This post is part of an ongoing series on Hammer horror director Terence Fisher.
Christopher Lee, as Dracula, greets John Van Eyssan’s Jonathan Harker and basically says, “Welcome, glad to have you as my librarian. That picture of your fiancee is lovely. I have to leave now, good bye.” After that, Dracula never speaks another word in the Horror of Dracula (1958). End to end, his footage probably runs less than fifteen minutes.
Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster present Bram Stoker’s vampire as a feeding predator. To his victims, he is attractive and desirable. Throughout his Hammer films, Terence Fisher clearly presents evil as erotic temptation. Seen in this light, Dracula’s silent, predatory portrayal in the first “true” sequel—Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)—makes perfect sense. This is what sets Fisher apart from his predecessors who told the same story, and the successors who imitated (and exaggerated) his style in increasingly inferior sequels.
In F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), the vampire is loathsome and repulsive. In Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) the vampire has far more static dialogue, and more charisma, albeit in a silent film stylized theatricality. With Fisher’s take on the subject, the erotic quality of the antagonist is pronounced, fleshy, and unmistakable. Yet, Fisher and Sangster also expertly balanced that sensuality with the narrative, never allowing the eroticism to become a caricature the way successors did (thus robbing the series of its freshness).
Compare Fisher’s direction of Dracula’s seduction scene to Freddie Francis’ in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968). In the former, Dracula seduces Mina (Melissa Stribling). The scene is shot in a series of extreme close-ups. Mina expresses dread (with a quivering lip) and breathy anticipation. Dracula enters her room and descends upon her bed-ridden form. As he draws towards her, his lips part. The next sight of Mina is unconsciously collapsed on her bed, violated, blood lightly splattered on her throat and gown. It is the blood of her husband (in a transfusion) that saves her life.
In Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, the vampire approaches Zena (Barbara Ewing) in the forest. Zena nearly spills out of her top and the vampire removes one extra snap for increased spillage. The attention is so drawn to the stripping that the narrative is second thought. Later, when Veronica Carlson is seduced by Dracula, her Victorian doll falls from her bed, awkwardly symbolizing the loss of innocence.
As superb as Christopher Lee is in his role as the Count, Peter Cushing is the quintessential Continue reading THE HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) AND DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)