mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Horror of Dracula (1958)


     "Sleep well, Mr. Harker."

Dracula (1958) (also known as Horror of Dracula) the second in a long line of Hammer horror films following The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and like that film this film stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and is directed by Terence Fisher.

Jonathan Harker has traveled to Count Dracula's castle posing as a librarian, however in this version of the classic tale he already knows exactly what he's in for.

This is a solid retelling of the Dracula story, I love the way the film starts very much like the beginning of the previous films (and of course the novel) and then you realize that Jonathan Harker actually knows what's up already. From then on the movie keeps you guessing by doing things that are close to the original story but often twisted or changed a bit. And I'm happy to say most of those twists and changes are for the better and work very well in this film. I like the way our heros assume that Dracula is after Lucy because Jonathan killed his vampire bride. It's little changes like this that make me think somebody really went over the source material and was like, "how can we make this work better for an hour and a half film."

Hammer films tend to have the whole range as far as sets go and these early ones have some of the better ones. There's parts where the walls looked a bit fake and the forced perspective were a bit off but overall the sets in this film were really good, especially the sets of Dracula's castle.

My biggest complaint with this film is the characters. My friends and I had a brief debate during the beginning of this film on whether or not Jonanthan Harker is actually a Vampire Hunter as his profession. It would seem weird to me that he he would keep something like this from his family and yet it's very clear that Dr. Van Hellsing is a Vampire Hunter in this version (in theory, at the very least) and he is close friends with Jonathan. Yet Jonathan is the one who cares enough about the extinction of the evil Count, so much that he decides to martyr himself in attempt. (Note: he's not very good at it.) I could go either way but the problem is the film doesn't really seem to care either. As far as the characters are concerned the film has only the most basic understanding of who they are and what they want. And beyond what the actors bring to the roles the characters seem like shells of the characters from the novel.

There's also some really awkward moments in this film that are the result of bad staging. Hellsing realizes that Dracula is no longer in his coffin so he runs into the next room, where Dracula is no where to be found... then Dracula busts in from the door at the top of the stairs where he enters to fight Hellsing. Why did Dracula pop out like that? Just to make an epic entrance? Did he forget his cape in the other room? I understand what the director was trying to do, but the staging makes it very humorous.

Despite their not being much in the way of characters the acting in this film is really quite decent. It's super obvious from these earlier Hammer films why they led to a ton of sequels and spin-offs. Peter Cushing really does a lot with his limited material, you really feel for him and want him to succeed in his efforts and likewise I personally am a huge fan of Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula. He may not have much to go on and kind of is a shadow of a character in this one but he's really awesome, and pretty frightening for how little he actually does in the film. I also really liked John Van Eyssen's Jonathan Harker, it's unfortunate that he retired from acting soon after this because he really makes the small role quite memorable.

I love the practical effects in this film, some are testing the limits of early exploitation but most of them are quite fitting and almost all of them still hold up really well. I think these alone make the film still feels very modern. It's funny we lump these early ones in with the 60s' and the 70s' films and that should say something about how ahead of their time they really were. Compare it to the bad sci-fi films that Universal was making stateside during the same time in the late 50s' and these films feel a whole lot more modern than them. And despite the higher concentration of effects this film has that really awesome low-budget feel to it. It's the early days of the Hammer studio and there's more of a passionate, "consolidated" feel in this film, like everyone who worked on it wanted to be doing this.

Dracula (1958) is an early gem in a long line of Hammer Horror films. It's easy to see why the studio really took off after this one.

4/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

Tomorrow on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies we'll do the animated Japanese classic that was originally inspired by these Hammer films, Vampire Hunter D (1985).

Be sure to check out Daimeon's review of this film too!

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  1. Definitely a great Hammer film and a great horror film, period. Must have been so thrilling to see this on the big screen back then!