Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)

TITLE: DRACULA (1958) ¥ PERS: LEE, CHRISTOPHER ¥ YEAR: 1958 ¥ DIR: FISHER, TERENCE ¥ REF: DRA015CJ ¥ CREDIT: [ THE KOBAL COLLECTION / HAMMER ]

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Jonathan Harker’s first diary entry is for 3 May 1885, the day he arrives at Dracula’s castle, which is near Klausenburg (modern-day Cluj-Napoca in Romania). After 30 minutes or so, we cut to German city Karlstadt.

Faithful to the novel? Roughly, though the chess pieces have been moved around the board somewhat. Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) is no longer a solicitor, but visits Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) to be his new librarian. In fact, Harker knows that Dracula is an evil vampire before he even arrives. Also in the castle is a vampire Bride (Valerie Gaunt), who claims to be the count’s prisoner. A few days later, Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) shows up looking for Jonathan; unlike in the book, they’re old friends. He searches the now empty castle and finds a vampiric Harker in a coffin… Van Helsing then returns to the city, where he tells his friend Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) about Jonathan’s death. Arthur’s sister, Lucy (Carol Marsh), is Jonathan’s fiancée. Unbeknownst to the men, however, Dracula is already seducing Lucy. As she falls ill, Dr Seward shows up: a major character in the novel, here he’s reduced to just a GP. Van Helsing and Holmwood have to kill Lucy when she turns. They then hunt down Dracula’s coffin. Meanwhile, Arthur’s wife, Mina (Melissa Stribling), is also being targeted by the count. Van Helsing chases Dracula to his castle and they fight – the vampire is burnt to death by sunlight when Van Helsing pulls down a curtain.

Best performance: Peter Cushing as Dr Van Helsing (not a professor, and sometimes called just Helsing). Like all his other roles, he plays it so sincerely that you forget what ropy old nonsense this is and believe in the terror.

Best bit: The nighttime graveyard encounter with Vamp Lucy. It’s pure psychological horror. (Carol Marsh as Lucy is hamming it up something rotten, though.)

Review: Of course, this film was Christopher Lee’s debut as Count Dracula – a role he returned to numerous times (for both Hammer and other film companies) until the mid 1970s. He’s actually not in it that much, but is a very strong presence. The script is pacier of plot than the book is – it’s a decent adaptation that makes plenty of economic changes but keeps the essence of the story intact. (The use of diaries and phonographs also nicely tie in with Stoker’s book.) Though why the bulk of the action is moved from Victorian London to a vague central European city is a mystery.

Eight crucifixes out of 10

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