Classic Horror Isn't Dead

Ah, the wonders of 1950's cinema. During this time horror and sci-fi movies were the cream of the crop thanks in part to the hugely successful Universal monsters going back to the previous two decades. However, one studio (Hammer Film Productions) came along and basically stole the show from Universal with their string of popular horror movies that would last for almost twenty years. The Curse of Frankenstein was their first official venture into the Gothic Horror genre, and it is considered one of the best Frankenstein adaptations and was quickly followed by the sequel film The Revenge of Frankenstein, but one of their best known series is Dracula.

Dracula (later renamed The Horror of Dracula so as to not confuse people with the successful Lugosi franchise) stars two of the most iconic horror actors of the time, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee would continue his role as the moster character in Hammer's films with his portrayal of the Count, and Cushing comes into the mix as Dracula's mortal enemy, Van Helsing.

One of the first things that you will notice when watching this movie is that it severely departs from the original story in several different places. One of the first instances of this change is when you find out that Castle Dracula is not located anywhere near Transylvania, but it seems to be closer to Germany. Another is when Harker is talking to the Count about the picture of his fiance, Lucy Holmwood. Yes I know what you're probably thinking, "isn't it supposed to be Mina?," but trust me, it does work itself out in the end. Some of the major things besides location and name changes are the actual changes to the plot of the film. It starts off as the original story does with Harker coming to work for the Count, but only later as Harker is writing in his journal do we find out his real reason for coming to the castle, he is there to kill Count Dracula and rid the country of the fiendish vampire. This differs from the original story completely! In the original Harker doesn't find out about him being a vampire until he is there for months on end. Even then, he still doesn't plot to kill him until later in the story.

While you may think that all this plot derivation would take away from the movie, it honestly works with it more. Gone is the ocean voyage along with the settings in Victorian England. The story that is given to us here seems less like the fairy tale story written by an alcoholic Irishman, and more of a local legend that you would have heard sitting in the local pub. This here seems to inject the story with a bit of realism, despite that all the "Germans" were speaking with an English accent.

Another thing that works well for this film, despite it being fifty years old, is the special effects that were used for this movie. While at the time most horror movies would shy away from showing a lot of gore and blood, Hammer gave us blood in spades. The blood in this movie is nothing less than what they had previously shown us in their past horror movies. In this movie, the blood is bright red and is actually focused on in most of the scenes. There is even more blood in the sequel, but that will be for another time. Aside from the blood, there really isn't too many special effects except for when a vampire or soon to be turned vamp touches a cross and the puncture wounds in the victim's necks. However, there is one scene in general that has the most special effect in the movie, and this scene itself was trimmed down to avoid the X rating of the time. This involves the final confrontation of Van Helsing and Dracula. In this scene that battle it out in his dining room and Dracula is knocked to the floor just as Van Helsing rips down the window covering exposing him to the daylight. As expected Dracula begins to turn to dust, but the detail in which they did this scene was remarkable for being done in 1958. The original scene included Dracula peeling the skin from his face (this was done by painting his skin red and having a realistic looking wax mask covering that, this would allow him to peel off the fleshy wax to show the red rawness underneath) but was excised when the rating board threatened it with X. Unfortunately, while most of the scenes cut because of violence and blood were later restored, this ending has been lost to time.

So, even fifty years after its original release The Horror of Dracula still shows that even the cheapest of horror movies can be classics as long as you have the right cast and not over the top special effects. Christopher Lee would go on to star in a string of Dracula movies after this further cementing his image into the character. If you watch most classic horror countdowns, Lee is definitely going to be included as his most famous role of all, Dracula.