Horror of Dracula

10/18/2018 11:06

Film: Horror of Dracula

Year: 1958

Director: Terence Fisher

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Michael Gough



This was a film that I sought out when I was filling out films from the past in the horror genre. I had started with Universal Classics and then decided to move into Hammer Films. I’ve seen this one a few times now and it is interesting as the first in the Dracula line for this company. The official synopsis is Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) begets the ire of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) after he accepts a job at the vampire’s castle under false pretenses, forcing his colleague Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to hunt the predator villain when he targets Harker’s loved ones.

What I really want to lead off here is the ingenuity of Jimmy Sangster. He wrote the screenplay and I like the take that he made on the tale of Dracula. This story had already been told in the unofficial Nosferatu and the Universal version. He for this one took the characters and then made a different story that kind of follows the same events. Jonathan goes to Dracula’s castle to catalogue his library. He is actually there because he is a vampire hunter. This is a plan he came up with Dr. Van Helsing as the synopsis states.

His plan fails though when he kills the bride of Dracula (Valerie Gaunt). Dracula gets his revenge by turning Jonathan into a vampire. He isn’t done there though. Van Helsing comes looking for him and saves his friend from a life of the undead. He doesn’t know where Dracula flees to though.

Van Helsing returns to inform Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) that Jonathan has passed away. Arthur is upset as he was supposed to marry his sister, Lucy (Carol Marsh). Strange things start to happen to her and Van Helsing realizes that Dracula is there for his revenge for what Jonathan did.

Going back to what I started on earlier. This film has most of the main characters, just not necessarily their roles from the novel. Here we take Arthur who in the novel was a suitor to Lucy and makes them siblings. Mina (Melissa Stribling) is normally the fiancée of Jonathan and he does make it back to his hometown, not dying in Castle Dracula. This film also takes place in Germany, with the castle itself there as well. As I said, I really like these minor changes, because it makes it unique. I also like the idea of revenge and not undying love for Dracula to do the things that he does.

This film is similar to the Universal version in that we have a low running time. I used to have pacing issues, but I don’t really after these multiple viewings. The mystery here is trying to find in the new city where Dracula’s resting place is. The tension is raised as Lucy and then Mina are the target of the vampire.  We do get Van Helsing being concerned as to where Dracula has fled as well. This works better for me having watched more adaptations of this story.

What works for this movie the best is the acting. Cushing and Lee are amazing in this film. Cushing brings arrogance to the role of Van Helsing that I love. He is the person I think of when this role is brought up. Lee is such an imposing figure, he makes for a great Dracula. Much like his counterpart, it works well for the arrogance of the role and prestige. Gough was good as the concerned husband and brother. He holds his own when he shares the screen with the two legends. It might just be that they are all from the UK, but I don’t want to assume. Gough’s coming around to believing in vampires is realistic which works for me. Stribling is solid as the wife and victim of the Count. Marsh is as well. If I do have any issues, there are a couple of times actors are supposed to be dead and I can see them breathing. It doesn’t ruin anything, but I noticed it. I thought the acting overall was good across the board.

There’s not a lot in the way of effects for this film, mostly due to the time period. What was used was fine. The blood is a little bit too bright and more orange. I do have a soft spot for it though. I really like the effect used during the death of Dracula scene. It was also done practically and I thought it was creative. It doesn’t look the best, but for the time it was good. I did notice a moment where the bite marks physically could not happen. Again, nothing that ruins it, but I noticed it. The film was shot very well also. The setting of the film does feel like the time period it is set in, which I believe is the 1880s. The sets are grand and I was a big fan. That is another thing I will give credit to Hammer for.

Something else that I thought was good for the film was the score. It has a very grand and classic score. I’m surprised it took me multiple viewings to appreciate it, but it fits. It helps to build tension for the scenes and help with the urgency. I wouldn’t say it will be a soundtrack I listen to, but I like what it does for the movie.

Now with that said, I thought this film was good. It isn’t scary or horrific like films you might see today, but this is more when they took literature and brought it to life. I liked that instead of making a remake of the story that had already been seen, they decided to go a different route. The story is quite interesting and is something different at the time. The acting is really good as is how the film was shot and looks. Effects were solid for the time and I thought the score of the film was as well. Not my favorite version of this tale, but one that I do think is good. If you like the story of Dracula, I would say to give this version a viewing as it is classic Hammer.


My Rating: 8.5 out of 10