Cast and Crew: Terrence Fisher (Director); Jimmy Sangster (Screenplay); Bram Stoker (Novel); Michael Carreras (Executive Producer); Anthony Hinds (Producer)
What It’s About: Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) goes to Switzerland (?) to find the castle of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), ostensibly to catalog his library, but in reality to kill the Count. He kills Dracula’s bride (Valerie Gaunt) but fails to kill the old man himself, and dies for his trouble. Seeking revenge, Dracula travels to London to find Harker’s fiancé Lucy (Carol Marsh). Only Harker’s associate, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) can put a stop to Dracula’s evil…or can he?
Why Watch it Today?: Harker dates his diary May 3rd, 1885, marking the starting point of the film as today. The first of Hammer’s Dracula series (which spanned nine films over sixteen years), Hammer took many liberties with the source material to prevent lawsuits by Universal Studios, resulting in a film in which Jonathan Harker is a librarian out to destroy Dracula (why didn’t I remember that when I was writing up movies for Library Week?) engaged to Lucy, Mina’s sister, while Mina (Melissa Stribling) is married to Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough)! Despite jumbling characters and motivations, this is still a top flight Dracula film, quite possibly my personal favorite. The scene in which Lucy rises from the dead and leads a young girl through a misty graveyard to feed is hauntingly beautiful and terrifying all at once, and it is hard to beat Cushing’s “man of action” take on Van Helsing. Lee is imposing, and makes a strong impression despite having only a handful of lines.
I think I saw this one a few years ago. Yes, they did take several liberties with the original story, but it wasn’t that bad.