Back at #5 I mentioned that it would have been asking a lot of director Terrence Fisher to achieve perfection twice, and here is where he achieved it.
I could go on about Horror of Dracula for days… in fact, I probably have, if one kept count. Anyway, it’s not the most scrupulously faithful of the novel, but it’s probably the best cinematic version in existence (I’d all the 1977 BBC adaptation the best ever); the fact that it also stars Peter Cushing as Dr. van Helsing and Christopher Lee as the immortal Count doesn’t hurt it a bit.
The movie opens with Harker arriving at Castle Dracula– except this Harker actually knows the Count is a vampire and wants to destroy him. Unfortunately, he’s no van Helsing, and is vampirized. Later, his colleague has to drive a stake through his heart.
Because Harker destroyed Dracula’s wife, the vampire goes after Lucy Holmwood, his victim’s fiancee. She becomes ill and eventually a vampire. After reading his brother-in-law to-be’s diary, Lucy’s brother, Arthur, decides to aid van Helsing in his anti-vampire adventure– even though it means bearing witness to the destruction of his sister. Undaunted, Dracula begins to bite Mina Holmwood. After supervising a blood transfusion, van Helsing realizes that Dracula has set up his coffin in the Holmwood family cellar.
A terrific carriage chase follows this, all the way back across the border to the Count’s castle. As the sun rises, Dracula abandons Mina and flees inside with van Helsing right behind him. Almost to his hiding place, the vampire gives up on running and attacks the doctor. They fight all over the room, with Dracula briefly gaining the upper hand by choking van Helsing until he seems to pass out. However, he was only playing possum, and when Dracula relaxes his grip, van Helsing throws him off. Realizing that the sun is rising, he leaps onto a long table, races across it and leaps at the window, pulling down the drapes to let in the light.
It catches Dracula’s foot, which disintegrates, and the vampire falls. Van Helsing then forms a quick cross out of two candlesticks and forces his foe into complete sunlight, until all that is left of Dracula is dust and his ring.
Where do I begin? The climax moves at lightning speed, and the resolution is also very fast. The score also pounds relentlessly, further adding to the frenetic action, and by the time it’s all over, the audience is practically out of breath. But it’s very satisfying and makes the Lugosi version look like a horse and buggy job, all without puppets, computers, animation, or other really sophisticated special effects. But there I go, getting all “We didn’t need computers, we had faces” again.
At this point, I run the risk of sounding like Ed Wood by saying it, but no word other than “perfect” will do to describe this scene. See for yourselves (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gBRe2XMljg).