Dracula

Dracula

****1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

If there's one word that describes Terence Fisher's Dracula, it's ‘definitive’. Having breathed life into the then-flailing horror genre with 1957's The Curse Of Frankenstein (not to mention beginning their total dominance of all things scary), Hammer films decided to turn their attentions to the world's most famous neck-biter.

Sure, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster makes significant deviations from Bram Stoker's source novel (no Renfield, no asylum, no chase climax, some dodgy Geography), but ultimately his and Fisher's classic take defines the Count for many future generations.

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Posing as a librarian, vampire hunter Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to the castle of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) in order to destroy him. When the attempt fails, colleague and fellow vamp-scholar Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) begins searching for the Count before he can harm Harker's family.

It is true that this version hasn't aged fantastically and modern audiences may find it slow, but Dracula - or as it was re-titled by the yanks, The Horror Of Dracula – is still scary as hell. Constantly chilling and never less than eerie, this first colour outing for Vlad is undoubtedly the stuff of nightmares. It could be argued that certain plot changes are due to an obviously-modest budget (such as Drac not being able to turn into bats or wolves), but it's a creepy affair regardless, with small near-perfect details - such as Harker's observations about the castle parameter being cold and birdless - providing an unsettling atmosphere.

And of course, there's Christopher Lee as the titular villain. Restoring the sexual eroticism of Stoker's original after Bela 'I...vant...to...suck...your...blood' Lugosi's camp version, Lee effectively essays a villain who turns from imposing aristocratic host to feral, red-eyed monster at the drop of a drop of blood. With only 13 lines of dialogue, he appears infrequently, but this makes the sudden appearances, accompanied by James Bernard's jarring score, more dramatic and menacing.

Likewise, Peter Cushing is revolutionary as Dr Van Helsing, magnetising us with sheer presence. Despite being infinitely less aggressive than Tony Hopkins’ shouty slice of ham and miles removed from Hugh Jackman’s pumped-up action hero, Cushing’s dedicated, knowledge-wielding doctor remains the only true adversary for the fanged nobleman. While both he and Lee would return to their respective roles numerous times over the years in the ever-worsening follow-ups, they wouldn't meet again till Dracula AD 1972 (the one with hippies and Stephanie Beacham). Forget the rest though, this is the ultimate encounter.

Definitive Count, definitive Van Helsing, definitive Dracula.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2010
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Adaptation of the classic vampire tale.
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Director: Terence Fisher

Writer: Jimmy Sangster, based on the novel by Bram Stoker

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, Olga Dickie, John Van Eyssen

Year: 1958

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

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If you like this, try:

The Brides Of Dracula
Scars Of Dracula