I always feel like I grew up on the Hammer films. At least the Dracula ones. I have vivid memories of watching them on local television back in the early ’80s, when you could get away with showing those classic films during the day. My memory is fuzzy though – was it all the time? Was it only around Halloween? I suppose it doesn’t really matter – I just know I saw them.
And then I didn’t. Until I did again.
Earlier this week I received in the mail a copy of the Turner Classic Movies Hammer Horror collection. Ironically, this wasn’t what I was supposed to have been sent – I was originally expecting the new Blu-ray set of Hammer films. As it turned out though, I think I got the better deal, as this collection features four of the most well-regarded creature features in the studios history – for vamp fans, you’ve got Horror of Dracula (1958) and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1969), and for Frankenstein lovers, the set includes The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1970).
As one does with sets such as these, I started at the beginning, with a retelling and reinterpretation of the classic Dracula story.
In Horror of Dracula, the titular count is portrayed by Christopher Lee, who is absolutely phenomenal in the role. He’s all tall good looks and shiny fangs, as he takes revenge on this friends and family of Jonathan Harker, who in this version of Bram Stoker’s tale, is a vampire hunt determined to kill Dracula and stop his wave of tale before it spreads across London. When Harker fails (that’s really not a spoiler so calm down), in steps his friend and mentor, Dr. Van Heling, portrayed by Lee’s future fellow horror legend, Peter Cushing.
Let’s assume its been roughly 30 years since I saw this film. I honestly can’t recall the last time, though I know it certainly wasn’t in my teens or twenties. All I can say is, seeing Horror Of Dracula as an adult was something of a revelation for me. My perception of the Hammer vampire films has become foggy based on scenes out of context – for some reason I always felt that there was an air of cappiness to them. That was my complete mistake.
There was absolutely nothing campy about Horror Of Dracula. While it is admittedly tame when compared to the films of today, the storytelling, acting and cinematography are all top notch and have stood the test of time. Peter Cushing is a dominant Van Helsing, determined to vanguish Dracula once and for all. Lee doesn’t day much after the opening scene, but he carries himself as nothing short of dominant and frightening. Bela Lugosi maybe the go to when one conjures up an image of a classic Dracula, but after having experienced Lee in the role as an adult, I think I may have to put him in the definitive Dracula place. He is simply that good.
A classic retelling, if you haven’t seen Horror Of Dracula before, or if its been a while, it is well worth putting on for this Halloween season.