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Horror of Dracula (1958)

After the overwhelming success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer Studios decided that if horror was what the people wanted, horror is what they would receive.  So Hammer started setting out to put their mark on all the classic horror series and up next was the most classic of them all Dracula!

The story opens with a man named Jonathan Harker arriving at Castle Dracula, under the guise of a librarian who had accepted the position of cataloging the Count's library.  In reality Harker is an associate of Dr. Van Helsing and believes Dracula to be the leader of a malicious cult of vampirism.  Unfortunately Harker is unsuccessful in his attempt to kill Dracula, he stakes one of Dracula's brides only to find himself to soon be slain.  Shortly after Van Helsing travels to Transylvania in search of his colleague only to find his corpse and evidence that Dracula has left to ensnare Harker's fiancee, Lucy.  When Van Helsing returns to see Lucy he discovers he's almost too late, Dracula has already begun the process of turning Lucy into a creature of the night and he has very little time to save her and destroy Dracula before his reign of terror continues.

Horror of Dracula sees the return of some very familiar faces from Hammer's first horror installment.  Peter Cushing (Van Helsing), Christopher Lee (Dracula) and Valerie Gaunt (Dracula's bride) all had major roles in Hammer's first horror success, The Curse of FrankensteinHorror of Dracula is thought by many to be Hammer's greatest film and one of the finest Gothic fantasies ever made.  A large part of this is thought to be due to the performance and presence Christopher Lee gives as Dracula.  Ironically, Lee only has a combined onscreen time of 8 minutes with very few lines, yet his presence in this film is still thought of as one of the best performances of the character.

It was at this point in the late 50's that films such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula were thought of as pushing the envelope in terms of on screen violence and gore.  While loved by moviegoers, Horror of Dracula did not receive such a warm welcome by many of the critics who found the film "sadistic" and "disgusting", such comments which seem quite ridiculous today, considering what the horror genre has transformed into, Horror of Dracula would be considered extraordinarily tame.  But for it's time this and most of Hammer's horror films were ahead of their time, and even thought to be responsible for expanding what eventually began to be acceptable on screen.  Horror of Dracula set new standards in Japan, it's suggested that early Japanese prints of Hammer horrors were more violent than those seen anywhere else.  The book Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography stated that: 
Pictures like Ian Fleming's Dr. No, (1962) might not have been made without Hammer's challenging what was permissible on the screen.  This challenge may have led to more bad films than good, but this is not Hammer's fault.
For me Horror of Dracula was more satisfying than Hammer's first attempt at horror with The Curse of Frankenstein.  In comparison Horror of Dracula is definitely a darker and more gruesome film which focuses more on the monster than it does the man, which was the opposite with The Curse of Frankenstein.  In a sense it's ironic I say that when Dracula is rarely physically on screen, but even in his absence the writers managed do a great job of making his presence felt, whether it be through a gust of wind, or simply the film's creepy soundtrack.  Most importantly Horror of Dracula doesn't attempt to be a saga, it's a simplified and to the point film adaptation of the book, unlike Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula which put me to sleep, and Hammer's short, low budget production makes the story much more satisfying and realistic than any overblown blockbuster could have been.

So is Horror of Dracula the best Hammer film ever made?  Truthfully I don't know, since I've only yet to see a handful of Hammer films, but I can say it's not my favorite.  I think there's many aspects where Horror of Dracula could have definitely improved and more than 8 minutes of Dracula wouldn't have been a bad place to start.  While I agree Christopher Lee does a fantastic job with what little screen time he has, I think it's a little foolish to suggest his 8 minutes is a large reason why this film should be considered one of Hammer's best.  Personally I think this title is simply placed on the maiden Hammer horrors due to the fact they launched the success of Hammer's horror franchise and broke some boundaries for film in general.  Therefore I believe much of the praise they receives comes more for what they represent, and not necessarily what they present.  Still Horror of Dracula is worth a look, while not my favorite Hammer horror it's still a highly recommended view.



  1. I think this film is considered one of Hammers best, because it is one of Hammers best. It has some of the greatest horror moments, it oozes with atmosphere.

    That scene with the vampire girl walking through the woods holding that innocent little girl by the hand...and then Cushing placing the crucifix on her fore head and burning her! Freaking awesome! By the way, I think that scene influenced Fright Night, theres a very similar scene with Evil Ed getting a cross burned into his forehead.

    But speaking of Hammer and how this film is so influential, the film is tame by todays standards, but for the time it was considered violent. These Dracula movies kept on exceeding in bloodshed and violence..the most violent and sadistic of the them in my book is Scars of Dracula.

    That one had Dracula being more sadistic then ever, using weapons to kill some of his victims.

    These hammer movies also pushed the boundaries in sex and nudity with films like Vampire Lovers, which had tons of nudity which was unheard of in hammer films up to that point. Not to mention the fact that the story is all about a female vampire falling in love with its female victim.

    These Hammer films pushed boundaries, but these earlier ones are some of the best. I consider Horror of Dracula to be amongst the top Hammer Draculas if not the top one.

    Nice review!

  2. Personally I prefer some of Hammer's more corny horror films. From the few I've seen I think I've enjoyed the ones most people consider Hammer's worst! This is a solid Dracula film, although I would have liked more Dracula, even though they did a good job keeping the film creepy without him. Too bad Hammer never made a Dracula film with Lee and Ingrid Pitt, that would have been something to see!

  3. Actually, the did make a horror movie with Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing! Its one of Hammers Best! Its called The Vampire Lovers...its about a vampire that falls for her female victim..lesbian vampires. Its one of the most atmospheric of the Hammers. And kind of daring sexually. For the time anyways. Highly recommend it.

    I also enjoy the more cheesy Hammers! One of my ultimate favorites is The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. That one feels like a cross between Big Trouble in Little China and a Dracula movie. Only downside is that Lee didnt play Dracula, but its an awesome movie, fast paced and off beat. Also recommend it!

  4. Yea, I've seen and reviewed Vampire Lovers, it's my favorite Hammer film thus far. That's why I said it would be cool to see Pitt in a film with Lee as Dracula. I reviewed The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires as well, but hated it. I was told I watched the wrong version, seems I watched the US cut which is supposedly completely different compared to the British one.

  5. Thats true, you probably saw Dracula meets the 7 Brothers or something like that, which is re-edited entirely, and sucks when compared to the original one.

  6. Loved the review. You've got some good Hammer stuff on the site - but then I am a bit biased. I've just begun a blog devoted entirely to reviewing Hammer films. You're very welcome to drop by: Watching Hammer

    Best wishes

  7. @Connoisseur - yep, that's the one. I gave it a big fat 0 too. I'll get around to watching the original cut as I make my way through the Dracula films.

    @Watching Hammer - awesome, you bet I'll check your blog out, been looking for some more people who post regular Hammer stuff. Are you going to be reviewing all Hammer or just the Horror angle? Eventually I'm going to start watching some of Hammer's pre-horror stuff.

  8. Thanks for the kind words on the blog. And I'll be reviewing all kinds.. Including the 'comedies' :-)

    You should check out their war films - they certainly didn't take the 'gung-ho' angle so many others did at the time. Yesterday's Enemy and Camp on Blood Island are both available from Sony in the UK and are well worth getting. And some of their black-and-white thrillers are superb - Sony US has a 6 film set of them coming out next month for about $20: Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films. Snap it up.

  9. @Watching Hammer - Cool, I'll put those on my list to check out. And I'll definitely be checking out your site on a regular basis. Always interested in Hammer reviews. Thanks for the heads up about your blog!

  10. Hey, Ive posted quite a few reviews for Hammer films if you are interested! Ive done most of the Draculas, and a couple of odd ones like To the Devil a Daughter.

  11. @Connoisseur - Cool I'll check them out as I watch the films. I should have my review of Dracula's Brides up for this 'Freaky Friday'.

  12. I loved both this film and mistitled splendor of 1992 Dracula. I am not much of a horror fan, but these richly coloured Ruritanias, dazzlingly clean with picturesque peasants, opulent interiors and vampires, are cinematic heaven to me.


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