Sunday, 28 June 2015

Dracula (1958)

Hammer's Dracula is the film that drew me into horror films when I was a kid back in the 70s. I remember collecting those Hammer bubblegum cards, swapping them in the school toilets and a few years later buying Fangoria and wishing my Dad would buy me one of those latex masks. Dracula was my film and Alice Cooper was my soundtrack. I started reading really late (around age 8) and picked it up fast, really fast. Within a year I was hooked on the golden era of sci-fi (Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov). Again Dracula fucked me up! Screw those nerds, give me King, Hutson, McCammon, Straub! I was Mark fucking Petrie hoping to see Danny at my window. Then there was the video nasty scare a little later - I watched every fucked-up little VHS tape I could find before they were removed from the shelves. Dracula was the fucking ruin of me.

So onto the film...

This release contains a few extra minutes and alternate camera angles from a previously lost Japanese release. These were originally cut after requests by the British Board of Film Classification. Do they add anything to the film? Yes, for once these cuts are essential to the film. Without at least one of the alternate angle shots Dracula's sexuality is reduced to that of a fumbling schoolboy. Do yourself a favour and seek out the full uncut version.

Only a year after The Curse of Frankenstein and the drawing-room melodrama is gone, replaced instead by Gothic menace, blood and sex. Again, just like Hammer's Frankenstein, the plot is condensed to account for budget. Gone is the ship sailing into Whitby harbour, gone is London. Instead everything takes place in an unnamed European country much like Bavarian Germany or Austria. This may sound like a cop-out, but it tightens Stoker's long-winded and, if were honest, messy story into a fast-paced horror thriller. Of course to be able to do this Hammer needed a sound pair of actors to make sure it didn't fall to pieces at the first sign of action and who could take the horror legends of Dracula and Van Helsing and make them their own, two people who were already on their books and were cheap. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you... Christopher "it's not you neck I want to bite" Lee and Peter "fuck with me and I'll stake your nuts" Cushing! In 1958 Dracula was reborn as a sexual predator and Van Helsing as a stake wielding Indiana/Transylvania Jones! This is a vampire that wants to ravish the sexually repressed Victorian society and start a humping, writhing, pumping sexual revolution. Dracula is bubbling over with sexuality and brute strength; just watch the restored scene where Lucy is on her bed, showing both fear and desire as he kisses her face moving slowly down to her neck. Dracula is the ultimate "Bad Boy". There is none of that suave Bela Lugosi shit going on here.

The sets are full of Gothic loveliness from diaphanous nightdresses to crypts, candles, fog, shadows and howling wolves. There are wonderfully livid splashes of colour set against shadows and flickering candlelight. The James Bernard score is as in your face as the film. It's big, brash, bombastic and absolutely perfect. Lee is magnetic and brutal as the Count but nothing can top Cushing's strong, confident, athletic and intelligent performance as Van Helsing. Cushing is THE Van Helsing and no one will ever top his performance.

Tight and beautifully paced; this Hammer's first true horror film.

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