Earlier this year, I wrote about the Univeral Monster films from the early 1930s. Now I shall fast-forward to the late 1950s when a number of those monster films were remade by a British film production company known as Hammer Films. I shall begin my look at Hammer Films with their 1958 version of Dracula, directed by Terence Fisher, which was released in North America under the title of Horror of Dracula, to avoid confusion with the 1931 Bela Legosi film.
Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at the castle of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) to be his librarian. However, Harker is in fact a vampire hunter seeking to end the Count’s reign of terror. However, Harker fails in his task when he is bitten by Dracula’s bride. Harker’s colleague Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) finds out about this and informs Harker’s fiance Lucy (Carol Marsh) of his death. However, it turns out that Lucy is the next target for Count Dracula.
The careers of both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were defined by their roles in the Hammer horror films. Indeed, his performance as Dracula is probably Christopher Lee’s most iconic role, with Lee coming back as Dracula six times over the course of the fifteen years. Like the original Bela Legosi film, the plot of Horror of Dracula is loosely structured after Bram Stoker’s novel. However, the differences are immediately apparent when Jonathan Harker is revealed to be a vampire hunter working with Van Helsing, who is most undoubtedly the main protagonist of this version of Dracula.
It is quite interesting to note that Christopher Lee’s performance as Dracula is quite different than Bela Legosi’s performance 27 years prior. While Legosi provided many motifs typically equated with vampires, such as the widow’s peak haircut and thick accent, Christopher Lee’s Dracula is portrayed as much more of a British gentleman, who actually doesn’t speak for much of the film. The Hammer horror films also mark a point when the genre began to get bloody, with Dracula’s bloody fanged mouth being a quite iconic image from this film.
While Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would later become better known as Grand Moff Tarkin and Saruman, it was great seeing both of them in the roles that would make them famous.