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Dracula (1958)

Courtesy of Hammer Film Productions ltd

Main image of Dracula (1958)
DirectorTerence Fisher
Production CompanyHammer Film Productions
ProducerAnthony Hinds
ScreenplayJimmy Sangster
Director of PhotographyJack Asher
Original novelBram Stoker
Executive ProducerMichael Carreras

Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr. Van Helsing); Christopher Lee (Count Dracula); Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood); Melissa Stribling (Mina Holmwood); Carol Marsh (Lucy Holmwood)

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Count Dracula arrives to exact revenge on the relatives of the man who tried to kill him. Only Dr. Van Helsing can prevent him from carrying out his plan.

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Terence Fisher's Dracula (1958) built on the success of his The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and inextricably linked Hammer's name with the horror film. Again featuring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in opposing roles, Dracula established their reputations as great horror actors.

After the financial rewards of The Curse of Frankenstein, Fisher returned to the pantheon of classic horror films released by Universal in the 1930s and '40s. It could be argued that Dracula (US, d. Tod Browning, 1931) revitalised the fortunes of an ailing Universal Studios, and Hammer's version proved similarly lucrative.

Popular culture's view of the Count is largely based on John Balderston's 1920s stage adaptation of Stoker's novel. Dracula's opera cape, his thick accent, his exaggerated romantic image, all owe their existence to that one source. This view of the character was cemented when Bela Lugosi took on the role in Universal's film after first playing the Count in the Broadway run of the play.

Fisher's approach to the material, much like his work on The Curse of Frankenstein, reworks the clich├ęs of the stage play and the Universal films. Some of the trappings of the pop-culture Dracula are still evident, but their presence seems purely cosmetic. The greatest changes are to be found in the characters of the Count and his nemesis, Van Helsing.

Van Helsing, played zealously by Peter Cushing, is no longer the elderly savant typified by Edward Van Sloan in Browning's film. He is younger and more dynamic, fiercely intelligent but also physically capable. The final showdown between Cushing and Lee is reminiscent of a fight from swashbuckling films like The Sea Hawk (US, d. Michael Curtiz, 1940).

The reinvention of Dracula is best exemplified by Lee's first entrance. Greeting Jonathan Harker from the top of a long staircase, the scene deliberately echoes the Count's introduction in Browning's film. Instead of the stylised movement, hypnotic stare and thick accent employed by Lugosi, Lee plays the role as a charming, well-spoken aristocrat.

Fisher's foregrounding of the Dracula myth's sexual element also contributed to the film's success and the disapproval of critics. Lee overwhelms his female victims with sheer animal magnetism, rather than a combination of stilted attempts at charm and mesmerism. He is shown biting his victims, somewhat discreetly by modern standards, but explicit to audiences who might have expected this activity to be shielded by the judicious swirl of his cape.

George Watson

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Video Clips
1. Dracula's Prisoner (3:28)
2. Nothing but grief (3:37)
3. No other way (2:01)
4. The final confrontation (2:47)
Original posters
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Dracula Prince of Darkness (1965)
Carreras, Michael (1927-1994)
Fisher, Terence (1904-1980)
Hinds, Anthony (1922-2013)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Hammer Horror