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Horror of Dracula (Dracula 1958) #MovieReview

The UK’s own classic adaptation of the iconic count for the screen. The movie was released as Dracula in the UK, but received the new title in the US to avoid confusion with the 1931 Bela Lugosi film of the same name. This is also one of the early films in Christopher Lee’s career that helped cement him as a horror icon and the number one choice for a truly villainous role.

Horror of Dracula movie poster. Dracula carrying an unconscious woman

Movie Info

Release Date: 06-16-1958(UK)

MPAA Rating: Unrated

Runtime: 1 hr 22 mins

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Melissa Stribling

Makeshift Crosses: 5 of 5

Story

The plot of Horror of Dracula diverges from both the novel and the older film renditions pretty significantly, which is refreshing even today with the hundreds of vampire flicks that all start to feel the same. Dr. Van Helsing takes a more active role from the beginning of the film. He’s clearly on a mission to find and slay the infamous prince of darkness rather than just stumbling into the plot by happenstance as he does in previous incarnations.

The director made some choices in this film that do a good job of making Lee’s Dracula stand out as different from Bela Lugosi’s version. While Universal’s Dracula was regal and clearly an unnatural being, Hammer’s Dracula is smooth, charming, and personable, with only the barest hint that he is anything but an abnormally charismatic gentleman. He could much more believably talk his way into someone’s home at night and drink them dry, supernatural powers of persuasion or no.

Acting

As I said above, Christopher Lee is brilliant in this role, managing to present himself as a gracious host to Dr. Van Helsing and control the screen with his force of personality. But at the same time the camera watches him in a way that gives the viewer the feeling that something is not quite right. He lingers on the screen just long enough to make a moment unnerving, and then he continues on, chatting away and making you feel quietly judged for suspecting him of anything, but even still you can’t shake that nagging suspicion, even if you weren’t aware that you were watching a Dracula movie. It’s evident that Lee has enjoyed a commanding presence onscreen long before he played other larger-than-life villains like Saruman the White or Count Dooku.

Close-up of Christopher Lee as Dracula, looking vaguely menacing, as Christopher Lee does.

Peter Cushing is also brilliant. His Van Helsing is smart, snappy, and more than capable of going up against vampires on a regular basis. In my opinion he’s probably one of the few actors of the time (at least that I’m aware of) who could stand up to Lee’s charisma and not look like an amateur or a pushover while sharing a screen with him. In one or two later entries in the Hammer Films Dracula franchise Cushing makes a return without Lee to play opposite him, and the films are still fun to watch because Cushing is that capable of carrying the movie. These two together are just the best thing to watch.

Technical Stuff

Being a horror movie of the 1950s the effects aren’t going to be enormous, but the moments where they employed special effects really work and even hold fairly well. The final battle between Van Helsing and Dracula is excruciating and very well handled. It’s much more climactic than Universal’s version and will have you on the edge of your seat even if you’re used to modern Hollywood’s effects budgets.

Conclusion

Horror of Dracula is easily my favorite Dracula film. It’s got so much going for it and it does such a good job of capturing that era of horror movies. This is one that any fan of classic horror or vampire movies should see, and it would make a great choice for a Halloween watch party tradition. Absolutely give this one a watch.

Published inMovie ReviewsStarred Reviews

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