's castle, the tombs, the night time walks of Lucy, are all vintage horror elements brought to vivid life by this classic Hammer production directed by Terence Fisher and starring the incomparable Christopher Lee in the title role.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Despite their reputation for gratuitousness, Hammer Films were often quite tame (even by the standards of the time). Case in point: HORROR OF Dracula. This one boasts a lavish budget and two of the finest performers to ever go head-to-head in horror films (Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) working from a very literate script. Under the artistic aegis of Terence Fisher, HORROR OF Dracula would prove to be the beginning of arguably the definitive Dracula series. The liberties taken with the storyline are actually improvements (unlike CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which paired Cushing as the good doctor with a sidekick): when it turns out that Harker has arrived to put an end to Dracula's "reign of horror," it's clear that this one's going to be a significant departure from what has come before. And, when Cushing arrives and proceeds to dispatch his former comrade in arms (Harker), Hammer's Horror is off and running.
I first saw HORROR OF Dracula, at the RKO Hill Street, of blessed
memory, in downtown Los Angeles---first show (morning) on opening day
in 1958. Early show admission 25 cents (*Eat your hearts out bitches*).
It was paired with THE THING THAT COULD NOT DIE (a small B & W mood piece that has an atmosphere all its own)---most movies were sent out as double bills, the heyday of which was from the early '30s to the mid- '70s. Until HOD horror films in the 1950s were essentially low-budget affairs, b & w "quickies" as they were known in the trade.
HOD was the first quality horror film to break big, and I mean it broke HUGE. Hammer had had great success with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN ('56, WB), but it didn't have anything like the impact HOD did. The box office bonanza that was HOD---it was a gusher of cash in a year that saw only sporadic hits---spawned renewed respect for the quality horror film among the majors unseen since the 1930s. The succeeding Hammers were handled by the majors---EVERY major handled at least one Hammer.
NOTE: IMDb is lax about indicating which distributor handled a film in its ORIGINAL theatrical release. That's like not having a birth certificate. And you don't need a work history managing movie theaters and drive-ins, like me, to realize that a film's distributor says a lot about that film, especially when the film was not produced by the distributor, as in the case of HOD.
There's hardly anything that hasn't been said about HOD, except THIS: Seeing this film in a HUGE classic era movie palace seating more than 2000, in the balcony, with a master blaster sound system, offered an experience unmatched by home viewing. Consider this: the RKO Hill Street had a screen 17 feet high by more than 50 feet across. For a quarter ! It's worth noting too that a theater of this size makes the music a major character as it were---and James Bernard's HOD score became a lasting influence on orchestral horror film music.
The film makers of the day made their movies with just that kind of theater in mind and HOD delivered the goods, and how ! The posts here reflect home viewing of HOD---NOT the same animal. I've seen HOD on TV, and I saw it again at the annual Halloween horror festival at the old NEW YORKER THEATER Broadway/88th in Manhattan in the mid-'60s. After a steady diet of Godard and Truffaut, these college film "buffs" were really taken by surprise. Even after ten years, HOD still packed its punch.
But HOD had another effect---young boys were the primary audience for horror films back then, and watching these films accustomed us to the British way of movie-making. It made them as easy to watch as any American film. They weren't considered "foreign" films. Their way of speech, their technique and viewpoint were just that much different from anybody else's.
It has been forgotten that England used to be a major player in the American movie scene---hardly a week passed without a new English film hitting the theaters. BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI ('57), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ('61), DR. ZHIVAGO ('65) and GOLDFINGER ('64) were the most gigundous hits: EVERYBODY saw these films. England had real box office muscle in the U.S.A., their films seeing wide release by all the majors. Hammer films saw wide release for the twenty years after HOD.
When was the last time YOU saw an English film at a first-run theater, that wasn't some crumb-bum down-in-the mouth indie thing, about "quirky" lovable losers or some embalmed costume Masterpiece Cinemah ?
Besides the big budget spectaculars, young boys saw many English war films during the 1950s-'60s such as THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY ('57), SINK THE BISMARCK ! ('60), PURSUIT OF THE GRAF SPEE ('59). English stars also became American stars---Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Alec Guiness, Julie Christie, Christopher Lee---the list is a long one.
It was the early Hammer classics like HORROR OF Dracula that made this possible.
In the 1930's and 40's it was the classic 1933 black and white Dracula that was seen as the supreme vampire film however in 1958 hammer films released Horror of Dracula. This showed a more gory and frightening take on the count than any other film and is arguably the first example of full on , gory , nerve shattering terror on film . Christopher Lee is by far the best Dracula and possibly the most memorable. It takes certain liberties with the novel but for the better delivering a much stronger and darker story. If you enjoy horror films then this is a must see. Peter Cushing is incredible as Van Helsing and the final scene is possibly one of the best climaxes in any film.
I have seen this film over a million times and it never gets old. After
seeing all the 1930s and 1940s Universal horror films I started to get
into the British film adaptations of all the old monster stories. And
one of the best film studios in Europe at making horror films is easily
Hammer Films. Just that name by itself is cool. They've made all the
original monster films from Dracula to She. I have to say that being a
fan of both Universal and Hammer horror films, both studios come at a
tie for me. Each have taken these classic monster stories and have made
them so different that when I watch the 1931 Dracula, then watch the
1958 Hammer Dracula (It's called Horror of Dracula in the US to avoid
confusion with the original.) I feel like I'm watching two completely
different films even though both for the most part have the same
characters.But one thing that I love about the Hammer horror films
biggest productions is that they usually have the two same actors as
the stars. Peter Cushing (Van Hellsing) and Christopher Lee (Dracula).
Watching them is always entertaining even though they both practically
play the same characters in each film. Peter Cushing always plays the
brainy smart doctor or scientist, while Christopher Lee usually plays
the monster and usually has little to none speaking parts. Horror of
Dracula takes the original story of Dracula and twists it into an
almost action film, with plenty of suspense and "fight scenes" if you
will (I am using the word 'fight scenes' severely loose here. I'm not
talking Jackie Chan fight scenes.) I find this one to be almost horror
adventure as well. The 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi shows more of a
slow erie and creepy version of Dracula. Which is good as well. I'm
saying that both studios have such unique ways at portraying these
classic monster stories. Hammer, like Universal has also made these
stories into franchises
For example the Dracula Hammer films are: Dracula (1958) Brides of Dracula (1963) Dracula Prince of Darkness (1965) Dracula Risen From The Grave (1969) Scars of Dracula (1970) Taste The Blood of Dracula (1971) Dracula A.D 1972 (1972) The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
I recommend you see both the Universal and Hammer horror adaptations.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While mistitled Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) had gorgeously fruitcake Gothic beauty - including pulchritude of Mina and Lucy - and underrated cast, 1958 Dracula (Horror of Dracula for you yanks) is even better. I probably prefer Gary Oldman as the Count and I definitely feel Christopher Lee is overrated - he was adequate but nothing more, and the scene where he bites Mina in her bedroom is almost unwatchable, because it is so laughably written and actors do not transform it from embarrassing sex fantasy to anything more. Still, it is true that this film gave fresh blood to whole vampire genre. There is ravishing 1958 Technicolor by Jack Asher, turning Bernard Robinson's sets and Molly Arbuthnot's costumes - she showcased some of her most beautiful dresses here - as a visual feast, giving Jimmy Sangster's good script a visual look which is both cozy and atmospheric. Then there is traditional Hammer heroines filling those dresses and showing that there was rich vibrant blood in their veins, not just five o'clock tea. There is Peter Cushing as perhaps best Van Helsing ever, starring two years later in even better Brides of Dracula, and it would have been great to see Cushing's vampire hunter in more films. Not even slightly aged, this gem shows what rubbish most modern vampire films are.
I do not really care that the film takes a lot of liberties with the book, I just like the fact the movie has really good acting and it is not a long movie. At only 82 minutes runtime it has to be one of the shortest adaptations of the novel I have ever seen. It not only moves at a very brisk pace it also tells a nice story to boot, one that does not feel overlong and bloated. Christopher Lee would play Dracula here and through quite a few more Hammer Dracula movies and for my money he is the best Dracula ever. One of the reasons I thought the film "Van Helsing" was a bit weak is because the actor they chose to play Dracula was weak, he had no presence compared to Lee. Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing in this one, and as with Lee he does a superb job. Then again he is good in everything I see him in. Even in the brief time he is in the movie "Shock Waves" he makes a lasting impression. Together they make a fine duo of hero and villain to be sure in the Dracula movies that they are in together. It is a shame most horror films today are devoid of acting. There just does not seem to be actors who can take the places of ones like Lee, Cushing and Vincent Price.
A 50+ year old horror flick that still works; that's no small feat.
Granted, a lot of these old horror flicks possess a certain charm, but
"Horror of Dracula" is just soothing with atmosphere and a good dose of
old fashioned suspense.
This film was the real breakthrough for Hammer Horror and it's still one of the best of the lot. A lot of it is due to magnificent casting; Lee is the best of the bunch who's played the menacing Count and Cushing is a very memorable Van Helsing.
Sets and lighting at those old Pinewood studios help create a really attractive Gothic mood that's been imitated a lot (often very successfully) over the years. Considering it's age, this film is rather bloody and some of the effects here are very impressive.
Has there even been in the history of British horror such a clash of
the titans? Peter Cushing, a man who has super-high cheekbones (more-so
as he grows older, see: Star Wars) and a face stern enough to scare
schoolchildren silly, and Christopher Lee, a man who is somehow able to
combine the everlasting creepyness of the Bela Lugosi Dracula with that
of the somewhat charming and seductive Dracula of 1979's Frank
Langella, only have their big title bout at the end of the picture as
the classic villain/hero Dracula/Van Helsing face-off. It's well worth
the wait, as the director, Terence Young, aided by a group of skilled
and consummate professional craftsmen make what is not just a great
Hammer movie but a great movie period.
This is what one wants in a Dracula movie all-around. It might have some bright lighting in some scenes (indeed the British aren't always fans of shadows or anything experimental when it comes to simple talking scenes), and as he one very minor liability Lee isn't quite in it as much as one might hope for (his appearances are limited, but this may also be due to the short running time), but this is what essentially is the Bram Stoker myth made into hard-edged and occasionally very funny flesh and cinema. It's one thing that the script has no fat on its bones and makes us care about the characters with limited exposition. If anything it resembles a true-blue B-movie more-so the big-budget studio production. But it's another that the performers, all more or less classic British pros, make it so worthwhile.
It's almost inarguable that Peter Cushing and Lee deliver two of their key performances in their careers. For Cushing he gets to deliver line after line with the kind of conviction and earnestness that would make other actors crap themselves, and he even casts a kind of bad-ass mold once or twice. For Lee his dialog is limited, which is just about perfect for him: we might not get a "I don't drink... wine" line, but we don't need it for this story. Dracula's presence is enough, and on that count Lee's performance is something of a minor miracle. Every actor ever playing Dracula must look at him in this movie, there's no getting around it. Matter of fact, anyone wanting to get another peek at how Dracula can be done with style and class and real chills and spills (and, oddly enough, tasteful and fun for the kids), must look here. Period. A+
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