Friday, June 22, 2012

Hammer Horror Series- The Horror of Dracula (1958)

There is nothing I like better than to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a Gothic Hammer Horror Film. Hammer movies never seem to disappoint me. They are well written, beautifully shot, and most importantly well acted! They also have a very distinctive style to them including heavy dialogue, a slower pace, lavish Gothic sets, and beautiful Costumes. Hammer Film Studios have been making a comeback recently with some new movies such as Let Me InThe Resident, and The Woman in Black. I would like to start a new series on the classic Hammer movies, by reviewing a different one each week or so. I am going to start this series off with a bang by reviewing one of my all time favourite films by them...The Horror of Dracula.

The film opens with Jonathan Harker arriving at Dracula's Castle and pretending to be a librarian.  We soon find out that Harker is actually there to kill Dracula.  Harker ends up being  seduced by a female Vampire that is pleading for his help. She bites Harker on the neck, but Dracula arrives just in time to stop her from killing Harker. Harker awakes the next morning, realizes he has been bit and makes his way to the catacombs under the Castle. He finds Dracula and his Bride asleep in their coffins and stakes the woman. Dracula wakes up and attacks Harker.

Dr. Van Helsing arrives at Dracula's Castle the next morning a little too late because  Harker has been turned into a Vampire already. Van Helsing stakes Harker and then travels back home to tell Lucy and Mina in person that Harker is dead. When he arrives, Lucy is already gravely ill. And as soon as night falls, Lucy opens her window and bares her neck anxiously awaiting another bite from Dracula. Despite all of Van Helsing's help, Lucy dies and turns into a Vamp. Vampire Lucy is then caught trying to lure small children into her crypt, so Van Helsing promptly stakes her as well. Van Helsing then turns his attention towards trying to find Dracula's coffin so he can stake the Count himself.

Hammer intended to do a remake of the Universal version of Dracula from 1931, but Universal was watching closely and waiting with a lawsuit, so they had to strike a deal with Universal in order to loosely base their film on Bram Stoker's Dracula. There are a few significant changes from the original story but they were necessary for Hammer to make the story their own. Hammer also had to change the original title Dracula to Horror of Dracula in order to avoid any confusion with the original Universal Film starring Bela Lugosi which was still playing at some theatres at the time. Horror of Dracula stars Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, Michael Gough as Arthur, and was directed by Terrance Fisher. The film was shot in Technicolor which caused quite an uproar with the censors at the time because of the excessive amount of blood used. One Critic was quoted as saying "I came away revolted and outraged. This film disgusts the mind and repels the senses." That statement seems a little silly now a days doesn't it? Dracula was the second Horror film released by Hammer in 1958 after the hugely successful The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. There were eventually eight sequels to Horror of Dracula, including Brides of Dracula, Prince of Darkness, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

I know that it might shock the Bela Lugosi fans but Christopher Lee is my favourite actor to play Dracula! He just seems so imposing the way he speaks, the confident way he walks, and I love the way his cape billows around him. He plays a very proper Vampire but also a sexy one. He is the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome after all. Christopher lee had to wear special contact lenses for some of the scenes in Horror of Dracula and he has stated that not only were they extremely painful but he was quite blind while filming those scenes.  During one scene he was supposed to run to a Vampire and stop, but he ended up running past the camera and had to do it over again.

Originally during the death scene at the end, Dracula peels away his decaying skin to reveal raw skin underneath. This scene was deemed too shocking at the time and was cut out by the censors. The additional death footage was thought to be lost until an uncut version turned up recently in Japan. Hammer Film Studios vowed to restore Dracula to it's full original length by restoring the lost scenes and releasing the film in Blu-Ray format. The lost Japanese footage includes an extended and very gruesome death scene for Dracula as well as another scene that was considered too erotic for the censors at the time.  There is no word yet when the restored version will be released in the US and Canada on Blu-Ray.  But, you can be sure I will be first one in line to buy it!

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