Dr. Van Helsing hunts down the elusive Count Dracula
after he murders his friend Jonathan Harker.
Horror of Dracula (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, Olga Dickie, John Van Eyssen, Janina Faye
Based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker
No matter how many different iterations I watch, I always seem to be disappointed when it comes to Dracula. This time it's the 1958 Hammer production of the classic literary villain, which manipulates the novel and reworks it as a sort of revenge story for Van Helsing. While I'm usually not a fan of twisting the source material, it somewhat worked for the narrative this time around. But, like every film adaptation of Dracula, it suffers from a serious pacing issue. For some reason, no filmmaker can manage to get from the beginning of the film to the end of the film without making the audience fall asleep.
The story for Horror of Dracula is quite different, with Van Helsing replace Jonathan Harker as the protagonist. Peter Cushing delivers the strongest portrayal of the character thus far, playing Van Helsing as a no-nonsense vampire hunter on a mission to avenge his dead friend. Assisting him is Arthur Holmwood, played by a young Michael Gough. I suppose his character is a combination of all Lucy's suitors from the novel, and he does the best with what he is given. Of course, the count himself is played by legendary thespian Christopher Lee, who always manages to seem threatening and powerful without saying a word. Lee may not be the best Dracula (that title still belongs to Lugosi) but he manages to become a cult icon all the same.
Horror of Dracula uses the best bits from the novel to try to create its own story that stands alone from the 1931 hit. I can respect wanting to be your own thing, but not if it comes at the expense of one of history's greatest horror stories. This film ignores far too much of the story, and it falters heavily because of it. In the end, we get a rushed ending that sees the ancient and careful Dracula die like a three-day-old vampire who forgot about sunlight. There's elements of this adaptation that work quite well, but most of them never quite live up to the vision that Bram Stoker created.