Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 19, 2018)
For the first of seven films in the Hammer franchise, we go all the way back to 1958 for Horror of Dracula. Simply known as Dracula in the UK, this film offers an adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel.
Set in 1885, Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) goes to Castle Dracula ostensibly to catalog the Count’s (Christopher Lee) library. However, Harker actually intends to kill the vampire.
Harker fails and instead he finds himself in the process of vampiric transformation. This leads Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to attempt his own assault on Dracula.
Due to Blu-ray release schedules, I checked out the sixth and seventh entries in the Hammer Dracula series before I watched this one. Given the nature of horror films, I don’t think this mattered in terms of continuity, as the two movies I saw felt fairly “standalone”.
Besides, it’s not like I don’t know the basic Dracula story already, though the Hammer rendition doesn’t adhere religiously to Stoker’s source. It takes from the novel in fairly broad strokes but it opens up the tale with some new ideas.
Those add spark to the proceedings. Horror manages to stay close enough to the source that it still “feels like” Stoker, but it tosses out variations that allow it to create its own personality.
Unlike the Bela Lugosi film, this one rarely drags. The 1932 version really sagged at times, but Horror manages a good pace that mixes scares, action and drama well.
Horror also boasts a nice cast, especially in regard to its leads. Lee doesn’t get all that much screen time, but he makes the most of his appearances and creates a vicious, powerful Count.
Cushing lends the appropriate professorial air to Van Helsing, but we also buy him as a “vampire hunter”. Cushing delivers his character in a believable manner that allows us to invest in the fantasy material well.
All of this adds up to a very good riff on the Dracula legend. Horror keeps us engaged from start to finish and launches the Hammer franchise with a bang.