Horror Of Dracula (1958 United Kingdom)

horror-of-dracula-melissa-stribling-christopher-lee-1958(Don’t get too excited. This was just a publicity shot to help the men in plastic macs to their seats at the back of the theatres) Not another bloody Hammer Horror from before your mother was born I hear ye cry? Yep. You’ll just have to get used to it. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog – yes, he does exist! – let’s just say this will be the cross you have to bear.

The excellent set/art design is a lasting credit to Bernard Robinson, probably the best low-budget designer of all time. He innovated the concept of spacing items out evenly in the space provided as they will strike the eye of the viewer, instead of cramming all the objects at his disposal into the forefront where the camera’s focus is. He also does just as good a job at emphasizing the deep red colour scheme in the design.

In the acting department Peter Cushing stands out for me in this one. His steely determination, tempered with a gentle compassion, is always a comfort to watch. His almost virginal presence made even inanimate objects, like a red book, bend to the touch of his morally pure hands. In this motion picture, Dracula appears as an archetypal character, the inhuman materialization of some ancient primary principle of nature.

Part of this effect is achieved by scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster’s decision to have Dracula not utter a single word once his vampire nature is revealed at the beginning of the movie. This deprives Dracula of any distinct personality, thus enhancing his mythic status by Christopher Lee’s mesmerizing performance. He portrays the Count with all the magnetism of a dangerous but fascinating wild animal. Terence Fisher plays his part by his unique directorial style: every time Dracula is on-screen Fisher has him move fast within the frame, each of his movements amplified by his long floating cape for maximum effect. He is an Alpha Male.

dracula1958-2This turns Lee into a dominating presence over any other character sharing the screen with him. Nowhere better illustrated than in the famous scene where Dracula attacks his vampire bride (Valerie Gaunt) and where the Count’s movements across the room are reinforced and amplified by the rotating movement of a globe. Another example is the introductory shot for Dracula: it starts as a long shot of a man at the top of a staircase. Then the character rushes down the stairs toward the camera, the shot ending with a close-up of Christopher Lee’s face.

This fast transition of the character from the background to the foreground leaves an overall impression of energy and overwhelming power. The erotic nature of the vampire’s embrace is also made clear: Dracula’s victims prepare themselves for his nocturnal visit as if he was a lover, arranging their bed and their nightgown for him, anticipating with excitement Dracula’s bite. The transformation Dracula brings in them is astonishing.

Before their encounter with the vampire, they are model examples of submissive women in a male-dominated conservative society. Lucy, the damsel in distress in constant need of a man to protect her. Mina, the model wife looking out for her husband’s every need. Under Dracula’s influence, they become more sensual, more assertive, more rebellious and independent – much to the horror of their prissy but noble Victorian male guardians.

dracula 1957

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