Fright Nights: DRACULA

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Martin Rayburn pops in the pointy teeth...


Earlier this year, after the great man's passing, I re-watched several Christopher Lee movies in a celebration of his life and the wonderful body of work he left behind. Of course any retrospective of Lee's career has to include at least one Hammer horror movie, and the one I reached straight for was the film that not only made him an international star but is by far my favourite from Hammer - Dracula.

Although based on the novel by Bram Stoker, this 1958 movie doesn't even try to adapt the book. Writer Jimmy Sangster simply takes the characters and events he felt he needed, and went off and wrote his own story, and it works brilliantly.


Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at Castle Dracula under the guise of being Count Dracula's new librarian, but he's actually there to destroy the vampire. When he fails, Dracula wrecks vengeance on Harker's fiancé and family, while Dr. Abraham Van Helsing arrives in the hope of ending what Harker couldn't. As I said, nothing like the novel at all, but it really doesn't matter as this is the best Dracula movie ever made.

It's difficult to overestimate the significance of Dracula (known as Horror of Dracula in the US). It was not Hammer's first horror film, but far more so than its predecessor (The Curse of Frankenstein) it set the tone for the British companies movie output for the next two decades. Taking the crown from Universal, it marked a time when British horror films were among the best, most admired and most imitated in the world.

Although he was not the first to play the role on screen, Christopher Lee's performance as Count Dracula in this film effectively launched the worldwide vampire phenomenon that still persists today. Could we blame Lee for Twilight? Well when you watch Dracula again you realise there's certainly a case to be made, for sure. Dracula takes the gore quotient of The Curse of Frankenstein, and combines it with an unprecedented dose of eroticised violence. It's this perceived romantic aspect which, 50 years later, would see vampires appearing almost everywhere. In the between years you can see Dracula's influence in the 'breasts and blood' exploitation movies of the 1970s, as well as in the heavy sexual overtones of films such as Alien and The Company of Wolves.


Whereas Lee's Dracula is a creation of passionate intensity, Peter Cushing's monomaniacal Van Helsing is the antithesis. Fire and steel, hot-blooded animal instinct versus cool scientific rationalism. This has led some to identify Van Helsing as the real villain of the piece, a brutal fanatic who coldly pounds a stake through the vampirised Lucy (Carol Marsh). Either way, both actors give supremely effective performances. The final confrontation between the two remains the single most iconic scene in any Hammer film. Hardly surprising, given their on screen charisma, that Lee should reprise his role six times and Cushing four.

Possibly the most influential British horror movie ever made, Dracula is classy, scary, and intense. It's everything you could want in a horror movie, and there is no other release in this genre that I could recommend more enthusiastically than this.

By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 47.

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