Retro Review: ‘Horror of Dracula’
By the end of the 1940’s the gothic horror trend in the United States was pretty much over, replaced by more science fiction terrors. But a studio in England would pick up the baton which Universal laid down and bring new life to these classic monsters. In 1957, director Terence Fisher along with actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing scored a hit with the Curse of Frankenstein. The following year in 1958, Hammer became solidified as the new House of Horror with Horror of Dracula.
In an isolated region of Transylvania, Jonathan Harker has taken a job with the mysterious Count Dracula. When he does not return, his colleague Professor Van Helsing knows their worst fears are true and Dracula is actually a vampire looking to spread his evil to England. Once he arrives in the United Kingdom the undead monster preys on those closest to Harker. Arthur Holmwood allies himself with Van Helsing once Dracula begins to sink he teeth into his wife Mina. Together they set out to stake the vampire once and for all…..or until the eight sequels which were eventually produced.
Any fan of horror, or movies in general, knows that Christopher Lee is arguably the finest actor to don the cape (Bela Lugosi naturally gets the other side of that argument). With the Horror of Dracula, audiences got to see the new face of vampiric evil as Lee nailed his portrayal of the Count. For the most part, Lee allows his incredible screen presence carry the movie, as aside from a few lines in the beginning he remains silent. Without speaking a word, Christopher Lee radiates; menace, intelligence, sexiness, and outright evil. He is perfectly countered by frequent co-star Peter Cushing as cinema’s definitive Van Helsing. With razor sharp wit and intellect along with plenty of guts he is more than a match for the bloodsucking fiend.
Director Terence Fisher approached this film with a style to ensure audiences this was unlike any Dracula they had seen before. Forgoing the bleak melodrama of Universal’s Dracula films, he brought a fast-paced sleekness to the picture. At the climax of the film, we even get to see Dracula and Van Helsing dash around Dracula’s castle like pseudo-action stars. A lot of this has to do with the brilliant scripting from Jimmy Sangster, who also became a staple of the Hammer Horrors. Using Bram Stoker’s source material as a jumping off point, Sangster streamlined it and punched it up for a modern audience. The colors popped with a vivid brightness which came in especially handy introducing viewers to the now iconic thick, red blood of the Hammer flicks. Fisher also gave moviegoers their first look at a cinematic Dracula with his fangs bared.
To this day Horror of Dracula is regarded as one of the greatest horror movies of all-time and one of the best films to ever be produced in Britain. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would cement themselves as icons of the genre in this film and would go on to lead countless other Hammer Horror features. This movie gave new life to the classic monsters of cinema and sparked a revolution in scary movies as a whole.