Hammer Films of England unearthed a Count Dracula more horrendous than any other screen vampire in the History of horror films
Reviewed by Vincent Lewis
I remember switching on my radio in early summer, 1958, and hearing a maniacal announcer in an echo chamber screaming at the top of his voice. What he was screaming was this: “It’s all new! The great all-time shock story by Bram Stoker! HORROR OF DRACULA! The story of the lover who died, yet lived! And of the women who, one by one, became the grisly dead-alive brides of Dracula! HORROR OF DRACULA! Starring Peter Cushing, Michael Gough with Christopher Lee as the blood-lusting Dracula! HORROR OF DRACULA! The unforgettable story of Count Dracula, who has been rising every night for 800 years from his coffin-bed, silently to seek the warm blood he needs to keep himself alive and to turn each of his victims into a human vampire! HORROR OF DRACULA!” I thought, An all new Dracula film! And in blood-curdling technicolor. I admit I didn’t rush right down to my favorite neighborhood theatre to see the film. It was during this period that I had practically given up all hope of ever again seeing a worthwhile horror movie. I decided it was safer (and cheaper) to stay at home. Some weeks afterwards, though, after reading favorable reviews in the papers.
I stayed to see the film twice; and days later returned for another viewing—this time with a squad of friends. I had convinced them there was at least one bright beacon shining in the fog-shrouded moors of horror movie-land. The Hammer Dracula is one of the extremely few fantastic films that not only miraculously managed to live up to a horror film’s typical exploitation, but also turned out to be a remarkably entertaining—that is, terrifying motion picture.
Hammer’s vampire is, of course, a remake of the 1931 Dracula with Lugosi (which is a remake of the silent Nosferatu), but I join the many others who contend the Hammer version is far superior to the Lugosi film. Actually, about the only thing the 1931 film holds over the 1958 release is the fact that it’s the original talking Dracula. I have seen the Lugosi film at least a half dozen times and still can’t believe how dull and boring it is. This may have been the picture that brought Lugosi fame, but as a film it does not hold up over, for-example, Bride of Frankenstein, which is still as exciting as it was when originally released. On the other claw, I feel secure in predicting that 30 years from now, audiences will still be frightened out of their seats by Hammer’s Dracula and, of course, the photography and art direction is much improved over the Universal “classic”.
Peter Cushing. the Movies’ Modern Basil Rathbone, is a perfect Van Helsing and the women In the cast include three of England’s most glamorous actresses. Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh and Valerie Gaunt who portrays the vampire woman. Then there is Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. I don’t necessarily believe in vampires, but if such creatures do exist, they must certainly look and act as evil as Lee’s Dracula.
Two years later, in 1960, Hammer Films again delved into the Dracula legend, miscasting a blond vampire as the star of Brides of Dracula (Cushing, though, was once again Van Helsing). This sequel could in no way match the impact and shock of their first Dracula picture. Horror of Dracula is perhaps not only the best of the lot but also one of the all-time great horror productions.
John Van Eyssen and Christopher Lee.