The ultimate horror film, full stop.
There, I have said it. 82 minutes of pure brilliance!
When I was growing up in the 1970’s, I was always fascinated by my dad’s collection of Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazines and always wondering what the films would actually be like, if I ever saw them. I remember when the BBC used to have Horror double bills every Saturday night at the time and if I was lucky I would see the trailers for them, but it was the days before our house had a video, so I had to make do with that. Then came the TV series Hammer House Of Horror and I was allowed to watch.
The episode called “The House That Bled To Death” has stayed with me 30 years on and then I saw my first horror film and it was Hammer’s “The Curse Of The Werewolf” starring Oliver Reed, I was hooked! Most of the horror films didn’t live up to my expectations of those pictures from Famous Monsters, but I continued to watch, then at Christmas 1984 I saw the double bill of The Curse Of Frankenstein with Dracula, Curse Of Frankenstein was first, so it was late by the time it got to Dracula, but I stayed awake throughout.
When it has finished you think Christopher Lee was in every scene, but he is in comparatively few and for the first time he portrays a more sexual Dracula, distancing himself from Bela Lugosi’s version in Tod Browning’s version at Universal in 1931, but Peter Cushing as Van Helsing was the star and the selling point. Cushing had appeared in Olivier’s HAMLET (1948), but made his name on TV in the 50’s when he seemed to be always on, leading to the joke “What’s television?” “Peter Cushing with knobs on!”
Hammer had spent £40,000 securing the rites to the book from Universal and was then reduced to just the major scenes by Jimmy Sangster, who put much of the intensity into it. James Bernard’s Dra-cuu-laa score added much of the atmosphere but most of it was down to Terence Fisher’s direction. He had made many films before the Hammer days, most noticeably “So Long At The Fair” in which a brother and sister travel to Paris , they stay in separate rooms and when she awakes, no one remembers her brother starring Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. However, it is for his work at Hammer he must be remembered (The Curse Of Frankenstein, The Revenge Of Frankenstein, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Mummy, The Stranglers Of Bombay, The Brides Of Dracula, The Two Faces Of Doctor Jekyll, The Curse Of The Werewolf, The Phantom Of The Opera, The Gorgon, Dracula – Prince Of Darkness, Frankenstein Created Woman, Night Of The Big Heat, The Devil Rides Out, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein & The Monster From Hell etc), he directed Christopher Lee 12 times and we go on about the Scorsese / De Niro connection!
The film was a smash hit and let the studio on to another 20 years of Horror product, but this was their finest product. It seems a shame now that it is so difficult to see, it has not been on television since 1990 and is currently unavailable on DVD in this country (in fact it was only briefly released on DVD under it’s US title “Horror Of Dracula”)
UK Premiere 16/05/1958 at The Gaumont, Haymarket
DF Viewing 28/12/1984 BBC-2