Not rated, but this is a movie full of Draculas! (Okay, vampires, because I know the Internet doesn't necessary follow plagiarized humor.) Unlike the Lugosi version, there's actually a fair amount of blood and sexualization going on with this movie. While tame by today's standards, Horror of Dracula probably would have gotten an R rating for the era for some cool grossout moments. Regardless, it's Not Rated.
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher
Do you think that Peter Cushing fought for top billing in a movie named Terror of Dracula? I get that in a lot of movies, the protagonist tends to get the top bill. But this is a Dracula movie. Dracula is always supposed to have top billing, especially when it is Christopher Lee. When I was a kid, I associated the Hammer Horror movies as the most intense films that could possibly exist. I knew that they were way gorier than the Universal monster movies that I had grown up with. Part of my logic was that they were named "Hammer" horror, which instantly caused me to flashback to my irresponsible watching of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the sledgehammer kill (still, a moment that I consider to be one of the most brutal kills in cinema). But I bought my buddy Adam's old copy of Horror of Dracula and I realized that, while it is more visceral than the Universal films, it's pretty tame by most standards.
Part of me gets bored with the same old Dracula story over and over again. It's kind of why I gave up pretty quickly on Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss's Dracula. I read the novel for my honeymoon and realized that a lot of the movies were always somewhat insistent on keeping close to the original script. I don't know why I was instantly not in the mood to watch yet another rendition of the same story, but against my better judgment, I was excited to see that Horror deviated from the original Stoker novel. Now, this seems like heresy. Most of the time, people tend to complain that things in the movie didn't happen the way that they did in the book. I think that we've been oversaturated with Dracula. A lot of public domain properties have that problem. While Horror of Dracula is a bit more shameless than its source material, it's because of that change that makes the movie more worth watching. Horror of Dracula doesn't have a very long run-time, so having Jonathan Harker a mini-Van Helsing is absolutely the right move. One of the real slowdown moments in the story is how much of the novel is devoted to Harker slowly slowly discovering that his host is a child of the night. Instead, the story launches right into the attempted vampire slaying. Yeah, Harker sucks at his job. He clearly should have taken out Dracula before starting on one of his brides, but that would have ended the story really quickly.
About that moment. I'm about to give it a free pass in the name of "that's how movies work". But really, it's kind of silly. Part of me wants to think it is because Harker pities the girl who asks for his help. But he knew that Dracula was in the room. It's amazing that he even got that close. I'm not saying that Harker would have escaped with his life from the Bride of Dracula, but I feel like he would have had a better chance with a vampire that had less experience than the king of the undead. Also, he's there to kill Dracula. That's the whole pretense. Killing the girl is a thing that he feels inclined to do because she asks him to do so, but it also reads as a bit silly.
Christopher Lee might be my favorite Dracula. The movie itself is far from amazing. It's watchable, but really feels pretty low budget for a lot of the film. But Lee's version of Dracula works because he just feels like a creepy dude. He's not doing a voice. His mannerisms are just that of a man. He doesn't really talk like an archvillain or anything. Instead, it makes sense why Lee's Dracula has survived through the ages. He has the ability to blend in when it is necessary. I never really understood why there is sometimes goofy hair or long strides. Instead, Lee's Drac just straight up runs. I get the vibe that he's more of a master manipulator than someone who is uncontrollably possessed by demons or something. It doesn't make him as scary as someone like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, but it makes him feel grounded. It's just that he doesn't have a lot to work with in this movie. As much as I like his portrayal, Drac himself has almost no story in this one. I haven't seen the sequels. I know that there is probably more. But Dracula comes across more like a force of nature than he does a character.
I am also super confused about Dracula's power rating in this one. At the beginning, when it is Harker versus Dracula, he's slinging around his vampiric bride like it is nothing. We know that one on one that Harker can't beat Dracula. It's clearly established there. He's fast and resourceful. But the movie ends with him taking on Peter Cushing's Van Helsing. Now, there are versions of Van Helsing where he is a tank. I mean, Hugh Jackman played him in that abomination of a movie, so it's not insane that Van Helsing should be able to hold his own against Dracula. But this version of Van Helsing is definitely leaning harder into the "doctor" element that Van Helsing presents. He's like a Watcher from Buffy. He's the brains behind the operation, but doesn't seem like a fighter. But Dracula can't take a dent out of that guy. Van Helsing is able to race Dracula to the window, which seems like a really weird vulnerability for the king of the vampires to have in his house.
Vampire movies tend to bring commentary with them. The victimization of women is a problematic theme in these movies. Often, we can find a strong woman among a large amount of victims, but Horror of Dracula doesn't really offer us the alternative to women being used as cannon fodder. I would chalk a lot of that to the idea of seduction. It's not insane to follow some vampire narratives as stories that are meant to talk about how attraction to men ultimately weakens women. But Horror of Dracula doesn't really feel like it is a story trying to have a message behind it. We get characters that are already victims. The male characters are the ones who make all of the right choices (with the exception of that dummy, Harker). The women keep making poor decisions, encouraging their victimization. It's a little bit gross, but I also have to take into account the purpose of this film. It was a rebellious movie for 1958. It's meant to be exploitative horror. Rather than simply be another Universal monster movie, this was the alternative. People wanted sex and violence and the movie was going to offer that the best that it could out of 1958 England.
The final weird takeaway is how small the movie feels. One of my favorite elements about Bram Stoker's Dracula is that it is Jason Takes Manhattan with vampires. (Okay, assuming that Jason Takes Manhattan allowed Jason to take Manhattan.) But because the whole scale is tiny, which probably included the budget, everything seems to take place within a day's carriage ride. The effect of this is that the distance between civilization and backwards folksy beliefs is night and day. Holmwood has so much money and education. But all he has to do to experience quaint backwards traditions is to head on over to the pub, where they hang garlic from the ceiling. Heck, Dracula doesn't escape to a ship. He just goes to his house. But the real bummer of it all is that Dracula doesn't need Renfield. Renfield is my favorite character! But there's no one there to be his familiar, so oops.
Anyway, Horror of Dracula is super watchable, but it does kind of feel quaint and cheap. Lee is probably the best Dracula, but there's a lot here that is a bit underbaked compared to some of the outings that Dracula has enjoyed.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.