Friday, December 30, 2011

Short Take: Horror of Dracula

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster did a fine job on The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), their first Hammer Films horror effort. Their follow-up, 1958's Horror of Dracula, is even better. The story is told with a similar succinctness, and not a single element is a letdown. Christopher Lee is an ideal Count Dracula. He has a regal bearing in his calm moments, a smug glee as he approaches his victims, and a shocking ferocity when he attacks his enemies. He and his antagonist, Peter Cushing’s Dr. Van Helsing, are well matched. Cushing gives us that rarest of movie characters, an intellectual who’s also a decisive, charismatic man of action. The film deserves particular applause for its subtle handling of Dracula’s effect on the women he victimizes. He brings out their sexuality: his castle companion (Valerie Gaunt) is a lusty seductress; the innocent, virginal Lucy (Carol Marsh) gets in touch with her inner bad girl; and Mina (Melissa Stribling) clearly finds the satisfaction she isn’t getting from her husband. The film’s best moment is when Mina returns from her initial encounter with the vampire, grinning from ear to ear. Fisher and Sangster also provide plenty of thrills, chills, and suspense. The climactic battle between Dracula and Van Helsing is especially well staged.

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