Monday, 1 May 2017

Hammer: Horror of Dracula

I have often found myself talking about Peter Cushing on this blog, I have talked about him as an actor I admire, I have talked about his image being used after his death in a StarWars film and I have talked about the rose he commisioned for his late wife. I guess you can say that he has become one of the most repeated subjects on this blog, the last time I mentioned him was when I talked about the birth of the film studio Hammer and there birth. I ended this piece by talking about The Curse Of Frankenstein stating that it was a genre defining picture,which allowed us brits to usher in the return of gothic horror. I couldnt help but mention that this was due to three individuals one of which was  the director Terence Fisher and the other two were the fabulous actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Well the success of  The Curse of Frankenstein gave Hammer the freedom to explore more adaptations, this led to them making Dracula (AKA Horror of Dracula) which was released in 1958. It stared Christopher Lee (Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Van Helsing), again as well as once more being directed by Terence Fisher. 

This film is a brilliant piece of cinematic history and as far as I am concerned it sets the standard for further Hammer vampire films. If you have never seen a Hammer horror film, then you are in for a heck of a treat filled with impressivelavish costumes and sets, plenty of buxom ladies, some of the red stuff (in this case, very bright red) and a penchant for period settings. Dracula presents all this with gusto. So just like in Curse of Frankenstein, Lee is the monster, and Cushing is the doctor but unlike that film Lee is not a sympathetic Monster here, no he is a dangerous Vampire to be feared while Cushing is a much more sympathetic Doctor, in curse of Frankenstein he was a man who thought he could play God but here he is a man who feels like he is serving the will of God and protecting people from the unholy. Both of these actors give brilliant performances here and they play against each other brilliantly, they dont seem to try to out act each other or to be the star of the piece no instead they seem to work in harmony feeding each other perfectly.

So is this Dracula a film adaptation of the classic Stoker novel? Well the best answer is not exactly. It taskes characters and themes but it is not a beat for beat adaption. The film takes place in Germany and Van Helsing and Harker are colleques studying the legend of Vampires.  The location of Dracula is found out and Harker takes a post working at Dracula's castle, he kills a female vampire (A bride of Dracula I guess) but then before he can find out the Count gets his revenge by biting and Killing Harker.  Van Helsing goes in search of Harker, finding his diary and his corpse the second of which he stakes. Van Helsing then visits Arthur Holmwood and his wife Mina to inform them of Harekers death. Arthurs sister Lucy was engaged to Harker and was living with them due to her recent illness, one which has left her pale and weak. I wont go further into the story and what happens as well I strongly think that this is a film that needs to be seen (yes I am avoiding spoilers for a very old film here).

So is Christopher Lee a better or worse Dracula than Bela Lugosi most people will ask, well he is a totally diffrent kind of Dracula. Lugosi was hypnotic and charming and to a certain degree sympathetic but Lee in this film was something else he came across as violent, dangerous, physical and well animalisti, he was a sex and violence Dracula. Against this we have a Van Helsing who instead of a little old man who happens to know the truth and is just wise and holy we have a Van Helsing here who is not just an expert but also an action hero, to me this film is the start of the idea of the kick ass vampire slayer which is now so common in all forms of media.

Once again I find myself toasting the work of Christoper Lee and Peter Cushing and this is only the first film in Hammers Dracula franchise.

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