From the DVD case:
Dracula (Christopher Lee), a centuries-old nobleman damned to an eternal half-life, travels from his native Transylvania to London. In the lurid nightlife of his adopted city, he finds new victims. He also finds Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a scientist who becomes the Count’s implacable foe in a deadly game of bat-and-mouse. (1958, color)
Hammer Production’s Horror of Dracula is the standard by which I measure all other vampire films. More than Universal’s Dracula with Bela Lugosi, Horror of Dracula brought true chills to the imaginations of the youth of my generation.
Christopher Lee (Horror Hotel, The Wicker Man) plays the celebrated fiend with power and grace, and an animal magnetism that his female victims can not resist. He’s charming when need be, and is appropriately gruesome when in the throes of blood lust.
But it is Peter Cushing (The Vampire Lovers, The Curse of Frankenstein) as Dr. Van Helsing that really endears this film to me. In my book, there has never been a better Van Helsing. He is intelligent, determined, intense, and always the gentleman. I rank him with Vincent Price as one of the Kings of Horror.
Michael Gough (Konga, Horrors of the Black Museum) plays a significant role as Arthur Holmwood, and Valerie Gaunt (The Curse of Frankenstein) is both seductive and menacing in the part of Dracula’s vampire slave.
Everything in Horror of Dracula works well. A fantastic script by Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster and wonderful direction by Terence Fisher (The Curse of the Werewolf, Island of Terror), combined with a powerful musical score and great acting make this the film to beat when it comes to Dracula pictures.
The scene where Van Helsing and Holmwood meet Lucy (Carol Marsh) at her crypt is one of my favorite scenes in all vampire film history. It seems to me that this is the first time we see a cross pressed to a vampire’s forehead, branding the sizzling image onto the creature. This is cliche now, but what a startling display in 1958.
We do find ourselves slapping our foreheads from time to time when the characters make stupid mistakes. For example, I’m pretty sure Dracula would be careful to keep the door to his lair locked, so not just any clown could come in and pound a stake through his chest. Similarly, when Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) comes upon Dracula and his vampire mistress sleeping in their coffins, he would have killed Dracula first, and left the less threatening mistress for last. Of course, the film would have been over in half an hour in that case, and what fun is there in that?
Horror of Dracula is definitely worth the full price of admission. That is, pick it up even if you don’t find it in a bargain bin.
Scene to watch for: Van Helsing slaps a hysterical maid to her senses.
Line to listen for: “Why all these garlic flowers? Over the window? And up here? They’re not for decoration, are they?”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.