Night 18: ‘The Horror of Dracula’ (1958)

This is part of the ‘31 Nights of Horror Classics’ series, which I’ll be doing for Halloween 2017. Every night of this month, I’ll be watching a horror film made before the 90s and I’ll be posting a short review here.

Revenge and sexual awakening permeate this loose and action-packed adaptation of Bram Stoker’s celebrated novel.

After his friend Jonathan (John Van Eyseen) disappears, Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) visits his last place of employment: an ancient castle that belongs to Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). There, he uncovers Jonathan’s secret mission to vanquish the inhuman Count. But the monster has left, and he is planning to raid the city and destroy Jonathan’s loved ones.

The Horror of Dracula takes some of the best elements in the original story and mixes them up quite a bit to create something that feels fresh, even to those familiar with the tale. In this version, the charming Count Dracula is not the romantic creature interested in Mina or Lucy. He’s vengeful, violent and cruel, but also undeniably irresistible.

By getting rid of the romantic plot, the movie ends up creating a more sinister villain. It’s a Dracula you can fear, hate, and still be absolutely enamored by his magnetism. Christopher Lee takes the role and seems to exploit every minute of it…and as an audience you can’t help but watch in fascination.

Another interesting change to the original story comes in the shape of writing out Jonathan early in the film. Given the fact that he’s perhaps the weakest link in most adaptations, it’s a wise choice to dismiss him in favor of the more interesting character: Van Helsing himself. Perfectly played by the wonderful Peter Cushing.

Once more, Lee and Cushing play off each other wonderfully. Their dynamic performances keep you on your toes as they move against the clock to achieve their ends.

Secondary characters also do justice to the story, particularly the women. There is an interesting tone to Dracula’s relationship with them, as he provokes a kind of sexual awakening that drives them away from conventional men. They yearn for them, lie for them, and seem to enjoy the freedom of the blood shedding.

The downside of the film is that the exploration of the characters’ motivations and some of the plot changes is quite shallow. For example, we have no idea how Jonathan knows about Dracula’s true nature, nor why he is set on destroying him. Likewise, it’s never quite clear why Dracula is so set on exacting his revenge on Jonathan’s lover and his friends once he is gone.

Furthermore, like in The Mummy, you will probably be left wanting more of Dracula. Not only does he speak just a few lines, but his appearances are unfortunately scarce.

Still, those are minor issues, which take nothing away from the movie. The Horror of Dracula is wonderfully enjoyable, and a must-watch film for horror fans.

Grade: 7/10. A fresh take on a well-known story.

Scare Factor: some scary moments.

Gore/Violence: not too graphic.

Nudity/Sexual Situations: some racy outfits, but no graphic nudity.

Previous Night: Phantom of the Opera’ (‘43)

Next up:The Devil Rides Out’ (‘68)