Christopher Lee has always been my all time favourite Count Dracula. He always will be. In my view, when it comes to playing Bram Stoker’s immortal bloodsucker, nobody can come anywhere near him. And all this Lee adoration started when I first saw him in Hammer’s 1958 production of Dracula (Horror of Dracula in the United States) on telly, as a kid growing up in the late 1960s.
After the huge success of The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, it was only natural that Hammer would be looking to follow-up this box office smash by bringing another famous movie monster to the big screen. That monster was, of course, Count Dracula. And just as they did with Frankenstein’s monster a year earlier, they again did a truly awesome job in casting Christopher Lee as Stoker’s infamous vampire. It hardly needs to be said, therefore, just how much of an impact both movies – filmed in gorgeous Eastman colour with equally gorgeous Gothic settings – made on the horror movie world. They cemented Hammer’s reputation for turning out top class horror films.
Even though Hammer’s very first Dracula movie, does deviate from Bram Stoker’s original novel somewhat, the film still presents a fantastic storyline. I cannot fault this classic movie at all. It is undoubtedly my favourite Dracula movie of all time. It also holds a special significance for being the first Dracula film to incorporate razor-sharp fangs, oozing blood, and demonic red eyes – a breathtakingly new and exciting step-up from the comaratively mild Universal Dracula movies starring Bela Lugosi and John Carradine. Lee brought an aristocratic yet animalistic quality to the role of Dracula, and one that has, as far as I am concerned, has never been bettered, nor ever will be.
Directed by Terence Fisher from a script written by Jimmy Sangster, Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) visiting the count’s castle near Klausenburg on the pretext of accepting a librarian job in his host’s library. But Harker is secretly a vampire hunter, and his real intention is to kill Dracula.
When Dracula first makes his entrance to greet Harker, the scene is just so iconic. As Harker looks around and upwards, his eyes suddenly widen in awe as they see the Count suddenly standing there at the top of the stairs, a tall, majestic, yet sinister figure. As the count strides quickly down the stairs to welcome Harker to his “house”, his long black draping from his shoulders, Lee delivers his opening lines wonderfully in his deep, melodious voice.
Unfortunately, Harker soon finds out that his aristocratic host is not quite as hospitable as he initially seems. He eventually becomes a victim of the demonic count and his luscious bride-in-residence. And once Dracula sets his bloodthirsty sights on Harker’s lovely fiancee, Lucy Holmwood (Carol Marsh), after having his passions aroused from a photo, there appears to be no stopping the seductive but evil monster as he proceeds to track his intended victim down. But of course, standing in his way will be the ever valiant, ever dedicated purveyor of God’s work: Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).
Dracula is a blood-dripping, extremely entertaining, Gothic melodrama steeped in menace, eroticism and repressed sexuality. And in Christopher Lee, the movie presents us with a terrifying yet alluring count. Eyes filling with blood and fangs baring sharp at the sight of an inviting female neck, he emerges from the shadows like a baleful devil, to stalk and vampirise his helpless victims. His dark charm only adds to the sexual undercurrents and inherent eroticism of the vampire myth, a trope that director Fisher was eager to explore in subsequent sequels. This was real in-your-face stuff to moviegoers back in the 50s, who hitherto had never seen a Dracula anywhere near as horrifying and lurid as this one. And all in full colour too. I can never praise Hammer enough for gifting us with the fantastic Christopher Lee as Dracula.
Peter Cushing, of course, matches Christopher Lee’s brilliance as Dracula in the role of Professor Van Helsing, providing a formidable foe as he relentlessly pursues the evil count throughout the movie. My favourite Van Helsing scene has to the one where he stakes the now vampirised Lucy as she returns to the crypt in the cemetery where she has been buried. Michael Gough does a brilliant performance here as her distressed fiancee, Arthur, as Van Helsing tells him sombrely that there is “no other way” to rid poor Lucy from the curse of the undead.
This Dracula movie was refreshingly garish, super sexy, and never afraid to steer away from showing explicit scenes splashed with Kensington gore (the jokey reference to Hammer’s stage blood). Add to all that the truly awesome ending — in which Dracula’s flesh flesh peels away and crumbles to dust when Van Helsing, in swashbuckling Error Flynn style, leaps on to the refectory table and pulls back the curtains to expose the trapped vampire to the lethal rays of the morning sun — and we have a classic Dracula film that has carved itself deeply into the annals of classic horror movie history.
If you do not already this fantasic 3-disc Blu Ray edition of Dracula by Lion’s Gate Entertainment, then I highly recommend that you grab yourself a copy now. Believe me, this classic movie is one that, if you love Hammer films as much as I do, you will be rewatching again and again. And all those juicy special features will certainly enhance your delight with this release. You can buy it now by clicking on the movie’s image link above this review.
If you enjoyed this Hammer horror movie review, you might be interested to know that I have written three books about the studio. For more details, just click on the relevant book links below.