When people think of actors who have portrayed Count Dracula they tend to think of two men only. The first is Bela Lugosi and while his performance in the 1931 adaption of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is legendary, it’s likely more people think of Christopher Lee. The iconic actor who should need no introduction, he first put on the cape back in 1958 and would reprise the role several more times over the following years.
How do you review Dracula? Especially by today’s standards? It is a masterful movie that is dripping gothic glory. When Hammer Horror were beginning to strike gold, had directors like Terence Fisher and actors the calibre of Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh and John Van Eyssen involved.
It is a movie that has barely aged a day and still holds the same power it held back in 1958 as it does today. It’s a wonderfully loose adaption that is smart and very sexy.
The story begins with Jonathan Harker (Van Eyssen) arriving at Castle Dracula to take up his role as librarian. However, that is a cover story for his actual reason for being here. He is a vampire hunter and has arrived to destroy Dracula.
Before we go on with the plot, let’s talk about the moment Lee appears on screen as Dracula. My goodness, this might be one of the most imposing and majestic entrances of a villain in horror. His towering stature, the focus on his intense eyes, his curt politeness to Harker… it is transfixing. As though the vampire is attempting to hypnotise you through the TV. If you weren’t sold on the movie at first, this will be the section that has you gleefully bouncing up and down.
Anyway, Harker is attacked and bitten by one of Dracula’s female thralls and later, after waking and discovering his wounds, goes to destroy the vampires. In Dracula’s crypt he stakes the woman that bit him but Dracula wakes and gets the upper hand on Harker.
Sometime later, Van Helsing (Cushing) arrives in a town local to Castle Dracula and tries to enquire about Harker. He is met with mostly stony silence but his calm and friendly demeanour sees him eventually gain Harker’s diary. In it, he discovers the man’s fate and heads off to Dracula’s castle.
Again, the plot rundown needs to be stopped to just gush about how great Peter Cushing is in this role. His acting career speaks volumes already but to see him at his peak here is a joy. He might even be more enjoyable than Lee, such is the command of the screen he has.
Van Helsing finds Castle Dracula deserted but does discover a now vampire Harker in the crypt so does what he has to and stakes him. Van Helsing realises that Dracula wants revenge on Harker for killing his companion so has gone to corrupt Harker’s fiancé, Mina (Stribling). Will he be able to stop the wicked vampire before his plans are realised?
We have to stop there otherwise this review will be just plot and nothing else. However, we will say what follows is a constantly thrilling wild ride culminating in two acting legends facing off in two of their most iconic roles. Modern horror wishes it could have such impact.
Dracula takes a lot of liberties with the source material but the basic outline is there so if you’re a big fan of the novel you will come away (mostly) pleased. The thing is, while it might not be the most faithful adaption, it is one of the most well told versions. It’s very snappy and succinct, which isn’t always the case with Hammer Horror. The pacing is always hot and even when it slows down for more story-telling, it isn’t dragged out. It is streamlined but that’s a good thing as it makes for a constant visual and audio treat.
The gothic splendour of the locations, the feeling of being transported back in time, the lavish sets and booming gothic score are all part of a wonderful horror experience. Anyone who confesses to being a fan of horror has to have seen this film, no excuses.
The Final Score - 9.5/10