The Vampyre Chronicles: Horror of Dracula (1958)
Produced in England in 1958, Horror of Dracula was Hammer Studio’s take on the legend of the world’s most famous bloodsucker. Interestingly enough, the film’s title was changed upon its import into the United States, having been released simply as Dracula in its native country. The reasoning behind this change was that the distributors didn’t want there to be any confusion between this film and the classic 1931 Bela Lugosi version, which was experiencing a revival of sorts in select cities across the U.S. at the time. While I can understand the concern, the fact remains that any “confusion” between the two would be highly unlikely. For example, due to the strict regulations governing film production at the time, 1931’s Dracula was made without the spilling a single drop of blood on-screen. In Horror of Dracula, the red stuff starts to splatter during the opening credits.
Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to a remote region of Eastern Europe to do battle with the evil Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Unfortunately, he never returns. Back in London, Harker’s good friend, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), informs Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough), the brother of Harker’s fiancé, Lucy (Carol Marsh), that Harker has died abroad. But the sad tale doesn’t end there. Soon after, Lucy falls seriously ill, suffering from a strange case of anemia, which has Van Helsing convinced that Count Dracula has made his way to London, and is about to bring poor Lucy under his spell.
For Horror of Dracula, the coveted role of the infamous Count was awarded to actor Christopher Lee, who would go on to play the vampire six more times for Hammer over the next several years. Much like Lugosi before him, Lee was born to play this role, successfully conveying both the Count’s sophisticated nobility and his savageness. This is evident right from the start, when Harker first arrives at Dracula’s castle. At this initial meeting, the Count, who is ever so polite, acts more like a professional butler than the Lord of the Undead, and even carries Harker’s luggage to his room for him. The next time we see Dracula, however, will be under much more intense circumstances. Having been lured out of his room that first night by one of the Count’s wives (Valerie Gaunt), Harker finds himself cornered, and seconds away from receiving a bite on the neck. Suddenly, Dracula bursts into the room. With blood dripping from his teeth and wild, bloodshot eyes, The Count does battle with his deranged wife, quickly subdues her, then carries her off to another part of the castle. Only two scenes in, Horror of Dracula has set everything in motion, showing us all we need to know about Count Dracula.
As mentioned above, Lee would go on to star in a string of Dracula movies for Hammer Studios, including Dracula: Prince of Darkness in 1966 and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave in 1968. More often than not, he appeared alongside Peter Cushing, who was the perfect Van Helsing to Lee’s Dracula. They would star together in a string of Hammer ‘Horror revival’ films, including The Curse of Frankenstein (in 1957), The Mummy, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (both 1959). But for fans of Hammer’s unique take on the classic tales of the macabre, these two fine actors will be forever locked in mortal battle, Lee’s Dracula on one side and Cushing’s Van Helsing on the other, fighting it out for the future of humanity.