ⓘ Dracula (1958 film)

Dracula (1958 film)

ⓘ Dracula (1958 film)

Dracula is a 1958 British supernatural horror film directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster based on Bram Stokers novel of the same name. The first in the series of Hammer Horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, the film also features Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing, along with Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, and John Van Eyssen. In the United States the film was released as a double feature with the Universal Pictures film The Thing That Couldnt Die, and was retitled Horror of Dracula to avoid confusion with the US original by Universal, 1931s Dracula.

Production began at Bray Studios on 17 November 1957 with an investment of £81.000. As Count Dracula, Lee fixed the image of the fanged vampire in popular culture. Christopher Frayling writes, Dracula introduced fangs, red contact lenses, decolletage, ready-prepared wooden stakes and – in the celebrated credits sequence – blood being spattered from off-screen over the Counts coffin." Lee also introduced a dark, brooding sexuality to the character, with Tim Stanley stating, "Lees sensuality was subversive in that it hinted that women might quite like having their neck chewed on by a stud".

In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw Dracula ranked the 65th best British film ever. Empire magazine ranked Lees portrayal as Count Dracula the 7th Greatest Horror Movie Character of All Time.


1. Plot

In 1885, Jonathan Harker arrives at the castle of Count Dracula near Klausenburg to take up his post as librarian. Inside, he is startled by a young woman who claims that she is a prisoner and begs for his help. Dracula arrives, greets Harker and guides him to his room. Alone, Jonathan writes in his diary, and his true intentions are revealed: he is a vampire hunter and has come to kill Dracula.

Sometime later, Harker again is confronted by the desperate woman. She reveals herself to be a vampire and bites his neck. Dracula arrives and pulls her away as Harker passes out. When he awakens in his room in daylight, Harker discovers the bite marks on his neck. He writes a final entry in his journal and hides the book outside the castle. He descends into a crypt, where he finds Dracula and the vampire woman resting in their coffins. Armed with a stake, he impales the woman and she withers to old age and dies. When Harker turns to Draculas coffin, he finds it empty. Dracula, awakened, closes the door to the crypt, trapping Harker.

Days pass and Doctor Van Helsing arrives in Klausenburg, looking for Harker. An innkeepers daughter gives him Harkers journal. When he arrives at the castle, he finds it deserted, though he comes across the portrait that Harker had of his fiancee Lucy Holmwood, with the photos now gone. In the crypt, Van Helsing finds Harker in Draculas coffin, transformed into a vampire. Van Helsing stakes Harker before leaving for the town of Karlstadt, where he delivers the veiled news of Harkers death to Arthur Holmwood and his wife Mina, brother and sister-in-law of Lucy, who is ill. When night falls, Lucy opens the doors to her terrace and lays bare her neck - already, it bears the mark of a vampire bite. Soon, Dracula arrives and bites her again.

Mina seeks out Van Helsings aid in treating Lucys ailment, but Lucy begs the maid Gerda to remove his prescribed garlic bouquets, and she is found dead the next day. Van Helsing turns over Harkers journal to Arthur. Three days after Lucy is interred, an undead Lucy lures Gerdas daughter Tania to a graveyard, where Arthur has found Lucys tomb empty. Van Helsing appears and wards Lucy off with a cross. He explains to Arthur that Lucy was targeted to replace the woman that Harker killed. Van Helsing suggests using her to lead them to Dracula, but Arthur refuses, and Van Helsing stakes her in her coffin. Arthur takes one final look at Lucys body, and sees her at peace.

Van Helsing and Arthur travel to the border crossing at Ingolstadt to track down Draculas coffin. Meanwhile, Mina is called away from home by a message telling her to go to the address of an undertaker in Karlstadt, where Dracula is waiting for her. The next day, Arthur and Van Helsing visit the undertakers, but find Draculas coffin missing. Later, Arthur tries to give Mina a cross to wear, but it burns her, revealing that she is turning into a vampire herself. During the night, Dracula appears inside the house and bites her. Arthur agrees to give her a blood transfusion administered by Van Helsing. When Arthur asks Gerda to fetch some wine, she tells him that Mina had forbidden her to go down to the cellar. Upon hearing this, Van Helsing bolts downstairs and finds Draculas coffin, but it is empty. Dracula has escaped into the night with Mina, intent on making her a new vampire bride.

A chase ensues as Dracula rushes to return to his castle near Klausenberg before sunrise. He attempts to bury Mina alive outside the crypt, but is interrupted by the arrival of Van Helsing and Arthur. Pursuing Dracula inside the castle, Van Helsing struggles with the vampire before eventually tearing open the curtains to let in the sunlight and, forming a cross from two candlesticks, forcing the Count into the light. Dracula crumbles into dust as Van Helsing looks on. Mina recovers, and the cross-shaped scar fades from her hand, while Draculas ashes blow away in the morning breeze, leaving only his clothes and ring behind.


2.1. Production Special effects

The filming of Draculas destruction included a shot in which Dracula appears to peel away his decaying skin. This was accomplished by putting a layer of red makeup on Lees face, and then covering his entire face with a thin coating of morticians wax, which was then made up to conform to his normal skin tone. When he raked his fingers across the wax, it revealed the "raw" marks underneath. This startling sequence was cut out, but was restored for the 2012 Blu-ray release, using footage from a badly damaged Japanese print.


2.2. Production Zodiac wheel in final scene

At the end of the film, Dracula is destroyed on an inlaid Zodiac wheel on the floor, which has several quotes in Latin and Greek. The inner circle in Greek has a quote from Homers Odyssey Book 18.136–7: "τοῖος γὰρ νόος ἐστὶν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων οἷον ἐπ᾽ ἦμαρ ἄγησι πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε" or "The mind of men who live on the earth is such as the day the father of gods and men brings upon them." The outer wheel is written in Latin, and is a quote from Hesiod via Bartolomeo Anglico: "Tellus vero primum siquidem genuit parem sibi coelum stellis ornatum, ut ipsam totam obtegat, utque esset beatis Diis sedes tuta semper." Draculas ring is left on the glyph of the sign of Aquarius on the Zodiac wheel.


3.1. Release Critical reception

Dracula was a critical and commercial success upon its release and was well received by critics and fans of Stokers works. The film currently holds an approval rating of 88% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The websites critical consensus states: "Trading gore for grandeur, Horror of Dracula marks an impressive turn for inveterate Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, and a typical Hammer mood that makes aristocracy quite sexy."

The trade journal reviews from 1958 were very positive. Film Bulletin noted, "As produced by Anthony Hinds in somber mid-Victorian backgrounds. and directed by Terence Fisher with an immense flair for the blood-curdling shot, this Technicolor nightmare should prove a real treat. The James Bernard score is monumentally sinister and the Jack Asher photography full of foreboding atmosphere."

Harrisons Reports was particularly enthusiastic, "Of all the Dracula horror pictures thus far produced, this one, made in Britain and photographed in Technicolor, tops them all. Its shock impact is, in fact, so great that it may well be considered as one of the best horror films ever made. What makes this picture superior is the expert treatment that takes full advantage of the storys shock values."

Vincent Canby in Motion Picture Daily said, "Hammer Films, the same British production unit which last year restored Mary Shelleys Frankenstein to its rightful place in the screens chamber of horrors, has now even more successfully brought back the granddaddy of all vampires, Count Dracula. Its chillingly realistic in detail and at times as gory as the law allows. The physical production is first rate, including the settings, costumes, Eastman Color photography and special effects.".


4. Home media

The film made its first appearance on DVD in 2002 in a U.S. stand-alone disc and was later re-released on 6 November 2007 in a film pack along with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Dracula A.D. 1972 ; which was part of Warner Bros. and New Line Cinemas "4 Film Favorites" line of DVDs. On 7 September 2010, Turner Classic Movies released the film in a four-pack along with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Curse of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The film was released on DVD in the U.K. in October 2002 alongside The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy in a box-set entitled Hammer Horror Originals.

The film was digitally restored and re-released in the U.K. by the BFI in 2007. When the film was originally released in the U.K., the BBFC gave it an X rating, being cut, while the 2007 uncut re-release was given a 12A.

For many years historians pointed to the fact that an even longer, more explicit, version of the film played in Japanese and European cinemas in 1958. Efforts to locate the legendary "Japanese version" of Dracula had been fruitless.

In September 2011, Hammer announced that part of the Japanese release had been found by writer and cartoonist Simon Rowson in the National Film Center at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. The first five reels of the film held by the center were destroyed in a fire in 1984, but the last four reels were recovered. The recovered reels include the last 36 minutes of the film and includes two extended scenes, one of which is the discovery of a nearly-complete version of the films iconic disintegration scene. Some experts rightly note that there is still footage missing from the disintegration scene, as evidenced by stills and the memories of those who had seen the sequence decades before. The announcement mentioned a HD telecine transfer of all four reels with a view for a future U.K. release.

On 29 December 2012, Hammer announced that the restored film would be released on a three-disc, double play Blu-ray Disc set in the U.K. on 18 March 2013. This release contains the 2007 BFI restoration, along with the 2012 high-definition Hammer restoration, which includes footage which was previously believed to be lost. The set contains both Blu-ray Disc and DVD copies of the film, as well as several bonus documentaries covering the films production, censorship and restoration processes.

A further digital restoration was done by the current domestic rights holder, Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with the BFI, for December 2018 release on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.


5. Sequels

After the success of Dracula, Hammer went on to produce eight sequels, six of which feature Lee reprising the titular role, and four of which feature Cushing reprising the role of Van Helsing.

  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave 1968
  • Scars of Dracula 1970
  • Taste the Blood of Dracula 1970
  • Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966
  • The Satanic Rites of Dracula 1973
  • The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires 1974
  • The Brides of Dracula 1960
  • Dracula A.D. 1972
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