Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Raising the Stakes

Straight on to Dracula from 1958, or the Horror of Dracula as it was known in America to avoid confusion with the Universal movie. Again directed by Terence Fisher and with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as the Count. 

Once again Hammer took the basic story and kept it all very contained, the action is entirely limited to somewhere in mittel-europe with Dracula's castle, the nearby village and the town where Arthur Holmward and his wife Mina and sister Lucy live all in close proximity. This gets rid of the whole Dracula moving to England plot and so the unfortunate Jonathan Harker becomes a librarian who has come to catalogue the Count's books rather than an estate agent looking to facilitate his move to London.

Christopher Lee is allowed out from under the Frankenstein monster make-up and becomes a very suave and urbane count who is much more believable and affable than Lugosi's creepy interpretation, Peter Cushing is fantastic as ever as Van Helsing, particularly in the climactic scenes of the film, but it's really Lee who steals the show. His height is used to good effect and it's quite clear that he is a very sexual vampire as he runs his lips over the face of the swooning Mina before turning his attention to her neck.

There are some good moments particularly the confrontation with the vampiric Lucy in the graveyard and when Harker turns vampire hunter and dispatches the delectable Valerie Gaunt, making her second appearance in a bosom heaving role. But of course the key scenes are the final desperate race back to Dracula's castle and the confrontation between the Count and Van Helsing. Peter Cushing's  dash (or his stunt man's) along the table to leap and tear down the curtains is fantastic. And hats off to the special effects wizards for the way they show Dracula dissolving into dust. It's a marvellous ending and one that earns the film the full five out of five crossed candlesticks.

It's a shame it took eight years for Hammer to persuade Lee to don the cloak and fangs again for a sequel, but a year after this film's release he was back in full make-up for The Mummy. Can't wait.

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