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Dracula (1958)

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Plot Summary:
"After Jonathan Harker attacks Dracula at his castle (apparently somewhere in Germany), the vampire travels to a nearby city, where he preys on the family of Harker's fiancée. The only one who may be able to protect them is Dr. van Helsing, Harker's friend and fellow-student of vampires, who is determined to destroy Dracula, whatever the cost."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 22 May 2005 My Rating: out of 5


Rather than outline the story which most (if not all) of us know, I'll focus more on the characters and their functions; Tim Burton regular Michael Gough (in a very expressive performance many- not me- consider hammy) and Melissa Stribling star as Arthur and Mina Holmwood, who are worried about the fiancé of their friend Lucy (A wonderful Carol Marsh), named Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen, who has a somewhat familiar-sounding voice).

Jonathan has been missing, you see, but the audience already knows that he has been thwarted by the very menace he was trying to stop (though how he came to distrust the Count is never explained in this fairly thrifty film), the refined and well-spoken but utterly nefarious (make that, eeeviiilllll!) and ruthless Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Enter Prof. Van Helsing (Cushing, who else?), who is on hand to help Gough and co. to destroy the eeeviiilllll Count (though apparently not before attempting to kill his rather bosomy minion...but never mind). The always welcome Miles Malleson has an extremely funny cameo as an undertaker, and Olga Dickie essays what would have to be the dumbest servant in cinematic history (Oh, I thought she could use a bit of fresh air...How was I supposed to know a blood-thirsty vampire would come and have his way with her. Whatever, lady).

This was the first of the Hammer Dracula films, and although it's the second-to-last I've seen, I can honestly say that it's the definitive Dracula film (even though I'm warming to Lugosi's version the more I see it. I still don't like his interpretation of the Count, though, and Coppola's was supremely self-indulgent and indifferently acted). Not necessarily the definitive Stoker adaptation (like I care...), not necessarily frightening (not always a requirement for me), but a wonderfully entertaining, good-looking (Roger Corman was clearly inspired by this and Ingmar Bergman) and perfectly cast film. Lee and Cushing are so perfect (and deadly serious, I might add, as they most often were in their work) in their respective roles that one might be mistaken for overlooking just how good they are.

Lee in particular is the definitive Count, though much as has been happening to him lately ( Revenge of the Sith ), he could've used more screen time. And yet, he achieves so much in the time he is afforded- imposing, refined, yet animalistic, disdainful, and thoroughly eeeviiilllll (even when smiling politely, he's nothing short of pure...oh, alright I'll retire that joke, you knew what I was about to say. Love those eyes, by the way).

The score by James Bernard is bombastic, but I wouldn't have it any other way (Certainly not like the near music-free Browning version). In fact, the only thing that the Lugosi/Browning version has on this film (or any of the others in the Hammer canon, all are fine films, but the gleefully nasty 'Scars of Dracula' and more straightforward 'Dracula Has Risen From the Grave' are the best ones other than this one), is the sometimes expressionistic touches imbued by Browning and B&W cinematographer Karl Freund.

Hammer fans probably already adore it, but I'd recommend this to any horror fan as this in my opinion is the most successful Dracula film ever made. Atmospheric, well-acted, mercifully short, and highly enjoyable.

Reviewer: Andrew Rowat @horrorasylum
Location:Surrey, UK
Review Date: 17 August 2004 My Rating: out of 5

When people hear the name 'Dracula' we can easily pin a face to it. To some Bela Lugosi exaggerated features spring to mind, to the cinema purist Max Shrek's Nosferatu is definitive and to the populist (with a short memory) Gary Oldman's historical interpretation may find a place. But for most of us, when the name 'Dracula' is uttered, it is Christopher Lee's cold stare that fills our imagination.

Hammer Studio's follow-up to their other successful literary adaptation 'The Curse Of Frankenstein' was naturally going to be Bram Stoker's 1897 potboiler. Taking the two main players (Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee) that made their Frankenstein picture so special and relocating them in Stoker's story of Transylvanian bloodsuckers gave Hammer Films a raw continuity right from the start. 'The Horror Of Dracula', as it was originally titled, was not exactly faithful to its book to screen transition, many things have changed but the essence still remains.

For example, Jonathan Harker is now a vampire hunter masquerading as a librarian seeking employment from the Count (with the view to killing him), in the book he is a humble estate agent completely innocent of the evils that lurk behind the castle walls. Van Helsing (memorably played by Cushing) is every bit the calm English gent, as opposed to the fiery, Dutch oddball the book portrays. There are other omissions and details that have been compressed, character's names have changed and the whole narrative is much leaner (thankfully) than Stoker's sprawling melodrama.

However, the film's strengths are still evident throughout. The adversity between the two forces of good and evil (Van Helsing/Dracula as played by two of cinema's most enduring icons) is adeptly handled. The modest but classic set and costume design and Bernard Hermann's rousing score give us an aural and visual atmosphere that is now timeless. And the film conjures the book's victorian middle-English gentility with ease, this is clumsily handled in Coppola's 1990's attempt. This aspect is crucial to tackling the book's underlying theme, the fear of Eastern Europe washing up on our English shores and corrupting our virgin daughters.

As Hammer's Frankenstein movies belonged to Peter Cushing, this movie (and its many sequels) is testament to the talents of Christopher Lee. His Dracula is every bit the walking disease of the novel, feeding off humanity. A character that is meant to embody sex and death, which Lee does superbly. A classic certainly, but the climax does feel a bit rushed - alas no fifth star.

THE GREATEST DRACULA MOVIE (if we don't count Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu, it wasn't exactly official). Not as scary as its sequel, Dracula Prince Of Darkness, but still a wonderful cinematic feast, showcasing much of what made Hammer so loved by many. All horror fans should watch this movie.

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