Dracula (1958) Review

Dracula

DraculaHammer Horror’s 1958 Dracula redefined the vampire genre in the same way that Universal’s 1931 movie staring Bela Lugosi had done so many years before.

With the cinematic legend that is Christopher Lee playing the cloaked Count Dracula, Hammer’s version of Bram Stoker’s classic novel amped up the sex and violence and created a thoroughly entertaining horror that has finally been restored and released in a package it truly deserves.

From a script by one of the driving forces behind Hammer Studios – Jimmy Sangster (who wrote many movies for the studio), the story strips away all the boring elements of the novel and jumps straight in to the action with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arriving at castle Dracula to kill the evil Count and destroy his evil once and for all.

All does not go to plan however for poor Harker. Once Dracula discovers his true intentions it is left to his friend Dr. Van Helsing, played by the incomparable Peter Cushing, to work out what has happened.

Dracula

As Van Helsing starts to uncover the blood sucking secret the Count has been keeping, Dracula is enacting his own plans, first taking Harker’s fiancée Lucy (Carol Marsh) and then setting his sights on her sister-in law Mina (Melissa Stribling).

drac_blu_2dIt’s up to Van Helsing to stop the vampire king before it’s too late in an epic battle to the death in the Count’s castle that can only end when one of them is destroyed.

Available for the first time on Blu-Ray and double disc DVD, massive credit has to go to Hammer and Lionsgate for this awesome release. The film looks as bright and lurid as it would have back when it was shown in cinemas.

More importantly there are two versions of Dracula included, with the 2007 BFI restoration and the 2012 Hammer restoration – which contains two extra scenes censored by the BBFC on its original release.

Interestingly it is one of these banned scenes, the seduction of Mina, that we truly see the films impact on the vampire genre. As Dracula enters Mina’s room forcing her onto the bed and bearing down on her bare neck we see not only his dark blood sucking desire but her excitement, surrender and arousal, something that the censors did not want the audiences of the time to witness.

Both here and in many other scenes, director Terence Fisher firmly and clearly connects the vampiritic act with sexual seduction and gratification – a motif and theme that still dominates the vampire genre perhaps more so today than ever.

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As stated before, Fisher’s version is a brilliantly British gothic horror, full of gratuitous entertainment with bright red blood, wanton vampire women, staking, screaming and sex a recipe that Hammer repeated over many movies afterwards.

Surprisingly though it is the seriousness of both central performances that elevate the movie over many other versions of the Dracula story. Both Lee and Cushing are amazing actors and their devotion to the characters and total commitment to them (however ridiculous they may be) makes the film so much more watchable and captivating.

Cushing’s Van Helsing is a wise and world weary man of science and superstition devoted to his cause. The source of authority and goodness in the film, he leaps seamlessly from dictating his discoveries onto a primitive dictaphone to battling Dracula in hand to hand combat in the all action climax.

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Lee is just as good embodying both the human and animal side of Count Dracula perfectly and evoking power, primal fear and forcefulness using very few words, his sheer cinematic presence enough to command the forces of darkness and his female victims to his own evil will.

Dracula is a must have for horror fans and in a release so full of extras (including four brand new featurettes, new commentary by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and author and critic Jonathan Rigby, a stills gallery of over 100 fully-restored and rare images as well as booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson and the original shooting script) this is the definitive resurrection that Hammer’s classic vampire movie and horror fans have been waiting for.

Movie Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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