Hammer Films‘ revision of Bram Stoker’s famous novel is one of the great horror films. Director Terence Fisher, who combines a cutter’s eye for bold contrast with a delight in the logical unfolding of space, demonstrates a complete mastery of melodramatic modes.
He’s aided by Jack Asher’s vibrant cinematography, James Bernard’s unabashedly lurid and exciting score, and two career-defining performances – Peter Cushing’s intellectual, refined and athletic Van Helsing and Christopher Lee’s icy, imperious, handsome Count.
Like Hammer’s previous film, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula came as quite a shock to its first viewers and reviewers, and as late as the early 1970s Hammer’s emphasis on the physical aspects of horror was generally recognised both as a turning point in genre history and as the trademark of a legendary production company.
Even today, sensitive viewers can appreciate the boldness with which Dracula oversteps the boundaries defined by earlier cinematic horrors.
This is seen most clearly in Dracula’s feral eyes and fangs (this film was the first time in cinema that Dracula had been seen using long sharp canine teeth to drain his victims of blood), the blood welling up from the hearts of staked vampire women, and the unmistakable sexuality of the relationship between the vampire and his victims.
At one point, Dracula enters his victim’s bedroom and shuts the door on the camera, positioned in the hallway. The tactful and expected approach would have been to end the scene there, but Fisher cuts directly inside the room as Dracula backs the young woman towards her bed. The cut itself conveys inexorability, violation and dread.
Released in some markets as Horror of Dracula and followed in 1966 by Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
John Van Eyssen
Charles Lloyd Pack
Marx, the undertaker