Saturday, 13 October 2012

Dracula (1958)

I am about to start a long and enjoyable journey through the entire collection of Hammer movies (or as man as I can get my hands on anyway) and encourage fans of the great studio to stop by now and again. I watched a number of these movies last year but feel that I know more now, in terms of the roster of great actors and my own writing style, to be able to deal with them in a more deserving manner. Here's something to keep in mind when reading any of my Hammer reviews. There's a simple formula that makes up at least half of my ratings for these movies. If Christopher Lee is present then there are 2 bonus points. If Peter Cushing is present then are 3 bonus points. So any film featuring both stars, as this one does, automatically starts off as a 5/10 movie even before the title has appeared.

Anyone wishing to join in, you'd do well to pick up this absolute bargain of a set. You know it makes sense.

Anyway, enough of the introduction. What can be said about Hammer's first use of the most famous vampire in fiction? It's a solid adaptation of Bram Stoker's tale with some changes made here and there, some understandable and others (such as the changing around of the characters Mina and Lucy) somewhat puzzling.

Christopher Lee puts on the cape and shows his fangs for the first time while Peter Cushing is a fantastic Doctor Van Helsing. Michael Gough gets a small but enjoyable role while Melissa Stribling and Carol Marsh are the ladies put in jeopardy. And Valerie Gaunt makes quite an impression as the first vampire encountered by Jonathan Harker (played by John Van Eyssen, an unmemorable actor given less screentime than you'd expect). Stakes are sharpened, garlic is hung around and blood flows.

Directed by Terence Fisher, and written by Jimmy Sangster (adapted from Stoker's novel, obviously), this movie may seem tame nowadays but it still has some great moments and there's no denying the affection that fans of Hammer horror can have for any of their movies when the deep red starts to spill over and the characters find themselves having to show what they're really made of. In fact, blood spattering over the name of the title character is the very first image to be given the screen all to itself just as the opening credits end.

We also get some moments throughout (one involving a vampire victim trying to lure away an innocent child) that remain effective despite the age of the film. There is a mythology established that Hammer would then go on to adapt to fit whatever the future movies required and you just can't watch the film without really feeling that it holds an important place in the history of horror. It wasn't the first big genre name to be given the Hammer treatment but it easily showed that all of the classics could be entrusted to the studio and turned into icons for modern audiences. Lee is as commanding a presence as he often is, Cushing is as wonderful as ever and a climax involving the two men in a fight to the death provides a satisfying end to yet another quality Hammer product.


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