The 1958 film adaptation was noteworthy as it was the first film based around the character made by the legendary studio Hammer Films.
This adaptation has been pared down and changed to help the film’s narrative flow (an example of this is that Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to purposely destroy Dracula. This is very different in Stoker’s original book in which he is there to buy property). Some characters were dropped completely (Renfield from the original book being one). Because of this, this adaptation feels leaner, less cluttered and really gets to the heart of the action. There is never a dull moment here, it really is no filler, all killer (pun not intended).
I feel like this adaptation is a great place to start in terms of cinematic vampires as it effortlessly establishes the conventions of the novel and also of the vampire genre in general ie wooden stakes, sunlight, and crucifixes. This would be done very differently these days in a modern production.
I actually think this version of Dracula is the best, not just made by Hammer Studios but by anyone (yes, that includes you, Francis Ford Coppola). Christopher Lee will always be the definitive Dracula, a masterful blend of charisma, menace and, this was something that Lee made sure he explicitly depicted in his performance, sexual magnetism. It is shown that some of the female victims of Lee’s Dracula are more than willing to have someone as good-looking, sexy and magnetic as him enter their room in the dead of night, cape flapping and have his dreadful way with them.
Peter Cushing is just as brilliant as Van Helsing and is the perfect foil to Lee’s career-defining performance. In fact, the entire cast turn in impressive performances and it isn’t a case of any other characters being left in the shade by Lee. Everyone holds their own when it comes to the acting.
The photography and direction are also amazing. Every frame looks like it’s been painted and the colour palate is absolutely beautiful and a joy to behold. Terence Fisher would become synonymous with this as every one of his films is known for its richness and visual beauty.
The climactic scene in which Dracula is bathed in sunlight and dies because of this has aged incredibly well. Dracula looks like he is turning to ash and it’s a strangely beautiful scene to watch.
This is my favourite Dracula film and one of my all-time favourite vampire films along with Nosferatu, George A Romero’s Martin and Near Dark. All are peerless.
5 stars out of 5