posted 00/00/2010

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

Peter Cushing ... Doctor Van Helsing
Christopher Lee ... Count Dracula
Michael Gough ... Arthur
Melissa Stribling ... Mina Holmwood

Country: UK
Runtime: 82 min
Original title: Dracula

This spectacular film has the distinction of being the second-ever Hammer horror movie. This is the one that cemented the old-fashioned reimaginings that Hammer Studios in England is now fondly remembered for, and in my opinion it is their crown jewel. Featuring the excellent Christopher Lee and the wonderful Peter Cushing (two staples of Hammer horror), heaving bosoms, and the world's first bloody Dracula, how in the world could you go wrong?

Jonathan Harker has just arrived at Castle Dracula. He has been hired on as the count's librarian and after meeting a strange woman who begs him for help, he meets the count himself. Dracula (played by Lee) is a tall, imposing, and worldly European (the James Bond of Draculas, if you will). Harker is locked into his room that night and we soon find out that he isn't really there to be the librarian at all. In fact, he is quite aware of who Dracula really is and is planning to end his rein of terror once and for all. Unfortunately, he is bit on the neck by the woman who was seeking help and it puts a crimp in his plans. He sneaks into the crypt just before sunset and puts an end to her, but Dracula awakens and makes him a prisoner. Enter Dr. Van Helsing (played by Cushing), who has come looking for young Harker. He arrives at the castle and finds him a spawn of Satan. Van Helsing has no other recourse but to dispatch Harker and return with the sour news for his family and friends.

Arthur and Mina Holmwood are crushed to hear of Harker's death. It turns out that Arthur's sister Lucy was engaged to be married to him, and she is currently suffering from a strange affliction so they decide to postpone telling her the unfortunate news. Lucy's condition continues to worsen and Van Helsing is called back for a second opinion. He notices the vampire bite on her neck and explains that she has now become a concubine of the devil. He sets garlic and wolfsbane about her room and demands that her windows remain locked at night. Lucy complains to her silly maid and the maid agrees to open a window to let in some fresh air, but she lets Dracula in and he kills Lucy. The Holmwoods are at a loss, but Van Helsing knows what really happened. He believes Dracula has come to Lucy to take her away from Harker since Harker killed his vampire girlfriend in the beginning. Arthur finds it all very hard to believe until he sees Lucy traipsing through the gothic cemetery and he watches as Van Helsing coldly drives a giant stake through her heaving bosom. But this, I'm afraid, only makes Drac even angrier. Arthur and Van Helsing set off to find Dracula, and in the meantime Dracula gets to Mina and gives her one of his special hickeys. The men return to find Mina acting strange and they soon find that she has been bitten. She has not died yet, so they plot to follow Mina and hopefully have her lead them right to Dracula. Dracula spirits her back to his castle as the sun rises and the men follow. As soon as they arrive at the castle, Arthur starts digging up Mina, who Dracula buried alive, and Van Helsing sets off to end the evil forever (or at least for a while). Dracula and Van Helsing chase each other around the castle and have their final battle in this immense dinning room. The last few minutes are thrilling and the film comes to a satisfying if speedy resolution.

If you are familiar with Bram Stoker's novel or even Lugosi's seminal performance in Tod Browning's film then you'll understand how the familiar trappings of the Dracula story are twisted about in a new and very intriguing way. The film is a beautiful technicolor masterpiece of old-fashioned gothic filmmaking that would have fit right in with the films of the 1930s and '40s. Lee doesn't spend a lot of time on screen, but when he's on he commands the screen. The same thing with Cushing, who has considerably more screen time and does a fantastic job as the film's action hero. The only flaw in the film is the ending's quick wrap up, but even that was a staple of older films. Once the monster died, the credits would roll. Maybe I've just gotten used to an epilogue. Regardless, this is a solid horror film and one you should not miss. The soundtrack is great and memorable (I'm sure its been used somewhere else, too). The direction by Hammer lifer Terence Fisher is perfect. So perfect in fact that this was the easiest film to grab stills for (except for Attack Girls Swim Team vs. the Undead), which goes to show you how picturesque this fantastic vampire movie is. Of all Hammer horror, this and Plague of the Zombies are the only two that I return to time and again. Well done, guys.

- Jose Prendes


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