Dracula (R/I)

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The Independent Culture

On its original release, back in 1958, this film was decried by a critic in the Daily Express as "one of the most revolting pictures I have seen for years". Could there be a higher recommendation? Rereleased now in order to mark the 50th anniversary of Hammer Horror, it was the first version of Dracula to be filmed in colour, and, in the casting of Christopher Lee, it was also the first to emphasise the seductive and debonair aspects of the vampiric count.

Yet if Lee's portrayal dispensed with the cloak'*'fangs campery of Bela Lugosi's wizened ghoul, he made him none the less a deeply sinister figure: his shadowy entrance at the top of a staircase is one of the director Terence Fisher's masterstrokes, and his fleeting appearances thereafter only heighten his enigmatic threat. (He speaks only 13 lines in the entire film.)

As his adversary Doctor Van Helsing, Peter Cushing brings a forensic authority to the role and a touch of life-saving athleticism to boot, though one imagines contemporary audiences were less interested in him than in the shockingly sexualised portrayal of those women who wait longingly for the Count's arrival and ripping times in the dark. No wonder the gentlemen reviewers of the day got so exercised about the yearning looks and the glowing flesh: it's basically an erotic film dressed up in horror's old clothes.

Some of it does look dated, inevitably, and the spilt gore can look a bit ketchupy, but it does no real damage. This was ground-breaking cinema from Hammer, and in Lee, the blood-sucking aristo certainly found his suavest incarnation.

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