christopher lee, Dracula, hammer films, Hammer Horror, horror of dracula, jimmy sangster, john van eyssen, michael gough, peter cushing, terence fisher, universal international
It’s 1958 and Hammer Films has slowly been making its mark on the horror celluloid scene, but they are about to cement their place forever with their iconic take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula as part of a deal between Seven Arts and Universal International. Iconic in that they would produce one of the most infamous images of the titular character thanks to the commanding presence of Christopher Lee. It would also see Lee don the fangs a total of seven times for Hammer, the last being The Satanic Rites of Dracula in 1973. His blood red eyes and performance as a sexual predator would set the image of modern Dracula up for life, but it would also be one that would irk Lee over time, becoming tiresome of the watered down versions he would ultimately play.
To add weight to the original feature (entitled The Horror of Dracula in the US as Universal wanted to distinguish the British version from their own 1931 feature starring Bela Lugosi), Hammer would cast Peter Cushing to play Dracula’s foe Van Helsing. A worthy and notable performance once again which would see Cushing insisting on performing his own stunts throughout.
It would once again herald Jimmy Sangster on writing duties, and the ever-dependable Terence Fisher in the directors chair following his success with The Curse of Frankenstein.
Upon review, the film still holds up well with solid performances throughout and the sexual undertone lays heavy with palettes of red, producing some well-handled effects. It’s also of note, the omission of key character Renfield from the novel, and the amalgamation of Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) and Arthur Holmwood’s (Michael Gough) role in the storyline too.
Upon release, the film did well despite heavy criticism from certain avenues of the media, dubbing the X certificate a pale option and cries for a new classification to be ordered. Either way it didn’t stop the punters from going to see it, and paved the bloody path for Hammer to walk along for another two decades.
– Saul Muerte
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