HORROR OF DRACULA
Review by Ed Nguyen
Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh
Director: Terence Fisher
Audio: English mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Video: Color, widescreen
Studio: Warner Brothers
Features: Cast & crew page, trailer, mini-essay
Length: 81 minutes
Release Date: October 1, 2002
is established that victims consciously detest being dominated by vampirism but
are unable to relinquish the practice, similar to addiction to drugs."
do you differentiate a true horror film buff from the rest of the typical
movie-going Joes? Just ask him if
the word "Hammer" brings anything to mind. Most folks will respond along the lines of nails and
carpentry, but not a true horror fan. His
eyes will light up because "Hammer" to him implies Hammer Films, an
independent British film studio which had established itself years ago as the
quintessential House of Horrors.
the 1950's, the Hammer studio was set on the goal of remaking the classic
Universal horror films. Starting
with 1957's Curse of Frankenstein, the
studio achieved its initial great commercial success, thanks particularly to the
pairing of Peter Cushing opposite Christopher Lee.
For the following two decades, Hammer Films would churn out one horror
film after another, many of which offered a fresh perspective on familiar horror
film icons. Perhaps no Hammer film
is more famous, however, than Horror of
film was the follow-up to Curse of
Frankenstein and established the classic Hammer formula for success.
In other words, the story was spiced up with suggestive sexuality,
voluptuous women, and a generous helping of blood, all of which only seem to
grow proportionately in size with each progressive offering from the film
studio. The Hammer films were also
shot in color, unlike the original Universal films.
By adding color to these tales, Hammer effectively re-introduced these
classic horror stories to a new generation of young film-goers accustomed to
featured the formidable Christopher Lee as Count Dracula.
Lee so completely embodied the role that afterwards, he was always
subject to some degree of type-casting.
Lee would ultimately portray Dracula ten times, seven of them in Hammer
films! Just as Bela Lugosi defined
the vampire for the first half of the twentieth century, so Christopher Lee was
the definitive vampire of the latter half of the century.
But whereas Lugosi's Dracula was exotic and refined, Lee's Dracula was
pure aggression and menace. There
was also a palpable aura of sexual tension surrounding his multiple portrayals
of Dracula that had only been vaguely implied in previous films about the
vampire. In fact, in Lee's first
two incarnations as Count Dracula for Hammer, he more resembled a snarling,
vicious animal than a dignified noble.
plotline in Horror of Dracula should
be generally familiar to anyone who has seen a typical Dracula film, although
there are a few changes. A young
man, Jonathan Harker, has traveled to Transylvania to conduct business with a
mysterious Count Dracula. In this
version, Harker is secretly a vampire slayer posing as the Count's new
librarian. Harker knows of the
Count's true nature and plans to end his realm of terror once and for all!
Unfortunately for Harker, Dracula is aware of Harker's intentions but
chooses not reveal himself initially. So,
for the first portion of the film, Harker and Dracula play a fish-and-bait game,
both feigning ignorance at the other's intent.
these early scenes, Harker happens across a mysterious woman in Dracula's
castle. Who is she?
As it turns out, she is Dracula's mate, and she has a secret agenda of
her own. When Harker unwisely
intervenes, Dracula quickly drops all pretenses of gentlemanly manners.
Enraged, he becomes something of a ferocious animal, and his first
unveiling as a true vampire is one of the film's famous images.
Dracula deposes of Harker (in typical vampire fashion) and then travels
abroad to seek out Harker's fiancée, Lucy, as well. Most versions of the Dracula tale have him falling in love
with Lucy, but in this film, Dracula is perhaps motivated more by a lust for
revenge than anything else. Since
Harker has stolen his mate, Dracula will return the favor and will initiate Lucy
as his new mate. Dracula becomes a
pure hunter, seeking out his prey with razor-sharp precision and unwavering
hereafter, the vampire only makes fleeting appearances, and the focus of the
film shifts instead to the character of Dr. Van Helsing, as played by Peter
Cushing. Cushing and Lee would
appear as clashing opponents in several of the finest Hammer films, and Horror
of Dracula is a classic example of their many cinematic confrontations
together. In this film, Van Helsing is Harker's comrade-in-arms.
Where Harker has failed, Van Helsing means to succeed - Count Dracula
must be defeated!
Harker's demise, Van Helsing's investigations take him to the home of Arthur
(Michael Gough) and Mina Holmwood, where he bears sad news of Harker's fate.
Arthur, who is Lucy's brother, accepts the news very gravely.
He initially turns away the doctor, but when mysterious events soon
transpire concerning Lucy's failing health (and later, Mina's livelihood as
well), Arthur begins to believe Van Helsing.
Side by side, the two men struggle to solve the mystery of Dracula's
whereabouts and his involvement in the tragedies plaguing the Holmwood family.
The remainder of the film focuses upon the dangerous cat-and-mouse game
played out by Van Helsing and Dracula.
ultimately sets the stage for a grand showdown between Van Helsing and Count
Dracula (you knew this was coming, right?).
It's a fine climactic fight, albeit a bit on the short side.
In fact, the film, clocking in at a lean 81 minutes, is a bit on the
short side, too. But, no matter - Horror
of Dracula proved to be a smashing success for Hammer and only the first of
many vampire movies for the company.
be honest though, Horror of Dracula,
while innovative in its day, is probably a bit dated today.
The film never seems quite as scary as it could have been nor, despite
the great performances by Cushing and Lee, is it quite as tense as it could have
been. One problem is surely that
the film often cuts away from Dracula's scenes too quickly.
It is of curious note that we never actually see Dracula biting anyone!
The result is a film in which more is implied than actually seen.
This is generally a good horror film technique for building suspense, but
one suspects that perhaps British censors, being allergic to too much violence
or sexuality, had something to do with this.
Nevertheless, viewed in the context of the 1950's, the film is still
quite effective, although it will not induce many nightmares in today's jaded
film's set design and the lighting scheme fare better but do not quite hit the
mark, either. Except for a few
foggy scenes in a cemetery, the film is not very atmospheric.
Dracula's castle even resembles a set from an original series episode of Star
Trek, when an away-team has beamed down to some exotic planet!
To be fair, the film's small budget probably did not allow for many
lavished embellishments or fancy camera movements.
Under such conditions, the film is still decent but leaves one wishing
for more, somehow.
general, there really isn't any sense of real character development, either.
The film seems to rely more upon our pre-knowledge of these characters
from the Universal films than from the actual script.
Most of the characters do the typically stupid things that people in
horror films always do. For
instance, after a young girl is nearly attacked by a vampire, what does she do? The following night, she wanders out alone in the dark again,
encounters the same vampire again, and follows it again! When another
character has a chance to stake the helpless Count Dracula, what does he do?
He nonchalantly turns his back on the Count until the sun sets, after
which point Dracula raises and then the party's over.
Horror films probably would not be very scary if people only ever acted
the acting is mostly B-rate. The
exceptions are Peter Cushing, who is reliably stoic, and Christopher Lee, who is
magnificent as Dracula. The
performances of rest of the cast, however, are uneven.
Michael Gough, a solid character actor who has made a career of appearing
in supernatural (or super-hero) films, comes across as rather dull and useless.
The women in the film, uniformly bland, exist mainly to provide pretty
appetizers for the Count. In
general, Hammer women tend to come in either a dim-witted variety or a buxom
variety (and sometimes, both together). Feminists
probably will not like Hammer films very much.
this film, the women seem to actively seek out Dracula's attention!
They toss away the garlic and open their windows.
They often do nothing more interesting than lie around on their beds in
nightgowns, anticipating Dracula's arrival.
There's no screaming or running away here.
There is only expectant submission, almost of a sexual nature. But then again, if Hammer wished to spice up their horror
films with pretty but vacuous women, why complain?
These films, in essence, were the precedent of today's slasher and teen
horror flicks, although Hammer productions were generally classier.
any event, Horror of Dracula still
features Christopher Lee, and he is absolutely the best thing in this film.
He has great screen presence, and it is too bad that he doesn't utter a
single word after the film's early scenes.
In his follow-up, Dracula, Prince
of Darkness, Lee doesn't even have a single line in the entire film!
It's a wasted opportunity to make use of that solid, baritone voice.
despite its minor flaws (many inherent to the horror genre anyhow), Horror
of Dracula has many fans and is undoubtedly a cult classic.
And like most cult films, it is able to transcend its weaknesses, thanks
here to a rousing, star-making performance by Christopher Lee. In the end, that is all that really matters.
Any actor who has made a career out of whupping the likes of James Bond,
Gandalf the Grey, a whiny young Darth Vader, and even a unicorn or two is okay
in my book! See Horror
of Dracula for Christopher Lee, and see for yourself why legions of horror
fans consider him the penultimate Dracula.
is presented in widescreen. It has
a decent image, but the source print could have used a little touch-up work.
There are a small number of minor scratches and dust marks here and there.
The overall appearance of the film is also slightly on the soft side, but
this appears to be related to the film stock.
Fortunately, the transfer is otherwise quite acceptable, and I did not
notice any glaring compression artifacts.
color cinematography is a little problematic.
It certainly looks pretty, without a doubt, but perhaps it is too
cheerful. That's right - Technicolor is fine for a Hollywood musical
but seems out of place in a horror film. Understandingly,
color films generate more interest than black & white films and will
certainly draw larger audiences, but it should be noted that Horror
of Dracula is most effective during night scenes, when everything is mostly
in shades of dark gray. Shadows and
darkness, silhouettes and flickering lights, these are the stuff of great horror
films! Only black & white
photography can adequately capture these images effectively.
Thus, although Horror of Dracula
has its moments, its power is somewhat diminished by the bright, glowing colors.
One favorable aspect of the Technicolor photography, however, is that it
gives Hammer an opportunity to use flashy red colors (as in bloody) as often as
possible. Dracula's mouth
frequently drips of fresh blood, and even the opening credits are highlighted in
blood-red hues. For a 1950's film,
it is rather bloody (though very tame by today's standards).
again, Hammer made dozens of highly successful horror films with Technicolor, so
what do I know?
is presented with its original mono track.
It is perfectly fine although it is a little shrill at times and lacks
the dynamic punch that more modern soundtracks have.
The audio is clean of hiss or crackles, and while we can ponder what
sorts of improvements a new 5.1 audio upgrade might have brought, I've heard
enough botched jobs in this area to be satisfied with the decent mono audio as
to start with, the back cover art on the DVD case has a misreferenced photograph
from another Hammer film altogether, but that's no big deal.
It's just packaging. Only
the movie on the disc matters, even if there is little else on this DVD beside
the best "feature" is the vintage theme music (lifted directly from
the first few minutes of the film itself) that plays during the menu screen.
The music has a great, classic-horror feel to it, and next to Christopher
Lee, is probably my favorite thing about the film.
That doesn't say much for the actual extra features, I'm afraid. There is a one-page cast & crew section.
There is an old trailer. And
then, there is a very brief essay listing Christopher Lee's six other Hammer
appearances as Dracula. That is
the brevity of the film, Warner Brothers could easily have included a lot more
extras for this cult film but sadly did not choose to do so.
Michael Gough appeared in another highly-profiled series of films about another
bat person. He played Alfred, the
butler in Warner Brothers' Batman