Dracula (Horror Of Dracula) (1958)
Made after the remarkable (and probably not a little surprising for Hammer and everyone else) success of Curse Of Frankenstein, the idea of Dracula was to stamp Hammer's Technicolor gaudiness all over another well-worn theme.
And they don't come much more well-worn than this one - but what's surprising about the original Hammer Dracula is how bloody good it actually is.
The team make their mark immediately, with a lovely little titles sequence... blood red graphics over a statue of an eagle. The camera pans round, takes the audience into a tomb and then up to Dracula's coffin, where for no reason other than it looks good, blood starts to pour over the titular Count's engraved name. Coming after watching several of the later vampire films, this makes a refreshing change. A bold statement - and not a single "young girl killed by demon which has yet to actually be born/created/summoned" to be seen. You know what I mean, you must do. Twins Of Evil - girls killed by vampire despite Carmilla not yet on scene. Lust For A Vampire - same. Etc etc. Watch them if you don't believe me...
Anyway, back to the plot... Jonathan Harker (just like in the book!) arrives at Dracula's castle, dressed disconcertingly like George Cole's spiv character from the St Trinian's films. Castle Dracula looks quite nice (just like in the book!) with not a cobweb to be seen. He is served a meal without his host being present (just like in the book!) by a busty maid who begs him: "Please... please help me to escape!" (hmmm...)
Dracula is first seen at the top of the stairs in silhouette - and gets a crash of music and Harker reaction shot to signify that despite not looking particularly menacing, we need to watch out for this guy. Bela Lugosi he is not.
Of course, all this wonderful Gothic bollocks is great, as is the production team's seeming allegiance to Stoker's source material. However, all this is to change with an actually fantastic plot revelation. After 10 minutes of pure Stoker, we are told that Harker isn't there as unwitting tooth fodder, as he is in the book, but is actually on a revenge mission to wipe out the Count - sent by Van Helsing. Not only is this a wild deviation from the plot which the film can obviously never recover from, but it's actually a brilliant one, too - as instead of half an hour of wandering around the castle wondering what's going on and looking vacant (ie like Keanu "Keep away from me you bloody fiends" Reeves), we can get straight to the action.
Dracula's bird succumbs to a fit of over acting: "You must help me... you must..." and bites him. Cheers. We then get the first real shock - a whacking great close-up of Dracula's furious face, complete with bloodshot eyes and gore pouring from his mouth. This must have scared the shit out of 'em back in '58. It's pretty darn scary now, I can tell you.
Harker wakes up the next morning, and realising he's deep in the vampire shit now, resolves to find Dracula's tomb and stake him. But first he writes his diary. "Soon it will be sundown and they will walk again. I do not have much time." Better stop writing in your flipping diary then, eh matey?
Luckily, he finds the tomb straight away. Unluckily, he decides to stake the girl first (which makes absolutely no sense at all). During the particularly violent and blood-soaked staking, the sun goes down. When Harker turns to Dracula's coffin, it's empty. Oh shit. The Count advances on our dimwitted hero, and the screen fades to black...
Enter Van Helsing, who of course visits the local pub, where of course the locals are less than friendly. He explains that he and Harker are engaged on a project that will help the whole world, makes his way to the castle and nearly gets run over by a hearse. Wonder who's in the back of that? Van Helsing find's Harker in Dracula's coffin. He's a vampire. He lifts up his stake and mallet and the screen fades to black again...
Back in England Van Helsing reports back to Harker's brother-in-law (Michael Gough), who's sister Lucy is not at all well. He also explains to the slow-witted 1958 audience a few things:
1. Sunlight kills vampires
2. Garlic repels them
3. A Crucifix not only repels them, but also reveals them.
So, now we know. Of course, by the time 1974 rolled round there were a whole load more rules to add to those three...
He also equates vampirism with a kind of drug addiction. But anyway, less of this.
Van Helsing's crackpot rules are ignored, and Lucy is killed, but then spotted by an annoying child. Cue Gough's eyebrows. He goes to check on his sister's body but finds nowt but trouble. Luckily, he's got a crucific at hand, which he burns into Lucy's forehead (nice effect). Lucy gets a very graphic staking, and then turns back into a beautiful woman - so that's okay.
Here's a few more rules:
4. Changing into wolves or bats is a "common fallacy".
5. During the day a vampire must rest in his native soil.
Of course, whilst they've been fannying around Lucy's sister Mina has come under Dracula's evil spell, so now Van Helsing gets his chance to use at least one of the girls as a Dracula trap.
"This unholy cult must be wiped out" he says. "We have it within our power to rid the world of this evil."
Of course, what they don't realise (in a fantastic twist) is that Dracula doesn't have to go very far to get to Mina, so while they're waiting outside for him to arrive, he's actually already inside, necking. Then it's a pell mell rush to the fantastic end of this superb film.
You just can't fault it. As a horror film it still works - forget Coppola's load of old tosh, this one is the dog's bollocks. All of the Hammer Draculas are good in different ways, but this one's the guv'nor. You can see why they went wild for it in '58 - it still packs a hefty punch.
Last updated: February 22, 2010
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