For Halloween, I gave out maybe two dozen comic books. It was chilly and it was boring, and once trick or treating was over I went inside and put Horror of Dracula (the American title of the first Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Dracula movie) in the DVD player.
(As an aside, I wish there were a nice, unified boxed set of the Hammer Dracula films. It won’t happen, but it’s a nice dream.)
Horror of Dracula isn’t my favorite Dracula adaptation, but it’s one of my favorites and it is a lot of fun — it’s lurid and overblown, and if you squint you can say it’s “Grand Moff Tarkin and Alfred Pennyworth team up to take down Saruman.” Christopher Lee has a commanding presence as Dracula — he simply looms in a scene, even if he’s doing something as simple as handing over a key to a library — and Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing as a dashing man of action.
The plot bears as much relationship to Bram Stoker’s original novel as the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers television series a few years ago did… which is to say, practically none at all. There are similar plot beats to the Stoker novel, but there’s also a great deal that’s different. The combination and jumbling of characters is to be expected — Jonathan Harker intends to marry Lucy, while Mina is married to Arthur Holmwood — since it’s a rare Dracula adaptation that gets all of Stoker’s relationships right. Plus, the whole affair has been relocated to central Europe (which is something I had never picked up on until last night; I had always assumed the Holmwoods were in London, but no, they’re in Karlstadt), and there’s a lot of backstory to the film (such as how Jonathan Harker already knows that Dracula is a vampire) that goes unexplained. But you only notice the backstory is wholly absent if you stop to think about it because, even with the pacing of a film made in the 1950s, Horror of Dracula has a style and momentum that keeps it going and keeps thoughts about why certain things are happening at bay.
I was amused by the moments of abject stupidity on the part of the characters. Given a choice between staking Dracula or his bride, Harker chooses to stake the bride with unfortunate results for him. Or, when Van Helsing and Arthur Holmwood decide to protect Mina from Dracula, they wait for Dracula outside of the house instead of in the bedroom, again, with unfortunate results.
Horror of Dracula is just fun. By the standards of today, it’s quite tame and not especially scary — and its direction is downright stagy — but it’s an enjoyable event for a chilly Halloween night.
I was momentarily tempted to watch Van Helsing afterwards, but that is such a terrible movie.