When Hammer found itself with a massive hit on their hands with The Curse of Frankenstein, they quickly decided to try and recreate that success by tackling another legendary horror classic, Dracula. Created by the same team that worked on The Curse of Frankenstein, writer Jimmy Sangster, director Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the success of this film would help make Hammer the forerunner in horror for the next decade.
I have seen a lot of Dracula movies, more than the human soul could possible stand. Strangely I’m not that big a fan of the story but I know it so well that I could probably reenact the tale in shadow puppet. Hammer took Bram Stoker’s classic tale and Hammerified for a better lack of term.
The movie starts off like most versions of Dracula, with young Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) traveling to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Harker arrives, meets the Count and then finds himself locked in his room at night. That’s when things change from Stoker’s classic novel. It seems that this Harker is actually a vampire hunter and has been working with Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and he’s there to kill Dracula.
A beautiful woman runs into Harker the night he arrives pleading with him to help her. She then tries to bite him but Dracula interrupts. In the daytime Harker finds the coffin of the young woman and drives a stake into her chest. He’s about to do the same to Dracula when the Count surprises Harker and bites him. A few days later Dr. Van Helsing arrives in town looking for Harker. He goes up to the castle and finds Dracula gone and Harker a vampire which Van Helsing stakes.
Van Helsing goes to tell Harker’s fiancee Lucy (Carol Marsh – it was Mina in the book) that Harker is dead. Lucy’s brother Arthur (Michael Gough) and his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling) tell Van Helsing that Lucy has sick lately. Dracula had found a picture of her among Harker’s things and has come to claim her for his new vampire bride. Van Helsing tries to save her but fails and has to stake her in front of Arthur. Dracula turns his sights on Mina which leads to a chase back to his castle where Van Helsing does battle with the Count.
This is an excellent Dracula movie and it set the tone for most of Hammer’s horror movies, period films set in the late 1800’s with a little bit of gore, a bit of sex and a plot that doesn’t quite follow the standard formula. As with a lot of Hammer’s movies, the American distributor retitled the movie, this became Horror of Dracula as to not confuse people with the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie. Dracula was a massive hit for Hammer and they would make eight sequels, six which starred Christopher Lee and only four that starred Peter Cushing. The BFI actually just restored Dracula a couple of years ago with some missing footage that had been cut because the movie was too gory (for 1958). It’s sadly only available in England at the moment.