Dracula – 1958 | 82 mins | Horror | Colour
For Terence Fisher’s Dracula, scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster condensed Bram Stoker’s novel, gone was Dracula’s trip to Whitby and Renfield’s scenes in the insane asylum. Instead, the film was wholly set in and around Dracula’s castle, with the Holmwood’s home not more than a few miles away.
The film thus opens on a suitably ominous note as Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) makes his way to Castle Dracula to take up his new post as a librarian. Despite it being a bright and cheerful day, as he approaches the Castle he notes that no birds are singing. Having crossed the bridge to the castle, Harker enters the castle’s baronial hall, only to find the place deserted and a note from his employer apologising for his absence. Soon after, Harker encounters a curious woman in white (Valerie Gaunt) who begs him to take her away from the castle. However, her pleadings are cut short and she quickly disappears. The reason for this? The arrival of Dracula himself at the top of the stairway! Silhouetted at first, we are led to expect the worst. Cliché is quickly turned on its head though, as Dracula (Christopher Lee) briskly descends the stairway and greets Harker in the most urbane manner imaginable. Escorting him to his room, Dracula exchanges pleasantries with Harker, explaining that he won’t be available the next day, upon which he leaves Harker for the night, locking his bedroom door as he does so. It is shortly after this that it is revealed that Harker has come not to tend the Count’s library, but to destroy him, being in the employ of vampire hunter extraordinaire, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).
Later that night, Harker finds that his door has been unlocked, and so goes to investigate, meeting in the hall the mysterious woman in white who again pleads with him to take her away from the castle. She soon reveals her true colours, however, by baring her fangs and attempting to sink them into Harker’s neck, but is prevented from doing so by Dracula himself who, eyes red, fangs bloody and bared, rushes across the hallway and attacks Harker himself. After this encounter, the story moves to the following day when Harker, despite having been infected by the vampire attack, sets out to destroy Dracula and his ‘bride’. Unfortunately, he manages only to destroy the woman – who dishevels into an old hag when staked through the heart – before the sun inconveniently sets and Dracula rises from his coffin to extract a bloody revenge.
At this point, Sangster’s script introduces Professor Van Helsing, who takes it upon himself to investigate Harker’s disappearance, which inevitably leads him to Castle Dracula. Here he not only discovers that Harker is now himself a vampire, but that Dracula has apparently disappeared, taking with him the photograph of Harker’s fiancee Lucy Holmwood (Carol Marsh), his plan, as we soon learn, being to replace his dead ‘bride’ with Lucy. After despatching Harker with a stake, Van Helsing thus gives chase to Dracula, who has since exited somewhat dramatically atop a horse-drawn hearse. But Van Helsing arrives too late at the Holmwood residence. Lucy’s brother Arthur (Michael Gough) informs Van Helsing that she is sick, though a closer inspection by the Professor reveals that Dracula has already given her the bite. Van Helsing attempts to stress the severity of the danger Lucy is in, but as to be expected, his advice is mostly unheeded and Lucy, welcoming the Count into her bedroom later that night, is found dead the next morning.
Unable to come to terms with what has happened, Arthur remains sceptical about what Van Helsing has told him. It is only when Lucy rises from her grave and Arthur sees her for himself that he begins to believe the Professor’s claims. Consequently, Lucy is staked and Van Helsing continues his pursuit of the elusive Count. Dracula next sets his sights on Arthur’s wife Mina (Melissa Stribling), whom Arthur and Van Helsing attempt to protect, without realising that the Count has actually secreted his coffin in the Holmwood cellar, thus giving him easy access to the household! He thus kidnaps Mina and takes her back to his castle. Van Helsing again gives chase, this time catching the Count and destroying him by exposing him to sunlight in a battle to the death.
Reducing the Stoker novel to its bare bones like this, Sangster’s adaptation certainly moves at a fair old clip and leaves audiences with little time to catch their collective breaths between the thrilling highlights. Indeed, as Sangster later said, the reason so much of the novel was left out was simply because, ‘There was no room for it’, though discarded elements did appear in the numerous sequels that followed. For budgetary reasons, Dracula also lost his ability to turn into a bat or a wolf, though he did, for the first time on screen, bear fangs.
Terence Fisher: Director
Bernard Robinson: Art Direction
Michael Carreras: Associate Producer
Jack Asher: Cinematography
Molly Arbuthnot: Costume Design
Bill Lenny: Editing
James Needs: Editing
Roy Ashton: Makeup Department
Philip Leakey: Makeup Department
Henry Montsash: Makeup Department
James Bernard: Music
John Hollingsworth: Music Direction
Anthony Hinds: Producer
Jimmy Sangster: Script
Jock May: Sound Department
Peter Cushing: Doctor Van Helsing
Christopher Lee: Count Dracula
Michael Gough: Arthur Holmwood
Melissa Stribling: Mina Holmwood
Carol Marsh: Lucy
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
Miles Malleson: Undertaker