Horror of Dracula (1958)

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*. This was the film that really got the ball rolling for Hammer and their series of Universal monster re-makes. I am not a big a fan of this part of the Hammer catalogue, and so I don’t rate is as highly as many horror aficionados.
*. What was the Hammer look? Blood and bosoms. Men in period costume and women in nighties. A garish use of Technicolor (that must have seemed a bit retro even in 1958), and a theatrical sense of decor. Dig Van Helsing’s purple smoking jacket! Or the Arabic doorways and Solomonic columns in Dracula’s castle!
*. Cushing and Gough are good actors, but their lines are dreadful and I don’t think there was any way they could be delivered convincingly. Meanwhile, Terence Fisher doesn’t help things by holding shots for so long, dragging out what are already some rather ponderous scenes. And he still couldn’t make it to ninety minutes!
*. Christopher Lee’s Dracula isn’t hampered by a lot of bad lines. That’s because he doesn’t have a lot of lines. He speaks briefly to Harker at the beginning of the film and that’s it. Perhaps this is why he was only paid 750 pounds for the role. As the Hammer Dracula series went on he would become even less talkative (though he would be paid more).

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*. A lot of people love Lee’s Dracula, but given how underwritten the part is I don’t think he has to do much except look elegant in a cape. In this Fisher backs him up all the way, with lots of scenes where Dracula poses in a significant way while the soundtrack blares out the theme music.
*. For example, take the scene where Harker enters the crypt. After passing Dracula by so as to kill his paramour first (a strategic error that’s kind of hard to figure out, though I suppose you could rationalize it as a mercy killing that he wanted to get over with), he then returns to Dracula’s coffin to find him missing. Apparently Dracula not only revived while his back was turned, he also left the crypt. Why? Why not take Harker by surprise? Because by leaving the crypt he got to make another dramatic entrance.
*. It’s interesting how sexualized Dracula is in this version, despite not saying anything. Part of this is the Hammer aesthetic (mentioned above), but there’s more to it than that. Lucy in particular prepares herself as a sexual offering, opening the French windows and then lying back in bed as she waits for Dracula’s arrival. It’s like she is seducing him, in what is a powerfully erotic scene. And Mina seems like such a dull, cold fish until awakened by her assignation with the Count and receiving her first taste of the good stuff. Look at her eyes when she returns home and is welcomed by Gough. She’s a new woman, and clearly doesn’t want anything more to do with her all-too- proper husband.

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*. In 2011 a “restored, uncut version” was released on DVD. It adds very little: a bit of bedroom hanky-panky and some more of the dessication effects at the end. I’m not sure why people get so excited about these minimally restored versions. The restoration work they’ve done on Metropolis effectively changed the entire movie. That was something to get excited about.
*. It’s not a bad little movie, but it has a bigger reputation than it deserves. It never lives up to its billing, mostly due to the uninspired direction. David Thomson: “Hammer horrors have always seemed the work of decent men who tended the garden on weekends. This is sadly true of Terence Fisher, the man responsible for most of them.” You do get the sense that Fisher’s heart just wasn’t in horror, though he might not have been thinking of tending his garden. I imagine he was more interested in the sexy stuff than being scary.

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