Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Terrifying Tuesdays: Horror of Dracula (1958)

I have always been a fan of the original "Dracula" (1931) movie with Bela Lugosi, and never really enjoyed any of the later versions.  The exception is "Horror of Dracula" (1958) from Hammer Film Productions starring Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula.  Although the film makers made a few changes to the Bram Stoker story (as was the case with the older movie as well), the sequence of events is very similar.

In this movie, Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to Dracula's castle near the village of Klausenberg posing as a librarian, but in reality he is a vampire hunter intent on killing the vampire count.  At the castle he meets a young woman who claims she is a prisoner, and who asks him to help her escape.  She is, however, a vampire as well, and she manages to bite Harker's neck before Dracula interposes.  Fearing that he too will become a vampire, Harker writes his story in his journal, hides the journal outside the castle where the townspeople will find it, and goes back to the castle to destroy the undead residents.  He manages to kill the young girl with a stake through the heart, but before he can deal with Dracula the sun sets and the vampire rises to attack.

A short time later fellow vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing arrives in the village and asks about Harker at the local inn.  He is given Harker's journal and sets off for Dracula's castle, passed on the way by a speeding carriage carrying a coffin.  At the castle Van Helsing discovers to his horror that Harker has become a vampire, and follows his friend's wishes by killing him with a stake through the heart.

Van Helsing then heads for the town of Karlstadt to inform Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) and his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling) of Harker's death.  Holmwood is the brother of Harker's fiancée, Lucy (Carol Marsh), but Arthur informs Van Helsing that Lucy has recently become very ill and cannot be told the tragic news.  Later it is revealed that Lucy's illness is the result of an attack by Dracula, who returns that same night to attack again.  Van Helsing, at Mina's request, attempts to save Lucy, but his efforts are thwarted and she is killed.  Arthur initially refuses to believe Van Helsing's claim that Lucy has become a vampire, but sees the proof for himself and tells the doctor to kill her before she can attack others.

When Van Helsing and Arthur Holmwood discover that Mina is Dracula's latest victim, they try desperately to locate the count's coffin so that they can destroy him and save Mina's life.  In the end, Van Helsing manages to trap Dracula in sunlight, which kills the vampire and lifts his curse from Mina.

This movie is very well made and well acted.  My only complaint is the character of Dracula -- in this film he has become more of a rampaging beast, rather than the suave and cunning undead nobleman made famous by Bela Lugosi's portrayal.  In my opinion Christopher Lee was not used to best effect -- his acting abilities far surpass the role he was given to play.  However, Peter Cushing's role is perfect, and his portrayal is flawless -- this is one of his best movies.

Interesting Fact: Despite receiving second billing after Peter Cushing in this movie, Christopher Lee's Dracula only has thirteen lines, all spoken to the Jonathan Harker character.  Also, the name of this British-made film was changed from "Dracula" to "Horror of Dracula" in the United States to avoid confusion with the 1931 Bela Lugosi version.

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 1

Peter Cushing in "Horror of Dracula" (from The Midnight Rant)

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