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October 7th: Horror of Dracula (1958)

This post is the seventh in my 31 Days of Vampires! series for October 2014.

Horror of Dracula (1958) - Christopher Lee

1958’s Horror Of Dracula – alternate title, Dracula – is the second in the famous Hammer Horror films, and Christopher Lee’s first turn as Count Dracula (he’d go on to play the Count in eight more films). Released to critical and popular success, it helped torch off many more good – and… you know… less good – Hammer films to come.

The story is loosely – very loosely – based of Bram Stoker’s novel, with characters and vocations jumbled up a bit. Dracula is inexplicably living in a castle in Germany and Jonathan Harker inexplicably a vampire hunter at the onset of the film. Harker is soon out of the picture, and the remaining British chaps in layers of tweed bumble around soundstages chasing Mr. Lee. Raised on a different film production ethos, to me most of the plot looked like a bunch of guys running around after another silly befrocked guy who was kind of saying, tee hee! the whole time. Not disparaging Mr. Lee’s performance in any way – just that chasing a caped 6′ 5″ man around a small set looks exactly like what one might expect.

Carol Marsh and Melissa Stribling put in for Lucy and Mina, and both women do their parts justice. Marsh in particular is ethereal as first an innocent, stricken victim who transforms into a creepy nightcrawler hunting children, and Stribling’s erotic response to the Count ruffled a few filmgoing feathers. Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Michael Gough serve as Arthur Holmwood (contemporary cinephiles will recognize as Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars and butler Arthur from the Batman films) fuss around after the count with their uber-seriousness and humorless crosses. These men, though fairly young in the film, look as if they emerged from the womb with these sort of prudish, musty British countenances.

And they have a lot to be concerned about. Primarily, the loss of control of their womenfolk’s sexual agency. As in many Count Dracula films, this is the primary theme: that women (in this case, of the social aristocracy) develop a sexual will of their own and behave accordingly – and/or that women’s chastity is stolen by a sinister, virile and “foreign” force. Pretty caveman-level stuff, for all the little scientific speeches about vampirism, the heroes’ piety, and the formal dress.

Fans of vampire films should probably slog through all the Hammer films because they have shaped so much about modern-day vampire films, and because they are pretty fun. Lee is deadly, handsome, and both sexually attractive and repulsive. And who can get enough of panting, busty proto-vampire lasses in ridiculously voluminous peignoirs? I know I can’t!

Horror Of Dracula (1958) - poster

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