When Hammer Films went to remake Dracula just a year after their huge success with “Curse of Frankenstein” they turned to the creative force behind that previously successful film.
Director Terence Fisher returned as well as screenwriter Jimmy Sangster.
Fisher and Sangster are two of the unrecognized forces behind the Hammer Horror boom. They had their hands in each of the successful franchises and crafted Hammer’s new take on classic horror.
Fisher turned once again to Peter Cushing who now was a marquee player for Hammer Films so his name was hoisted above the title. And he took on the role of vampire hunter Doctor Van Helsing.
With Cushing cast, who would play the title role of the world’s most famous vampire?
Christopher Lee starred as Frankenstein’s monster in “Curse of Frankenstein” but he was hardly the right choice for Dracula.
But with Cushing’s insistence and being paid for just 750 pounds, Lee donned the teeth of Dracula.
He only had thirteen lines in the whole production but that was thirteen more than he had in “Curse of Frankenstein”.
Dracula was career defining role for Christopher Lee but like Bela Lugosi before him the burden of the classic character would pay its price.
Hammer’s version of Dracula has been condensed some from other versions.
There is also very little blood in the film. Dracula is treated more as a supernatural entity than a creature of the night. This is addressed and explored more in the many Christopher Lee Dracula sequels.
One thing I found rather strange in the movie was that all the coffins have no lids. How does that make sense for a vampire or a human burial in any sense of the matter?
The strength of this film is the charisma of Christopher Lee, humility of Peter Cushing and well an interesting supporting performance from Albert Gough (who would play Alfred in 1989’s “Batman”).
Cushing’s Van Helsing reminded me a lot of a classic version Sherlock Holmes with an affinity to the supernatural. Cushing has the doctor act down to a science but with this role he also brings panache and humility like Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock. The perfect example of this is when Van Helsing tells Arthur (Albert Gough) about Dracula’s history and lineage. That scene screams Sherlock Holmes and Cushing plays it that way. I swear Cushing could have been as legendary as David Niven if he was allowed to excel besides in the Hammer Horror universe.
For the masses and modern fans of the vampire genre, “Dracula” will be called boring and endlessly bland. But that is where it’s charm lies in its subtly. It is one of the greatest Dracula stories ever filmed because of that and how it respected the source material.
4.5 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer