Written by: John White on January 25th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: United Kingdom, 1958
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling
DVD released: October 11, 2004
Approximate running time: 78 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Warner UK
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £9.99
Ostensibly Jonathan Harker is the new librarian at Castle Dracula and he is welcomed as such by his suave host but actually Harker is here to destroy the 600 year old vampire with the help of his friend, Van Helsing. Harker fails and Van Helsing turns up at the castle as Dracula is making a speedy exit and finds Harker has become a vampire. He ends his friend’s torment with a wooden stake and travels to Germany to explain to his fiancée’s family that he has died. Once there, he finds that the fiancée is dying and his intervention is too late to stop Dracula from taking her as one of the undead. Can Van Helsing convince Mina’s family and find Dracula before he completes his revenge?
Horror of Dracula was the second in Hammer’s attempt to revitalise the literary horrors that Universal had had such success with in the thirties and is the most successful. Later films in the series have their bastardised charm and Fisher’s own Frankenstein Must be Destroyed and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell are particularly good but Horror of Dracula is the best of them. This isn’t because it is faithful to Stoker’s novel, but because it created the gothic look of the future films for Hammer and all gothic films of the next 20 years. In fact, Stoker’s Dracula is not a particularly fine piece of literature and Hammer’s free adaptation of the source is a good choice on their part.
Here Harker is not a solicitor whose misadventure brings him to the count but a kind of vampire spy infiltrating Castle Dracula. The dramatic and sexy openining of the film allows Cushing to star as the determined Van Helsing and for the film to centre around him and leave Lee as a near wordless presence. Lee hated how silent Dracula became and here the film begins with him as the sophisticated and courteous host before his words end and his menace begins. Michael Gough becomes Van Helsing’s foil and acts as the audience as Van Helsing explains the laws of vampires to him and to us. Gough is a fearful ham in this film with expressions that would not have been out of place in the original Nosferatu.
What makes Horror of Dracula so good is the exquisite set design, composition and look of the film which contrasts with the earnest energy of Cushing. The final chase between Cushing and Lee is a thrilling end to the film and good wins over evil to reassure us that the world is a safe place again. This was the template that Hammer would copy again and again and it contains some of the elements which would bring the studio down as well. The use of broad humour which would severely scar later films is here with a comical undertaker and bumbling border guard. This mixture of silly humour with horror is so British and so hypocritical and in later films would lead to a lack of scares and thrills – scary movies need to be scary.
Horror of Dracula is the highpoint of Hammer’s monster horrors and the template for the long sequence of Dracula films which followed. In 2006, it still feels thrilling and looks gorgeous something that can’t be said of later imitations.
The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an excellent print that shows a little wear. The transfer is very good and the colour scheme of the movie looks vibrant if a touch soft. The sound is in the original mono and lacks any hiss or pops.
The only extras are a trailer and cast biographies.
This disc can also be found in the Hammer Horror Originals box set and there is a R1 release which has additional production notes not on the R2. For such a cheap price though this is an excellent deal for a movie that you should own.