October Horror Gauntlet Film #3
Horror of Dracula (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Dracula, in some iteration, has been played by a lot of different heavyweights. Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Klaus Kinski, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman have all donned the cape and portrayed the undead count – even if they were called “Nosferatu” instead of Dracula. But I don’t know how much better it can get than the ultra-debonair Christopher Lee.
Lee stars opposite of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in this, the first of Hammer Horror’s classic Dracula series. The Bram Stoker story has been streamlined down to a breezy 82 minutes, completely omitting the character of R.M. Renfield and Quincey Morris. They’ve also eschewed with some of the seedier aspects of the story, in favor of more implicit relationships, and some of the more time consuming plot points (like Dracula’s sea voyage). Personally I don’t feel like any of these changes detract from the power of the story. If anything, I feel like cutting the fat, as it were, helps make the story more cinematic in its pacing.
I won’t go into details on the story, as you’ve already heard it. Instead, I’ll discuss why this particular version of the story is probably my second or third favorite telling. The obvious reason for my fondness of the film is the cast – Lee and Cushing are an institution of character acting. They play opposite each other so well in so many Hammer films, that it’s difficult to think of a better acting duo.
Secondly, that classic Hammer atmosphere is a driving force that brings me back to this particular version time and time again. The sets look pretty fantastic, the Terence Fisher direction is superb in its subtlety, and the overall atmosphere of Victorian dread is palpable in all of the scenes. To me, it can get better than Horror of Dracula, but it would be a very difficult task.