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Friday, October 5, 2012

31 Days Of Horror- Part 5: Horror Of Dracula (1957)

Hammer Studios/1957/Directed by Terence Fisher

Available on DVD

            There have been many screen incarnations of the immortal bloodsucker known as Count Dracula. Bela Lugosi, the first screen vampire from Universal’s seminal 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, will forever be the prototype for the role. Next to Lugosi (who only played the nefarious Count a few times during his career), Christopher Lee (who holds the record for playing the role onscreen more than any other actor) is the most recognizable movie vampire, and also one of the very best.

            After Universal Studios’ two cycles of now-classic monster movies were released, it seemed as though horror films had run their course. In the 1950’s, science-fiction films came into vogue, and vampires and werewolves gave way to atomic mutants, space aliens, and giant insects. The Atomic Age brought with it monsters born of science, and supernatural nightstalkers seemed passé. All that changed when Hammer Studios started re-imagining the classic Universal monsters, beginning with Horror Of Dracula in 1957, and a new legacy of horror was born. The Hammer cycle would last nearly twenty years, creating franchises and stars all its own, and actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would become the new Lugosi and Karloff. Horror fans flocked to these color re-imaginings, and audiences were shocked and thrilled by the Technicolor blood, suspenseful storylines, gothic ambiance, and, of course, the bountiful cleavage of their female co-stars.

            Horror Of Dracula is a fairly straight-forward retelling of the Bram Stoker classic, with Christopher Lee portraying the titular bloodsucker, and Peter Cushing taking the role of Dracula’s arch-nemesis, Professor Van Helsing. Where the Universal classic had only hinted at the brutality, sensuality, and bloodshed of Dracula’s curse, the Hammer version puts those subtexts up front, creating a strong “remake” for a more sophisticated audience. Universal’s Dracula and Hammer’s Horror Of Dracula, while sharing many similarities, differ greatly from one another in many ways, and both stand on their own as supreme classics of vampiric film. Horror Of Dracula’s director, Terence Fisher, became a Hammer staple, returning to work on many more monster films for the studio, and creating a pseudo-continuity for their franchises. As with most film series, Hammer’s Dracula films gradually waned in quality and the studio made more sequels, but Horror Of Dracula remains a solid picture, even all these years later. There’s no better time than Halloween to discover (or rediscover) why this film chilled audiences the world over, and made stars Lee and Cushing horror royalty.

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