Well, this was a no-brainer right? Dracula was bound to come up on this list somewhere, and he’s not finished yet. Dracula is harder to get rid of than Rasputin.
Actually, since 1931, the vampire has arguably never really gone out of fashion, although it has had some interesting makeovers throughout the decades. Hammer Studios gave them a pretty major one in 1958 when they released Dracula (re-titled Horror of Dracula in the States).
Starring, at that time, the unknown Christopher Lee, this new Dracula was violent, not particularly articulate (although one got the impression he could be if he really wanted to), and, frankly, the sort of vampire people wouldn’t object to finding in their bedrooms. And don’t take my word for it– after the release of this movie, Lee was suddenly getting more adoring fan mail from women (men weren’t included in that statistic) than any other European actor.
Anyway, the movie begins with some narration from Harker’s diary as he arrives at Castle Dracula, where he is to be the count’s librarian. Before he meets the Count himself, though, he meets a buxom brunette, who claims to be a prisoner. She flees moments before Dracula makes his entrance– all brisk politeness, showing Harker the library, admiring the portrait of Lucy Holmwood his fiancee, and finally locking him in his room for the night. Now we learn that Harker (gasp!) is no babe-in-the-woods. He is a colleague of Dr. van Helsing and is here to try to destroy Dracula.
Unfortunately, he’s still something of one because, after a scuffle with Dracula and the woman, he wakes up just before sunset and still tries to drive stakes through their hearts in the fading light. Beginning with the woman. Dracula’s smile when he sees the setting sun, and his subsequent advance on the terrified Harker once he’s dispatched the woman are frightening.
He begins to bite Lucy, and she dies and becomes a vampire but is subsequently destroyed by van Helsing and her prickly brother Arthur Holmwood. However, the Count has turned his attention to Mina, Arthur’s German wife. Luckily, Arthur finds her and van Hesling sets up a blood transfusion that saves her life. When the housekeeper reveals, when asked for wine, that she has been forbidden to go into the cellar, van Helsing realizes that Dracula has moved his hiding place into the house. Unfortunately, the sun has set, so the count attacks the men and carries Mina off. After a terrific carriage chase, they arrive at Castle Dracula. The vampire abandons Mina and rushes to the sanctuary of his home.
Holmwood looks after his wife, while van Helsing and the Count have a spectacular fight all through the castle. Finally, the doctor leaps across a table, pulls some drapes down from the window and lets the sunlight in. He then makes a quick cross out of two iron candlesticks and forces Dracula into the light where he disintegrates. An awesome ending without an outrageous twist or barrels of blood. Unfortunately, Hammer studios kept trying to outdo this climax, and failed spectacularly nearly every time.
But Lee could always make Dracula an arresting presence, even if the material was dreadful. Here, however, they were probably both at their best. If the movie leaves any unanswered questions, they’re very small, the comedy relief is good, and the action is well-handled and not ridiculous. Dracula speaks, and shows his intelligence by wanting his library organized– as well as luring Mina out for a bite (sorry) by forging a note from her husband. He is also savage– the most common image from this movie is of him snarling, and that’s not unreasonable. But the count is also a very sensual being (look at the way he goes after Mina, though note that this video is somewhat edited: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1NPMwBx9DA). The result is a tempting, dangerous, well-acted vampire, whose influence is still felt on the genre today.