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Horror of Dracula – Review

Horror of Dracula – Review

Oct 18, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Terence Fisher, 1958
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Horror of Dracula (as it is known in the USA) is the first and probably the best of a series of Bram Stoker inspired Dracula movies created by legendary British movie studio Hammer Film Productions.  During a period in the late 50’s through the 70’s, Hammer Films and horror movies went together like Dracula and Van Helsing – one was virtually synonymous with the other.  Horror of Dracula remains my favorite vampire movie thanks in part to the performances of two movie icons:  Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Although the actor who has best portrayed the legendary role of Count Dracula might be a debatable discussion, I can think of no one who comes remotely close to the performance offered by Peter Cushing as the great Dr. Van Helsing.  One the one hand, Cushing comes across so tenderly and compassionate that we feel like have known him as a close personal friend for many years.  On the other hand, he presents an icy-cold demeanor and is unwilling to stop his pursuit until the “unholy terror” of Dracula is dealt with once and for all.  Take, for example, Van Helsing’s dealings with Arthur Holmwood after the surprising and disturbing realization that his sister, Lucy, had become a vampire.  Helsing wishes to allow Lucy to lead them to Dracula.  Arthur is repulsed at the idea of leaving her in the wretched condition of the undead any longer than necessary.  Although Helsing knows this is the best course of action, and in fact pursues this course when Arthur’s wife Mina is turned to a vampire, he nevertheless drops the issue with compassion and proceeds to relieve Lucy of her misery (which is another incredible scene where Arthur is beside himself as Van Helsing stakes Lucy, but at Helsing’s gentle prodding, Arthur is relieved as he looks in the coffin and sees Lucy resting in peace).  I say with all confidence that without Peter Cushing, Horror of Dracula is a mediocre movie at best.

And then there is Christopher Lee.  What you get in Horror of Dracula is classic Lee, with his quick, pointed dialogue, simple smile, and overbearing presence.  I don’t think Lee is my favorite Dracula, yet his presence brings the final “nail in the coffin” that creates a perfect rivalry and spectacular picture.  One thing I appreciate about Lee’s performance is that he does not over-do it.  With the successful and iconic imagery we have of Bela Lugosi and the 1931 classic Dracula, many have created more of a caricature with their performance than a realistic, terrifying villain.  Lee does not make that mistake; the person of Dracula is very believable in this particular film.

The movie is certainly a product of its time, with forced and at times awkward dialogue and strange transitions from scene to scene.  Yet, it remains fresh and very re-watchable.  Horror of Dracula is on my “watch” list at least twice a year and is one of those films that you will find playing in the background in my downstairs den all the time.  The movie does alter slightly from the novel, as most Dracula movies do, but the story is solid, the supporting cast is wonderful, and the final confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing is classic.  The demise of Dracula is still effective today despite the special effects available in 1958.

So, Horror of Dracula is one you should certainly watch, especially during the Halloween season.  I give it a strong recommendation.

Click here to purchase Horror of Dracula

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