Dracula ★★★★

The passing of movie icon Christopher Lee earlier this year was very sad news, but he left us with many, many films to enjoy. He had a long and impressive career that included both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings film series. However, his most famous role is unquestionably as Dracula in a series of movies for the British production company Hammer. When people think of Dracula, they either picture Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. The first film in which Lee took on the already legendary character was in 1958 with Horror of Dracula, co-starring fellow horror movie icon and superb actor Peter Cushing, and directed by Terence Fisher. When Terence Fisher, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee made a film together for Hammer, audiences were in for a treat.

Horror of Dracula is a loose remake of Todd Browning’s Dracula from 1931, and an even looser adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel. The movie begins with bright red blood dripping on Dracula’s tomb. Jonathan Harker arrives at Castle Dracula in Klausenburg to work as the librarian for the Count, but he is actually a vampire hunter and protégé of Dr. Van Helsing. Harker becomes trapped in the castle and succeeds in killing the Count’s bride, but not Dracula himself. Dracula seeks revenge by first trying to take Harker’s fiancé, Lucy, for his new bride, and then Lucy’s sister, Mina. Van Helsing is on Harker’s trail and tries to save Lucy and Mina and put an end to the sinister vampire. Almost none of this happens in the novel. It is almost like Dracula fan fiction. It takes the already existing characters and then just makes up a different story and does what it thinks is most entertaining, and it is indeed very entertaining.

Horror of Dracula was impressive when it was released because, like other Hammer horror films, it ups the ante on violence, action, and sexuality. That means that when someone gets stabbed or bitten we see blood, Dracula’s bride wears a dress revealing her cleavage, and Lee plays Dracula as a dangerous seducer. This film was shot on Technicolor so the colors of the sets and costumes are rich and vivid, and red blood is especially red. All of those elements are still entertaining today, but the reason this film works, then and now, is because of its reinterpretation of Count Dracula and Dr. Van Helsing and the screen presence of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Lee’s tall stature of 6’5” and natural physical appearance give his Dracula a commanding and imposing presence. Lee's Dracula exudes menace. The danger and threat he poses are immediate and ever present. In one scene Lee bounds across a large dining room and over a table to pull his bride away from attacking Harker. Other versions of Dracula usually give him servants to do his bidding, but this Dracula drives his own carriage and digs a grave for Mina himself. This is a take charge, action Dracula. In other words, a this is a badass Dracula, and Christopher Lee has the talent to make it believable.

The only match for a badass, action Dracula is a badass, action Van Helsing and that's what Peter Cushing gives us. He makes his first appearance in the movie wearing a very cool, very boss fur collared coat and bowler hat. We spend most of the movie with Van Helsing as he tracks down Dracula. Cushing's performance and screen presence keeps those scenes interesting and entertaining. He believably portrays Van Helsing as learned scholar and fearless vampire hunter. He springs into action too: he leaps over a railing and runs upstairs when he hears someone removed the garlic from Lucy's bedroom. The climactic confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula does not disappoint; it's action packed and all the while Van Helsing wears his boss coat.

Some people might find Horror of Dracula campy, but it is undeniably entertaining. There is great scenery and the production design does a good job at setting the mood for a Gothic vampire tale set in a far away land. Not every bit of scenery looks completely real but the hint of artificiality only adds to the fantasy element of the movie. Horror of Dracula is a fun movie from beginning to end and never gets too intense or gross so even squeamish people can enjoy the movie. The blood and horror effects are tame by today's standards but hold up pretty well. There's something for everyone to enjoy in Horror of Dracula, whether you are a horror movie buff or only watch horror movies at Halloween.