Horror of Dracula (1958)

I have a boatload of Hammer reviews to come in the weeks (months?) ahead, having lately acquired the 21-disc box plus a good number of other items not in that collection. As a bit of a taste of things to come, I decided to look back at an old favourite last night, cos I was in one of those moods where basically all I wanted was something comforting and familiar, and this fit the bill perfectly. With all due respect to Bela Lugosi’s iconic status as Transylvania’s finest, Hammer’s Dracula is just an all-round better film than Universal’s. I still find myself irked at the anachronisms, like Van Helsing’s dictaphone and his “teddy bear” reference, neither of which would’ve been quite contemporary with the film’s clearly stated 1885 period setting, and on this viewing I found myself slightly put off by a couple of semi-comic relief moments I’d forgotten about, but they’re not sufficiently bothersome. It is, obviously, even further removed from Bram Stoker’s novel than the Universal film was (it starts with Jonathan Harker setting out to destroy Dracula, which is arguably not the most major change), but it works rather better as a film than the 1931 film ever did (helps to have one focused director and to not be based on a stage play). Christopher Lee is an imposing Dracula, despite only having 13 lines of dialogue and all of those in his first scene, but once we first see him flash those fangs he doesn’t need words any more… The whole thing is rendered as full-blooded (sorry) gothic melodrama, shot through with sex and violence, and if Curse of Frankenstein established Hammer, the roaring international success of this solidified their position for years to come. And, perhaps less happily, gave Christopher Lee numerous opportunities for pissing and moaning about the quality of future Dracula scripts…

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