Thursday, November 29, 2012

180. HORROR OF DRACULA (DRACULA, 1958)

It almost feels there should be a temporary embargo placed on viewings of Terence Fisher's DRACULA (US: HORROR OF DRACULA), because we're patiently awaiting the release of a promised restored version that will add back footage censored from nearly all prints since the time of its first release; however, when it was shown by Turner Classic Movies over the Halloween season in HD, I couldn't resist revisiting it for the umpteenth time. Some will tell you it's the greatest horror film ever made; I disagree, though not with vehemence. It's not the Stoker novel -- it leaves out huge chunks of the story, consolidates characters, and so on -- yet it comes closer than any other film to satisfying the viewer in the way Stoker's novel satisfies its readers. Seldom has such a philandering adaptation (thank you, Jimmy Sangster) kept such faith with its source.

There has never been a more formidable Dracula than Christopher Lee, who summons a vividly unholy energy as he roars through the library scene (pictured), and he is perfectly balanced by the firm Christian authority of Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing, who complements Lee with a series of equal shows of panache, cutting into frame with a brandished crucifix and running the length of a banquet table to vanquish evil with the full brunt of sunlight. The secondary roles are likewise perfect and perfectly poised -- Michael Gough (uncommonly restrained) and Melissa Stribling as the devoted Holmwoods, Carol Marsh (so memorable in BRIGHTON ROCK) as Lucy both sweet and feral (how she makes us feel her hatred of the protective wolfbane strewn about her room, and her surrender to the Count's nocturnal visits to her neck), and even little Janina Faye as the innocence sought by her undead "aunt." Photographed by Jack Asher, this is one of the most unconsciously artful-looking of horror films; it is lovely but with a loveliness that only supports the enchanting quality of its storytelling, never becoming too noticeable for the film's overall good. I am so looking forward to the restored version.

Viewed on Turner Classic Movies HD. 

3 comments:

  1. The perfect horror movie, for all the reasons you mentioned. There have been more artful examples of the genre (ROSEMARY'S BABY, THE EXORCIST), but no fright film of any era hit the nail on the head (stake through the heart?) quite the way this one did. It's the same feeling I get when I watch 1960's VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED -- every single second of the movie is perfectly planned and executed; nothing is wasted or falls short, not a hair is out of place. Okay, so that's why I gave HOD the top position in my recent book, TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES. I knew it was a somewhat controversial choice (ROSEMARY or EXORCIST would have been far safer), but I maintain perfection is perfection... and that's what director Fisher and company achieved back in 1958, at least in my view. Bring on that restoration! Gary Gerani, 2012

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  2. What can I say, Tim? Once a Monster Boomer, always a Monster Boomer! Gary G.

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  3. Praise be! Used to be that HORROR OF DRACULA was one of the few horror films that I never had to defend to anyone. It stood fine and strong on its own merits. Lately, though, I've read some disparaging, or at least deflating remarks about the movie. This has constantly astounded me. So, thank you, Tim, for getting it so very right.

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