Before this year I was a Hammer Films virgin. I'd read a lot about the horror movies to come from the British studio, but for one stupid reason or another I'd never actually watched any. I guess I'm more of an AIP man, when it comes down to it. Anyway, this month I've been finally introducing myself to some Hammer Horror movies, including some lesser ones from the 60s. Horror of Dracula is the first one with a good reputation I've watched, and I'm definitely not disappointed.
The Hammer MO, at least in the early years, appeared to have been "take a Universal horror classic, ramp up the shock and terror, add bright Technicolor, release to audiences." Can't say I have any objection to this way of doing things. In the case of Dracula, they took the Bela Lugosi version of the story, all horror and atmosphere, and added Christopher Lee with a big set of fangs and blood smeared all over his face (plus bright red contact lenses) literally throwing one of his female vampire slaves across the room. It reminds me a little of Mario Bava, who also had a penchant for cranking horror tropes to 11 (in his vampire movie, Black Sunday, instead of a coffin creaking open in the dead of night, it explodes)
Adding to the "Universal classic shot with adrenaline" mood is the changes made to the plot. In this version of the story, Johnathan Harker intentionally gets a job with Dracula whom he knows to be a vampire in order to kill him. He fails, is turned into a vampire by Dracula, and gets offed by Dr. Van Helsing. Honestly, no 15-year-old could come up with a cooler variation on Dracula without getting completely ridiculous.
However, this was 1959, and the movie doesn't really sustain the breakneck energy you might be envisioning given my description. I fully expect the Hammer Dracula sequels to up the stakes (har, har), but this movie certainly feels like a first salvo as far as reinvigorating the horror genre is concerned. I guess I'll write more when I see more Hammer Horror movies. Still, this movie is a fun and spooky horror movie that I'd recommend to any fan.