Twitter Plot Summary: The Dracula story gets the Hammer treatment, this time with added Cushing and Lee.
Five Point Summary:
1. Christopher Lee: awesomeness.
2. Well that’s a bit of a twist.
3. He’s listening to a wax cylinder recording. Very forward thinking for the 19th century.
4. It’s starting to feel like the end of the original story now.
5. Sunlight! Oh noes!
Dracula gets the Hammer Horror treatment, putting a uniquely British spin on the classic tale. It’s essentially the same Dracula story as we’ve seen before, however there are a few changes to the established mythos. In this instance Jonathan Harker is aware of Dracula’s blood-sucking ways from the start and isn’t the helpless bookkeeper of the original. His ultimate fate also follows a new twist, so anybody expecting a straight adaptation of the Dracula novel will be disappointed. There’s also no voyage of the Demeter, and apparently no travel to England in any capacity, instead retaining its Bavarian setting despite everybody speaking the Queen’s English.
The key to it all is, of course, the iconic performance from Christopher Lee. Whilst Bela Lugosi played up his Eastern European routes in the Universal rendition, Lee is quintessentially British, oozing menace yet maintaining a stiff upper lip and a clipped tone to every line of dialogue. But then, he only has thirteen lines from start to finish, and they’re all directly to Jonathan Harker. Once Van Helsing comes along, all Dracula can do is hiss and bare his fangs. As for Van Helsing, he’s played to perfection by Peter Cushing, straightlaced and to the point and again flying in the face of previously established notions regarding the character. This isn’t some bumbling old man with a fetish for vengeance – he’s prone to throwing himself over tables and battling the vampires one on one. Well done, that man.
What was once truly horrific now warrants a “12” age rating in the UK, which seems appropriate in this post-Saw era of horror cinema. It has a few images that have potential to upset a younger audience, but otherwise it’s fairly bloodless and light on what constitutes horror these days. Still, it does at least remain compelling, in particular some of the attention to historical detail – Van Helsing playing a wax cylinder recording of his own voice is a nice touch. The special effects too are done well on its limited budget. Much of it takes place off-screen, but a good use of cuts and transitions mean the effect is just as powerful as if you’d seen it play through from start to finish.
There’s all the usual symbolism – the ironic use of virginal white robes on the vampire women, the coffins filled with soil, the stake to the heart to kill the vampire, etc. It is also ridiculously pacy – the running time is a lean 82 minutes and you’re at the finale before you’ve had chance to fully appreciate everything that’s preceded it. Everybody seems to be in a rush to get to the end, which flies in the face of the majority of Dracula adaptations which are content with maintaining a slow, deliberate pace. Despite the increased pace and the liberties taken with the original story, Hammer’s take on Dracula is a huge success. It looks great and, despite the occasional cheap bit of scenery and occasionally cheap bit of acting, it’s hard to level any complaints in its direction.