In the 1950s, the classic horror monsters of old had been abandoned in favor of the more trendy atomic monsters. Most of these new monsters were giant bugs or lizards, which naturally have no personalities or psychological motivations for the destruction they caused. Many of the actors who were featured in the classic horror films had passed away, Boris Karloff being the great exception. And no one had seen the likes of vampires, werewolves, or zombies for some time. British audiences, who had no taste for large mutant vermin wreaking havoc on major cities, craved the gothic horror films that had once been so prolific in the 1920s, `30s, and `40s. But then came a sign of hope when a small English studio, Hammer Studios, released their first horror film, The Curse of Frankenstein, in 1957. A year later they would surpass that film with their take on the Dracula mythos.
It's ironic, but many of the best Dracula films are those that stray from the original Bram Stoker novel. Take for example the classic 1931 Tod Browning film, which starred Béla Lugosi as Dracula. That particular film was based more on the Hamilton/Deane stage play than on Stoker's novel, and yet it's probably the most iconic and most beloved Dracula film ever made. So it may be said that a film about the infamous vampire count doesn't necessarily need to be faithful to the novel in order to be considered a great film. With that in mind, I passionately recommend the Hammer Studios' 1958 film, Horror of Dracula.
Intrepid vampire hunters Jonathan Harker and Dr. Van Helsing set out to destroy the most deadly of vampires, Count Dracula. While Jonathan goes ahead to Dracula's castle under the false pretense of serving as Dracula's librarian, he is bitten by a seductive vampire and then imprisoned by the fearsome Count himself. When van Helsing arrives, he releases Jonathan from the cruel fate of the vampire, by driving a stake through his heart. But Count Dracula has disappeared, so van Helsing returns to England. There he goes to the home of the Holmwoods, where Jonathan's fiancée, Lucy, has been suffering from a bizarre sickness that resembles anemia. Lucy, it turns out, has been bitten by a vampire and soon she dies from blood loss. But later there are sightings of Lucy walking through the streets and attacking little children. Obviously she has become a vampire herself. Van Helsing hunts Lucy down and he realizes that Dracula has come to London. With the help of Lucy's elder brother, Arthur Holmwood, Van Helsing dispatches Lucy, once again with a stake through the heart. While Van Helsing and Arthur search for Dracula, Arthur's wife, Mina becomes Dracula's next victim. With the hopes that Dracula will come after Mina again, Van Helsing and Arthur use her to lure him out of hiding. Dracula, always at least one step ahead of his opponents, strikes again. After discovering Dracula's hiding place, Van Helsing and Arthur chase Dracula back to Transylvania where they must confront Dracula in order to save Mina from damnation.
Like all of Hammer's horror films, Horror of Dracula was made on a tight budget. The film featured all of the hallmarks of the Hammer films including melodramatic acting, suspenseful music, a thrilling story, campy humor, and generous helpings of voluptuous damsels in distress and dastardly villains. Directed by auteur horror filmmaker Terence Fisher, Horror of Dracula is the first in a series of great Dracula films from the legendary Hammer Studios.
The cast includes the inimitable Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing and the venerated Christopher Lee as the snarling Count Dracula. Other cast members include Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood, Melissa Stribling as Mina, and Carol Marsh as Lucy.
Though the story barely resembles Stoker's and the characters have been switched around and shuffled to the point that they lose their original identities, the film remains a classic among horror fans. Some might complain about the changes in the plot, historical inaccuracies, continuity errors, or the flat dialogue, but Horror of Dracula has its strengths as well. First of all, you can't deny that whenever Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appear in the same film that the result is magic. Secondly, Terence Fisher revolutionized the horror genre with his winning combination of bloody violence and lustful antics. Most importantly, the film is just fun to watch whether you're a diehard film fanatic (like myself) or just a casual moviegoer. In conclusion, Horror of Dracula is truly a classic.
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Dec 16, 2008
Jun 7, 2012 07:25 PM UTC
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