Review: HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

It’s fitting that Terence Fisher’s HORROR OF DRACULA begins with a splash of blood, bright and red as hell. This 1958 horror picture from Hammer Film Productions is, like THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN before it, a paean to the instinctive Gothic essence within the finest terror yarns of the literary tradition. The screenplay by Jimmy Sangster is naturally based on the Bram Stoker novel of the same name and fleshes out a voluptuous narrative that nevertheless gets straight to the point.

The picture begins with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arriving at the castle of one Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) with presumed intentions of being a librarian. It soon becomes apparent that Harker has masked his true aim. He is a vampire hunter and Dracula is his target. His plans run afoul of the Count, however, and it falls to Harker’s friend Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to follow up. Unfortunately, Dracula has taken a shine to Harker’s fiancé Lucy (Carol Marsh) and all hell breaks loose.

dracula-van-helsing-finale

In the hands of Fisher, HORROR OF DRACULA is a colourful and simple piece of elegant horror. The lust is of the skin, a bloody and pungent examination of mortality and our attempts to chart its boundaries. In that sense, HORROR OF DRACULA beautifully blends with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN as another study of scientific rite. Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is as infatuated by science as his Dr. Van Helsing and he sees no difficulty allowing the values of verification and fact-seeking from saturating the mystical realm.

By contrast, Lee’s Count Dracula doesn’t tolerate many of Earth’s rules. He merely shows up, appearing atop a staircase or disappearing elsewhere. But there is no perceptible cloud of smoke or throng of bats. When Dracula sets upon Mina (Melissa Stribling), her husband (Michael Gough) wonders where in the hell he came from. He might also be wondering why Mina seems to enjoy the fangs so much, another matter of HORROR OF DRACULA’s coy mysticism. In this case, the Count is as desirous as he is deadly. And in this case, the hammer falls to the stake of dark tyranny and the weapons of religion scald the flesh.

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