Horror Of Dracula (1958)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
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Overall Rating 72%
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Connections: Dracula Horror Of Dracula

Jonathan Harker rouses the ire of Count Dracula after he accepts a job at the vampire's castle under false pretenses. Harker's friend, Dr. Van Helsing, then embarks on a hunt for the predatory villain when he targets Harker's loved ones. --IMDb
Review by Crispy
Added: April 05, 2014
Having just finished Bram Stoker's classic horror novel, Dracula, I thought I'd take a look at some of the film adaptations that have come out through the years. After all, he's probably more well known for terrorizing the silver screen than from the world of literature. Hammer Productions 1958 effort doesn't enjoy near the popularity that its counterparts have, except for a small niche group of horror fans who enjoy the company's catalog. Still, it's cult following was enough to warrant a look, to say nothing of the seven sequels that followed.

It's a strange scene when Johnathan Harker arrives at Count Dracula's castle to begin his duties as his librarian. The Count is initially nowhere to be found, and the first person to greet him is a young woman begging for help and claiming he's keeping her prisoner. And then she bites him in the neck. However, there is more than meets the eye for Harker: apparently, he's actually arrived with full knowledge of what Dracula is and plans to kill him. With time running short, he is able to slay the girl, but succumbs to Dracula's attack. A few days after his disappearance, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing comes looking for his friend, arriving at a tavern where Harker wrote to him. While the locals are much too terrified to provide much help, he does discover Harker's diary and deduces what happened to him. After curing him of his unfortunately predicament, he returns home. Unfortunately, the news has to be broken to his fiance, Lucy. However, her betrothed's untimely death might be the least of her problems, as Dracula has come to claim her as his own bride. Teaming with her brother, Arthur, Van Helsing leads a battle against Dracula to protect the girl's very soul, and end Dracula's reign of terror.

Like it's Universal counterpart, this version of Dracula took some liberties with the source material in an effort to streamline it to an acceptable running time. For starters, Johnathan Harker was moved from Mina's fiance to Lucy's, and Lucy is moved from Mina's best friend to Arthur's brother, and Harker is revealed as something of a vampire hunter himself from the very beginning. As drastic as these changes seem, they didn't actually have as massive an overall effect as you would imagine. Even though she's now his sister instead of his fiance, it still makes sense that Arthur would fight so hard to save Lucy's soul and protect Mina. While, a huge subplot is lost without Mina longing for her fiance, Harker was merely used to get things rolling here. Again, we've got completely different time constraints in this medium. I'll admit it took me a while to appreciate these changes, but I rather liked this interpretation. It's got a relatively fast-paced flow, and even though Dracula's motives are much more shallow this go around, director Terrence Fisher was still able to convey how important it was this his threat be stopped.

I'll tell you, there was some serious culture shock going on here. You ever see Family Guy's cut-away gags where old English people are talking in quick monotones? Well, that's exactly what we have here, and I'd even go so far as to say Seth McFarlane isn't using any hyperbole in those scenes. During the opening conversation between Dracula and Harker, neither man using any emotion whatsoever and proper English accents, I was almost ready to start laughing. I actually did laugh when Dracula's bride was hysterically yelling for help at Harker, who maintained the English nonchalance. Trouble was, I knew it wasn't supposed to be a joke. Fortunately, it wasn't enough to completely derail the movie, but it's such a sterile approach, and more than a little distracting. Also, there are a few characters that were obviously used for comedic purposes that seemed to clash with this overly posh manner the main characters were using. I'm assuming this was supposed to be a class difference though, so with this in mind, it becomes a bit more tolerable.

It should go without saying that Christopher Lee knows how to do sinister. The man oozes evil, and for added effect, Fisher copied the lights on the eyes trick that worked so well for Lugosi back in '31. It was a nice touch, even if it was a superfluous one. Every time he was on screen he was fully convincing as an over-powered and supernatural threat. Also, I kind of liked what Peter Cushing did with Van Helsing. He plays a much more active hero, effectively fusing his character with the novel's group of Quincey Morris, John Seward and Johnathan Harker. Even so, he was able to convey the wisdom that comes with the character, and was a more than competent leader in the fight against Dracula. As his partner, Michael Gough was perfect as he changes from angry skeptic to desperation. Finally, Carol Marsh was great in her short scene as a vampire. It's a shame they couldn't prolong her role a bit to get her on camera a bit more.

I'll admit, the first time I saw this it felt pretty flat to me, but I think a lot of that was simply being unaccustomed to that quick monotone the English actors were using. Once I was able to get past that, and was able look at the movie itself, this is a pretty good adaptation, and I can easily see how it spawned so many sequels. If you do decide to check this out, just try not to let that aspect drag you down and you'll be in for a treat. 6.5/10.
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