The Cult Class Collection

Dracula (1958)

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt

Directed by: Terence Fisher

Rating: 1 2 3 4

When Hammer's Dracula was first released in 1958 it was derided by the critics as vile and lascivious and slapped with an adult certificate. Now, almost 50 years on, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about – almost.

The original poster for Hammer's Dracula

There's certainly nothing rude or shocking about the opening scenes, as the distinctly uncharismatic Jonathan Harker arrives at Castle Dracula to hunt down the Count. If I were being charitable, I'd call it a slow-burning build up of atmosphere. If not, I'd just call it slow.

But before you know it, you've stopped sniggering at the stilted dialogue and hammy acting and got sucked into the plot – cuz after all, it's a good 'un. The screenplay may take major liberties with Bram Stoker's novel (but what adaptation doesn't?) but all the key elements are there: the predatory vampiress in Dracula's castle, the violent staking of Lucy, the blood transfusions, the crosses and garlic and, of course, the Count.

Because that's the real reason to revisit this old monster movie: for the smouldering performance of Christopher Lee in the title role. Gliding around in his long black cape, barely speaking a word (it's hard when your mouth is that full of teeth), he's the dark, sexual antithesis to Bela Lugosi's unctuous foreign aristocrat. And when you see the effect this potent predator has on his female victims – the hungry, expectant expression in their wide, glazed eyes as they await his nocturnal visits – you start to realise just why, pre-sexual revolution, this film was considered so subversive and disturbing: clearly this tall, dark, hypnotic and dangerous stranger is giving these women something they're not getting at home…

From this mesmerising and chilling performance, it's easy to see why Christopher Lee has struggled all these years to cast off the shadow of the cape and fangs, and why this film has become such a seminal horror classic, worthy of a cinema re-release. The restored print is pristine, resplendent in all its Technicolor gory glory, making it a real treat to see Dracula back where he belongs, up on the big screen. Fangs for the memory, Hammer. (Sorry…)

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