Horror of Dracula is the first Dracula movie with Christopher Lee. It’s one of Hammer’s most successful early horror movies and Lee played the blood-sucking count so well the company gave him the starring role in six of its eight Dracula sequels.
The movie’s original title is Dracula. That’s the title it was distributed under in the UK. It was retitled Horror of Dracula for the American market. This was an attempt to stop people confusing the Christopher Lee version with the 1931 “Dracula” movie with Bela Lugosi in the starring role.
I don’t want to confuse anyone either so, in this review, I’m going to refer to the Christopher Lee movie as Horror of Dracula. It makes sense to do so because my site gets more visitors from the US than it does from the UK.
Although Horror of Dracula is based on Bram Stoker’s novel the story is very different. In the novel, Jonathan Harker visits Castle Dracula to help the Count purchase some property abroad. In Horror of Dracula, Harker arrives at the castle under the pretense of wanting to work as the Count’s new librarian. The truth is, he’s a close friend of Dr. Van Helsing and has every intention of driving a stake through the Count’s heart at the earliest opportunity.
Harker might have been better sticking to his books because things don’t go to plan. By the time Van Helsing comes looking for his friend even Harker’s own Dentist wouldn’t recognize him and the doctor is forced to resolve the situation the only way that he knows how: with a large hammer and a wooden stake.
Before Harker gained his fatal smile he succeeded in hammering a stake through the heart of the Count’s only companion, a female vampire who was sleeping in the coffin beside him. Because of this Dracula decides it is only fair that he should claim Harker’s fiancee, Lucy Holmwood, as a replacement and even as Van Helsing arrives at Castle Dracula the Count’s carriage is speeding out through the gates.
When Van Helsing goes to break the bad news of Harker’s death to Lucy he discovers she is very ill. He only has to check her neck to see the reason why and does his best to protect her from the Count by filling her room with garlic. Unfortunately, Lucy is already under Dracula’s spell and persuades her maid to remove the offensive bulbs.
After Lucy’s death, her brother Arthur blames Van Helsing for bringing them bad luck and it is only when he sees his undead sister strolling through the graveyard that he believes the doctor’s story and decides to help him bring an end to Dracula once and for all.
Dracula is probably the role Christopher Lee is most famous for but many experts will tell you The Wicker Man (1973) is his best movie. I agree, but Hammer made and excellent choice when it chose him to play Dracula. A lot of people consider him to be the best Dracula to ever plague a person’s nightmares. They may have a point.
The sight of Christopher Lee with bloodshot eyes and a vampire smile is a very impressive sight indeed. The blood around his mouth is less impressive, but when the film was made (1958) fake blood tended to look more fake than blood, and it is Dracula’s eyes that draw the attention anyway.
The part of Van Helsing is played by Peter Cushing and it is always good to see any movie where these two great acting talents (Cushing and Lee) were given the chance to work together.
Carol Marsh plays Lucy, and Melissa Stribling is Lucy’s sister-in-law, Mina. Both ladies make very convincing vampire victims. Vampires are a corruptive force and the two girls put on a good show of being corrupted by Dracula. They are not ignorant of his visits, but keep them secret, almost as if he were a secret lover, which, in a way, I suppose he is. Then when the Count comes for them their expressions fluctuate from apprehension to fear, to desire. An added dash of uncertainty is thrown in for good measure.
Good wins over evil in the end and the Count is turned to dust. The transformation scene is rather good as well. It isn’t gory or messy, but it has (dare I say it) a charm all of its own and is fascinating to watch.
Some people will tell you Christopher Lee’s Dracula is the best. Others may say Bela Lugosi did it better. However, there are more than 60 “Dracula” movies and over 200 movies that have other names but feature a character called Dracula. There are a lot of movies so choose from and everyone has their own favorite count.
I like this version. Christopher Lee is an excellent Dracula, but he isn’t my favorite. I prefer Louis Jourdan in the 70s TV series Count Dracula, made by the BBC. If you are not familiar with this version, I have a review on another page of this site: Count Dracula (1977)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Runtime: 78 mins
Horror of Dracula Cast
Christopher Lee … Count Dracula
Peter Cushing … Doctor Van Helsing
Michael Gough … Arthur Holmwood
Melissa Stribling … Mina Holmwood
Carol Marsh … Lucy Holmwood
Olga Dickie … Gerda
John Van Eyssen … Jonathan Harker
Valerie Gaunt … Vampire Woman
Janina Faye … Tania
Barbara Archer … Inga
Charles Lloyd Pack … Dr. Seward
George Merritt … Policeman
George Woodbridge … Landlord
George Benson … Frontier Official
Miles Malleson … Undertaker
Geoffrey Bayldon … Porter
Paul Cole … Lad