HORROR OF DRACULA is Hammer Studio's best horror movie and arguably the best version of Bram Stoker's classic 1897 novel. It is a handsome, stylish film with a great ending, noted for its fantasy, romantic sexuality, and gore.
Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to Transylvania to conduct business with Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). He poses as a librarian but is actually a vampire slayer. Dracula says, "I am Dracula. And I welcome you to my house. I must apologize for not being here to greet you personally, but I trust that you have found everything you need." Dracula knows his true plans and kills him, partly because Harker has discovered Dracula's mate.
Dracula travels to London to seek Harker's fiancee, Lucy (Carol Marsh). Thereafter Dracula only makes brief appearances and the focus shifts to Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who investigates. He apologizes before driving a stake through Lucy's heart: "Please try and understand. This is not Lucy, the sister you loved. It's only her shell, possessed and corrupted by the evil of Dracula. Liberate her soul and give it eternal peace. We must destroy that shell for all time! Believe me, there is no other way."
The film ends in the parlour at Castle Dracula. Van Helsing is overpowered by Dracula, who attempts to bite his neck. They struggle, Van Helsing breaks away, leaps on a table and tears down the curtains which allows sunlight inside. Dracula screams and falls to the floor. Van Helsing holds candlesticks in the form of a cross and Dracula turns to dust.
Christopher Lee is smooth and ferocious as Dracula, although we never actually see him bite anyone. This is peculiar, considering that HORROR OF DRACULA is the first movie ever to feature Dracula with fangs. Peter Cushing is perfect as the indefatigable professor. The supporting cast are very good.
There are deviations from the novel. Where is the insect-eating Renfield? Dracula has only one bride, destroyed by Harker, not Van Helsing. Harker is a librarian rather than a solicitor. The wreck of the ship is omitted along with Carfax Abbey and the lunatic asylum. Arthur is not aristocratic and Mina is his wife and Lucy is his sister. Dracula has only one coffin, cannot shapeshift, and is destroyed by sunlight as in NOSFERATU (1922).
Costumes and sets are rich and luxurious, the atmosphere is Gothic, and there are nice special effects. However, the film takes liberties with the novel's plot and the geography of Dracula's castle is mixed-up. In the film it is located near Klausenberg, which is in Rumania, and somehow it is near borders with Germany and Sweden, which is not possible. The Transylvanian peasants speak with cockney accents.
Also in the cast are: Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood), Melissa Stribling (Mina Holmwood), Olga Dickie (Gerda), Janina Faye (Tania), Barbara Archer (Inga), Charles Lloyd Pack (Dr. Seward), and many others. Jimmy Sangster wrote the script. Music is by James Bernard. Terrence Fisher directed.
This exciting, sexy, and gruesome movie was released in England as DRACULA, although to avoid confusion and copyright infringement with Bela Lugosi's version, the title is HORROR OF DRACULA in the USA. It was followed by six sequels, all longer and not as good.
The other Hammer Dracula movies are: BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970), SCARS OF DRACULA (1971), DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972), COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE (1973), and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974).