Scene Stealer: Van Helsing hammers home his point in Dracula’s death scene – Dracula 1958
It’s always hard for a film studio to keep up the momentum, and the quality, when their first two major films are worldwide, genre defining hits. Though Hammer had previously made The Abominable Snowman (1957), it was their interpretations of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker’s legendary creations in The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 and Dracula the following year, which linked them forever with the field of gothic horror, and made household names of the film’s stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Though they made countless other vampire films during the next twenty years of production, none of them really came close to their original Dracula – the film which many consider to be Hammer’s greatest achievement, as well as one of the best screen representations of the vampire nobleman and his arch nemesis, Dr Van Helsing. Watched now the film may appear over melodramatic – to the point of hammy in places. It is none the less a marvellously atmospheric and effective piece of filmmaking, particularly with its energetic and – for the period – remarkably gruesome finale.
Lee and Cushing reprised their roles for the studio several times over the following years, but this occasion had a certain freshness and energy which could only have come from it being their first time playing the characters, before overfamiliarity with the roles killed off that extra special ‘something’. Promoted – and remembered – like no other horror film before it – or few since – Hammer’s Dracula brought a cult status to the studio and its two premier stars which would haunt them forever.
Director: Terence Fisher
Writers: Jimmy Sangster (screenplay), Bram Stoker (novel)
Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee,
Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling
Runtime: 82 mins