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Dracula/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Dracula
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I'm not sure that a plot synopsis is really necessary for what is surely one of the most famous Gothic horror stories of all time but for the benefit of anyone visiting Earth for the first time: it’s Hammer time!

Jonathan Harker arrives in the European town of Klausenberg to take a new job as librarian to mysterious nobleman Count Dracula. Harker’s employment is however a smokescreen; his real purpose for visiting Castle Dracula is to destroy the vampire Count and end his centuries long reign of terror. Having been welcomed into Dracula’s home Harker encounters a girl who claims that the Count is holding her prisoner. She begs him to help her escape but, too late, Harker discovers she too is a vampire. Bitten by the girl Harker rushes to complete his mission before the curse of the undead overwhelms him. He succeeds in driving a stake through the girl as she sleeps in her coffin but Dracula awakens and Harker’s fate is sealed.

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Cue the arrival of Professor Van Helsing for a rendezvous with his partner in vampire busting. The Professor relays news of Harker’s death to the brother of his fiancée Lucy Holmwood but Lucy is already under Dracula’s evil influence. As revenge for Harker staking his girlfriend back at the castle the Count has decided that Lucy will be his new bride of blood. Arthur Holmwood is hostile towards Van Helsing’s warnings but his scepticism is soon swept aside once confronted with his sister risen from the grave and sporting some frightful fangs.

Following Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 Hammer studios re-united director, screenwriter, stars and crew to resurrect another classic literary monster and with 'Dracula' (released as 'The Horror Of Dracula' in the U.S. to avoid confusion with the 1931 Bela Lugosi version) sealed the deal on their reputation as masters of Technicolor Gothic horror. After a decade of atomically enlarged insects and invaders from outer space Hammer studios almost single-handedly turned the tide of cinema fantasy and their particular brand of grim fairytale would enjoy massive box office success for almost 20 years. 'Dracula' stands as one of the highlights in Hammer's fantastic filmography. It's likely that I'm preaching to the converted but personal favourite moments include:

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Lucy Holmwood preparing for the Count’s midnight visit: opening the windows, slipping the crucifix from around her neck and gently laying down on her bed as the camera slowly glides around her bedroom emphasising the girl’s sensual anticipation.

The subsequent confrontation between the undead Lucy and her stupefied brother in the shadows of the graveyard: fangs bared Lucy approaches Arthur whispering ‘Dear brother . . . let me kiss you’ before Van Helsing intervenes with his crucifix.

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The climactic battle: Van Helsing sprinting the length of Dracula's dining table and launching himself at the window in order to drag down the heavy curtains and let the lethal sun light in to fry Drac's ass.

Jimmy Sangster's script rips the bloody heart from Bram Stoker's source novel and discards any gristle that might distract from the breathless pace of the adventure. Other adaptations may have stuck more closely to the plot of the book but none have so successfully translated such excitement, tension and drama to the screen. All the elements that would quickly become Hammer trademarks are present here: James Bernard's baroque ‘bat out of hell’ score, the cleverly nuanced performances of beloved stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and the exquisitely detailed sets courtesy of production designer Bernard Robinson. Ultimately Terence Fisher's direction must be congratulated for allowing all of these varied aspects opportunity to shine. As with all of Hammer's best films 'Dracula's success does not rest on the contribution of any one individual party more than another; it is the cohesive collaborative effort of all concerned that resulted in such a beautifully realised fictional world.

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A minority of old skool monster kids may maintain that Bela Lugosi's top-hat & tails wearing vampire is the real deal but for my money Christopher Lee's Count is the definitive cinema Dracula. On first appearance he is aloof and austere; a hint of chilly contempt lurking below his formality no doubt the result of having seen generations of mankind engaging in petty wars and disputes. But when the bloodlust is upon him he becomes suddenly feral and you can almost see the fires of hell burning within his bloodshot eyeballs. Nowadays 'iconic' is a word that's all too frequently thrown at undeserving targets but Lee's Dracula casts a long shadow over, not just the horror genre, but popular culture in general. Shit, I sat here drinking coffee from a Hammer Films mug with Lee's fang filled face emblazoned on it! You could say that I'm a fan.

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Narcan is the GCDb's esteemed UK contributor. As a youth his earliest exploitation film experience was a My Bloody Valentine/The Funhouse midnight double bill. Grindhouse icons that he holds in highest regards are Christina Lindberg and Frank Henelotter. Two of his favorite exploitation genres include Nunsploitation and Lucha Libre.
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