As it was Peter Cushing who drew me into Hammer horror films in the first place, I suppose it was only a matter of time until I got to Horror of Dracula (also released as “Dracula” but I’m going by the title on my copy), the first of Hammer’s Dracula films and the first to feature Christopher Lee as the notorious vampire.
Considering I grew up knowing Christopher Lee primarily for his role as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and as Count Dooku in Star Wars, discovering Lee’s horror roles has been eye-opening to say the very least. Oh, to be sure I knew that Christopher Lee had a lengthy history in horror, but it’s one thing to read about it and quite another to watch it on the screen. And one thing I’d heard for several years now is that his portrayal of Count Dracula was must-see.
And is it ever! While I was astonished to learn that Lee is on screen as Dracula in this movie for less than ten minutes, you’d never know it from the way he dominates the screen. I got a cold chill when he appeared for the first time as this looming figure at the top of the stairs. I love how Lee’s Dracula just oozes charm during his introduction. This is how I’ve always imagined Dracula to be: just this overwhelmingly charismatic figure that anyone would find irresistible if you didn’t know he was actually a centuries-old vampire. Also, I love the cape that Lee wears throughout the film, this is definitely what a vampire’s cape should look like.
Now, Lee’s appearance in the film aside, the story of this film did bother me just a little. Unfortunately for this film, I’m quite familiar with Bram Stoker’s original novel and my brain couldn’t help but point out differences between book and film throughout the story. This despite the fact that I know a Dracula movie isn’t beholden to copy Stoker’s novel to the letter. It’s just..this story is in some respects so close to the book and yet so different. I mean, we still have Mina and Lucy, and Dr. Van Helsing of course, but that’s where the similarities pretty much end and I don’t know why but the differences bothered me just a little.
Speaking of Van Helsing, I think I like Peter Cushing in this role just as much as I like him playing Baron Frankenstein. He projects such an air of authority that you have no trouble believing that this is an expert vampire hunter who will stop at nothing to see all vampires eradicated from the face of the earth. In fact, he plays the part so well that I found it legitimately frustrating when certain characters found ways to circumvent his instructions (I felt a similar way while watching The Brides of Dracula).
As for the horror elements in this movie, I was sufficiently scared throughout the movie. Believe it or not there’s at least one jump scare in this movie that had me almost jumping out of my skin. Most of the scares have to do with Christopher Lee and that gorgeous score that accompanies the film. Even before Lee makes his appearances as Dracula, you just know he’s coming from the music alone, which makes the moment he appears so much more terrifying.
There’s so much more I could say about Horror of Dracula but it all essentially boils down to the same thing: this is a great entry in the list of Hammer horror films and one I greatly enjoyed watching. The only way it could’ve improved was with more screen time from Christopher Lee’s Dracula, but I take comfort knowing that Lee returns as the titular vampire in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (a film I hope to review later this year).
Let me know what you think about Horror of Dracula in the comments below and have a great day!
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