Sunday, October 17, 2010

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17 - Movie 2

The Horror of Dracula (1958) reinvented Dracula for a new era by presenting it in color with and quite a bit of blood. This version plays fast and loose in adapting Bram Stoker's novel, but remains one of the best cinematic versions of Dracula to date.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to Castle Dracula on the pretense of working as Dracula's librarian, but he's really there to destroy Dracula. Things don't go as planned, and Harker ends up becomming a vampire himself. Harker's friend, and fellow vampire slayer, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) finishes Harker off, then sets off to protect the family of Harker's fiancé, Lucy (Carol Marsh) now being preyed upon by Dracula.

Like Hammer's series of Frankenstein movies which were about Baron Frankenstein and not the monster(s) he creates, the star of Dracula is not the monster, but the man who opposes him. Van Helsing is the heart and soul of this movie; a kind but no nonsense vampire hunter. Dracula himself is almost a myth in his own story, appearing only briefly and sporadically throughout the movie, while his vampire women take center stage as the visible menaces. As Dracula, Christopher Lee couldn't be more different from Bela Lugosi even though their costumes and hair styles were very similar. Lee's Dracula says little, but when we first meet him there's a formal, yet relaxed air about him. This is during the time in which he believes Harker is unaware of his true nature. There's nothing eerie or menacing about him, and he doesn't deliver his lines in the stilted, heavily accented manner which made Lugosi's Dracula seem exotic and authentic. When he first appears in vampire form, he's terrifying with wide bloodshot eyes and a snarling bloody mouth full of clearly visible fangs, hissing, snarling, and leaping like a predatory animal. Lee's vampiric Dracula is all carnal appetite and is much more physically active than Lugosi's. This Dracula has an equal in his antogonist. Van Helsing is just as physical, leaping across furniture as he pursues his quarry, leading to a really inventive and memorable climax.


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