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Dracula (1958) – Classic Review

Dracula HeaderThis is possibly one of the finest adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel ever to have been put on celluloid.  Although the story veer’s widely from the source material the atmosphere, the filming and acting are nothing short of perfect.  Filmed in 1957 on a budget of £81,000 by Hammer it was released the following year to general critical acclaim and broke box office records when released in the U.S as ‘Horror of Dracula’ (to avoid confusion with universal’s 1931 production).

Dracula BiteThe script by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher follows Jonathan Harker  (John Van Eyssen) who arrives at Castle Dracula posing as a librarian here he is greeted by Dracula  himself (Christopher Lee) who shows him to his room and then locks him in.  It is then we are shown Harker’s true intentions, he has come to destroy Dracula.  Eventually freed he finds a woman who claims to be prisoner but then attacks him it is only when Dracula intervenes that Harker is saved.  Following this attack Harker eventually finds a way out of the castle and leaves his journal in a grotto of the Virgin Mary before descending into the crypt to finally destroy Dracula.  As you can imagine he doesn’t survive.

As the story progresses Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is given the journal by the villager’s and learns of Dracula’s true nature.  He then proceeds to do all that he can to stop him and finally bring destruction on the King of Vampires. Wait until you see the full restored version of the final confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula, truly amazing and all done on camera with none of today’s post-production CGI.

So what makes this particular adaptation stand out from those that came before and after?  Well we have to place it in context. This was the late 50’s and censor’s tended to be very nervous about anything that was new or pushed boundaries’ in certain genres (nothing new there then) such as horror. For the first time on screen the link between sex and vampirism was made explicit, one only need look at the now restored scene in which Dracula seduces Lucy, this got the censors particularly shaky and asked the studio to make some cuts. One could also argue that is the last adaptation that truly understood the source material.  Later adaptations both by Hammer and other studios tended to just write a story and then try and fit Dracula into it as a villain of the week type character to the point that the horror and eroticism of the story was completely lost and the character became a cliché.  

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This in my opinion is one of only two versions of the story you need to see or own, the other being 1922’s Nosferatu, but I’ll save that one for another time. Go out, buy it and watch it, you won’t be disappointed.

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