He must be found and destroyed.– Dr Van Helsing
Terence Fisher’s 1958 Dracula (or Horror of Dracula, to us Americans) isn’t so much a remake of the 1931 Universal version as it is a reimagining. Christopher Lee’s take on the character is as iconic as Lugosi’s, for all that he feels less developed on the whole. What he lacks in velvet menace he makes up for with feral savagery. Lugosi’s Dracula was icily reserved, save in moments of stress or triumph. Lee’s version of the Count is always a hairsbreadth from murder – a great, stalking presence that conquers the screen without so much as a word.
While I like Lugosi’s version, it’s Lee’s that dominates my imagination. Largely, that’s because I saw Fisher’s Dracula well before the Universal version. When I write about Dracula, whether in fiction or just in general, it’s probably Christopher Lee that I’m thinking about. And the same goes for Peter Cushing’s Dr. Van Helsing. While not as charismatic as his opponent, there’s something powerfully reassuring about Cushing’s fearless vampire killer. Where Dracula is all sound and fury, Van Helsing is the eye of the storm – eerily calm, until he snaps into action. When the two collide, its a sort of magic.
That isn’t to say the film doesn’t share the same issues that plagued the other early Hammer films. There are other characters in this film; they are largely insignificant. They exist to be victimized or enlightened. The only two who matter are Dracula and Van Helsing. Their conflict drives the film and, indeed, all of the subsequent films, though Van Helsing is largely absent until the films move to the modern day.
Yet despite that, there’s something about this film – it’s almost a distillation of the very idea of Dracula. It is the heart of the matter. Dracula and Van Helsing, turning on a great wheel, struggling over the souls of the innocent.
The Devil’s Son and God’s Madman, locked in battle for eternity.
Anyway, as you might have guessed, I like this film a lot. If you haven’t seen it, watch it.