Horror of Dracula (1958)
Hammer Film’s retelling of Bram Stoker’s novel pioneered a more modern, bloodier form of vampire movie. Horror of Dracula reforms the classic story into a film that assumes the viewers’ knowledge of Dracula. Jonathan Harker opens the film with his suspicions of the Count already peaked. In fact one of the best scenes of the film is early on after he has a seemingly pleasant discussion with the Count. Harker is narrating from his diary, when suddenly the tone of the passage changes and he states: “It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours where i will, with God’s help, forever end this man’s reign of terror.” Immediately after that passage, the intense soundtrack kicks in and the scene cuts to Dracula swiftly walking alongside the castle wall with his cape flowing behind him. That moment effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film. After Dracula has dealt with Jonathan Harker, he heads to Harker’s hometown in pursuit of his fiancée, Lucy. When Lucy becomes ill, Arthur and Mina seek the help of Dr. Van Helsing.
For anyone who noticed, this story diverges from Stoker’s novel in several subtle ways. The first is that Jonathan Harker is visiting Count Dracula to kill him rather than to help him with legal work. The other is the relationship differences. In Stoker’s novel, Mina Holmwood is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée, and Lucy is her friend. In Horror of Dracula, Lucy is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée, and Mina is her sister. Whether these were intentional or not, it is apparent that the film approaches this story with the assumption that the audience will need nothing more than to see the word ‘Dracula’ to know what this story is about.
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are spectacular, and the supporting cast, including Michael Gough, back them up well. The effects, makeup, and blood are excellent. There is certainly an amount of the innate cheesiness that comes with most classic horror, but that only adds to the charm. I highly recommend this film to any fan of vampire films, or classic horror. This is the story of Dracula done right. And though devout fans must pay tribute to the originals, namely Nosferatu (1922) and Dracula (1931), this is the version of Dracula that I will always find myself rewatching time and time again.