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Horror of Dracula

Horror of Dracula


Peter Cushing - Dr. Van Helsing
Christopher Lee - Count Dracula
Michael Gough - Arthur Holmwood
Melissa Stribling - Mina Holmwood
Carol Marsh - Lucy Holmwood
John Van Eyssen - Jonathan Harker
Terence Fisher - Director
Anthony Hinds - Producer
Jimmy Sangster - Screenwriter
Jack Asher - Cinematographer
Bernard Robinson - Production Design
James Bernard - Film Score [mp3]

Christopher Lee as Dracula The success around the world of The Curse of Frankenstein did not go unnoticed by Hollywood. Hammer, which once had to go shopping for American co-financing deals, now had the major studios banging on its door. Hammer's first film for Universal (then Universal-International) was Horror of Dracula (Dracula in the U.K). Hammer chief James Carreras had no intention of playing against a winning hand and recruited virtually the same team that had made Curse to bring Dracula to the screen. The film was to be made in color and was allotted a larger budget-though not much larger, about 200,000 pounds.

Production began shortly after the first of the new year (1958) and was concluded twenty-five days later. Released in the U.K that spring, Dracula was treated even more harshly by the press than its predecessor had been--for this new Hammer Horror was by far the gorier and more intense one. Plus, it had another ingredient that turned critics off: sex. Christopher Lee's vampire count--unlike that in the Tod Browning / Bela Lugosi version of Dracula--exuded a blatant sexual charm. And the metaphor of giving in to vampirism as a release from sexual repression (so obvious in Bram Stoker's story but quite muted in the Lugosi film) was brought clearly to the fore.

When it was released in the U.S. a few months later, American critics were more tolerant and on the whole more appreciative, though the inclination to compare the new film to the Lugosi version was still present. This was probably inevitable. Lugosi had been so firmly identified in the minds of a whole generation of filmgoers as the Dracula because, until Lee's appearance, no one else had attempted the role in an all-out version of the Stoker story. Ironically, the same thing would happen to Frank Langella twenty years later when he assumed the role in an even more erotic version of Dracula and was dismissed by many critics and fans as not being on par with Christopher Lee.

With filmgoers, however, Horror of Dracula was warmly welcomed and not only repeated the success of Curse of Frankenstein around the world, but surpassed it. The film firmly established the Gothic Horror formula as sketched out in the earlier film as the studio's strong suit and forever altered the manner in which vampirism would be treated as a subject on the screen. After Horror of Dracula, there was no longer any question as to what the image of the predatory, long dead Count hunkering over the throats of his all-too-willing victims actually symbolized. Cushing as Van Helsing

But there was more to Hammer's version of Dracula than sexual innuendo and graphic violence. In addition to the extra shadings given the character of Dracula and the nature of his menace, Jimmy Sangster's screenplay, Terence Fisher's direction, and, especially, Peter Cushing's performance as Van Helsing, Dracula's obsessive nemesis, brought out heretofore untapped resonances in that character as well. In most screen versions of Stoker's book (indeed, in the book itself), Van Helsing is portrayed as an aging, kindly Dutch physician whose knowledge of the undead comes in very handy when the time arrives to bring the story to a close. In Horror of Dracula however, Van Helsing assumes a dominant role--and an unsettling one. Terence Fisher later said of the character: "An individual who never goes out without his hammer and stake is hardly a sensitive soul."

It is Van Helsing, much like Dr. Frankenstein, who comes of as the real villain of the piece. The Count, like Frankenstein's creature, has no free will and acts mainly out of instinct. In most versions of the story (as in the book), Dracula leaves Transylvania in search of new victims. In Horror of Dracula he leaves only after his domain has been intruded upon and his "bride" destroyed by Van Heising's surrogate, Jonathan Harker. He then seeks out Lucy to replace her and, when she too is destroyed (by Van Helsing) turns his teeth on Mina, sealing his own doom.

Just about everyone--even the film's one-time detractors--now tend to agbree that with Horror of Dracula, Hammer achieved a classic. Some even rank it as one of the best British films of the past thirty years. One thing is for sure, it remains, as of this writing, the most ingenious big screen reworking of Stoker's antiquated novel so far--and certainly one of the most sumptuous.

--JOHN McCARTY, from
The Modern Horror Film, 1990.

In 1957, England's Hammer Studios produced The Curse of Frankenstein, the first in a series of loose remakes of Universal Studio's 1930s horror classics. The huge success of that film led Hammer to quickly tackle Frankenstein's chief rival as the screen's greatest monster: Dracula. The result was Horror of Dracula (1958), with Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing and Christopher Lee in a starmaking performance as the vampire count. Lee would go on to portray Dracula six more times for Hammer, rivaling Bela Lugosi in his association with the role.

Van Eyssen & Valerie Gaunt

However, Lee did not appear in Hammer's first sequel, Brides of Dracula (1960). Cushing returned as Van Helsing, fighting a brother/sister team of vampires. Lee next donned the cape in Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), never uttering a word while battling a rifle-toting priest (Andrew Keir). In Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Lee is finaly defeated by a young athiest who manages to say a prayer while Dracula is impaled on a cross.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), saw Lee resurrected by some thrill-seeking businessmen, on whom he wreaks a bloody revenge. Lee fights his own slave (played by Patrick Throughton) over the fate of a young girl in Scars of Dracula (1970). Cushing returns as a descendant of the original Van Helsing to battle Lee in hip, modern-day London in Dracula, A.D. 1972 (1971).

Cushing and Lee dueled one last time in The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1972), featuring Dracula as a modern day businessman bent on world domination. The series ended in 1974 with Cushing and a family of martial artists battling Dracula (John Forbes Robertson) in The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula.

--from Horror of Dracula DVD
supplementary material, Warner Bros., 2002

A selection of Hammer's Dracula films.

Find Hammer Dracula on

A selection of Hammer Dracula in books.

A History of Horror

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