When um-ing and ah-ing over what horror series to review this Halloween I eventually landed on the Hammer Dracula films, as to me this original Dracula was THE classic version. Obviously the Universal films from the 30s and 40s are the actual originals but I never saw them growing up but I did see this film at some point late at night in the 90s and I loved it, it’s what I always mentally refer back to when some property or another mentions Dracula. Given I’ve only seen one of the EIGHT sequels this should be quite the experience in the lead up to October 31st, so let’s get started, shall we?
Jonathan Harker begets the ire of Count Dracula after he accepts a job at the vampire’s castle under false pretenses, forcing his colleague Dr. Van Helsing to hunt the predatory villain when he targets Harker’s loved ones.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Start off with one of the most iconic (and therefore overused) shots in cinema!
The standouts of the film are both the moody and ominous atmosphere and the duo of Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Lee’s Dracula is charming, unassuming and alluring to many women while frightening when converting the opposite sex into vampires with a bite or fighting with a hunter who’s after his life. Peter Cushing on the other hand is all business, he plays the role of Van Helsing so straight and serious that any campy value you might think the film has goes out the window, replaced by a feeling that this man is serious in stopping this evil threat to the city of Klausenburg. It’s because of these two performances that the finale is so good as Helsing chases Dracula around his castle and only managing to defeat the Count by opening the curtains to let sunlight in and then forming a cross with a pair of candle sticks. The disintegration effects on Dracula turns to dust is still great even now.
The build up to the big showdown is good too, it’s a well-paced film. It opens with vampire hunter Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) having tracked down Dracula and placed himself in Klausenburg as a librarian, but he soon finds a woman who Dracula has made a vampire begging to be killed, which he does later that night but immediately afterwards is trapped in the crypt with the Count himself. This is where Van Helsing arrives and soon finds and kills the vampire Harker before he awakes, then heads to the Holmwood household where he informs Harker’s fiancée Lucy (Carol Marsh) and her in-laws Arthur (Michael Gough) and Mina (Melissa Stribling) of his death. It’s soon revealed that Dracula has already bitten Lucy (and then bites her again for good measure) leading to an eventual showdown and staking for the vampire Lucy, Van Helsing theorising that she was a replacement for the woman Harker had killed a few days ago.
This leads to Helsing and Arthur becoming a pair, especially when Dracula heads off with Mina. Dracula is caught trying to bury her alive and runs back to his castle, leading to the now legendary showdown as detailed already. For 90 minutes it does a great job telling a basic vampire story, though for 1958 it was most likely a head of its time.
“Calm down, he’s just an undead killing machine who’s after you wife.”
Not much to say at all, really. It has that “not quite right” technicolour look but that doesn’t bother me personally.
Those were some unfortunately shaped candle holders you had there, Drac!
The original Hammer Horror Dracula is every bit the classic now as it was back in the late 50s and is still the version I mentally refer back to when I see a reference to the classic tale. From what I know of the sequels and from what I remember about the one I caught a few years ago this may not hold true for the other EIGHT, but hey-ho, they won’t take away from this great and stand-alone experience.