Dracula (1958 film)

Dracula is a 1958 British horror film directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster based on Bram Stoker's novel of the same name. The first in the series of Hammer Horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, this original also features Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing, along with Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, and John Van Eyssen. In the U.S. the film was retitled Horror of Dracula to avoid confusion with the earlier Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, and the film was released in the U.S. in 1958 on a double feature with the Universal film The Thing That Couldn't Die.

UK film poster by Bill Wiggins
Directed byTerence Fisher
Produced byAnthony Hinds
Screenplay byJimmy Sangster
Based onDracula
by Bram Stoker
Music byJames Bernard
CinematographyJack Asher
Edited byBill Lenny
Distributed by
Release date
  • 7 May 1958 (1958-05-07)
Running time
82 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$3,500,000 (worldwide rentals)[3]

Production began at Bray Studios on 17 November 1957 with an investment of £81,000.[2] As Count Dracula, Lee fixed the image of the fanged vampire in popular culture.[4] Christopher Frayling writes, “Dracula introduced fangs, red contact lenses, décolletage, ready-prepared wooden stakes and – in the celebrated credits sequence – blood being spattered from off-screen over the Count's coffin.”[5] Lee also introduced a dark, brooding sexuality to the character, with Tim Stanley stating, “Lee’s sensuality was subversive in that it hinted that women might quite like having their neck chewed on by a stud”.[6]

In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw Dracula ranked the 65th best British film ever.[7] Empire magazine ranked Lee's portrayal as Count Dracula the 7th Greatest Horror Movie Character of All Time.[8]


In 1885, Jonathan Harker arrives at the castle of Count Dracula near Klausenburg to take up his post as librarian. Inside, he is startled by a young woman who claims that she is a prisoner and begs for his help. Dracula then appears to greet Harker and guide him to his room, where he locks him in. Jonathan starts to write in his diary, and his true intentions are revealed: he is a vampire hunter and has come to kill Dracula.

Freed sometime later, Harker again is confronted by the desperate woman. She begs him for help, but quickly reveals herself as a vampire and bites his neck. Just as she does, Dracula – fangs bared and lips bloody – arrives and pulls her away, attacking her violently. Harker tries to stop him, but Dracula quickly overpowers him and Harker passes out. When he awakens in daylight, Harker finds the bite marks on his neck, and knowing that he is doomed to become undead, he resolves to destroy Dracula. After writing his final entry, he hides his journal in a shrine to the Virgin Mary outside the castle and descends into the crypt, where he finds Dracula and the vampire woman resting in their coffins. Armed with a stake, he impales the woman first, who, as he looks on, immediately withers to old age and dies. However the sun sets, and when Harker turns to Dracula's coffin, he finds it empty. Dracula soon reveals that he has awakened and closes the door to the room, trapping Harker.

Days pass and Doctor Van Helsing arrives in Klausenburg, looking for Harker. An innkeeper's daughter gives him Harker's journal. When he arrives at the castle, a hearse carriage speeds by with a coffin in it, nearly hitting him. Searching the castle, he finds it deserted, though he comes across the portrait that Harker had of his fiancee Lucy, with the photos now gone. Exploring further, Van Helsing eventually reaches the crypt where he finds the remains of the vampire woman and, to his horror, Harker in Dracula's coffin, transformed into a vampire. Van Helsing solemnly stakes Harker before he leaves to deliver the veiled news of Harker's death in person to a wary Arthur Holmwood and his wife Mina, brother and sister-in-law of Harker's fiancée Lucy Holmwood in the town of Karlstadt some miles away. Lucy is ill, so the news is kept from her and Tania, the maid Gerda's daughter. But when night falls, Lucy removes the crucifix from around her neck, opens the doors to her terrace and lays bare her neck – already, it bears the mark of a vampire bite. Soon, Dracula arrives and bites her again.

Mina seeks out Van Helsing's aid in treating Lucy's declining health, but Lucy begs Gerda the maid to remove his prescribed garlic bouquets, and she is found dead the next day. Realizing that Lucy will arise as a vampire, Van Helsing turns over Harker's journal to the grief-stricken Arthur to reveal the truth about Jonathan's death. Three days after Lucy is interred, Tania is spirited away into the night and is returned by a policeman, claiming to Arthur and Mina that Lucy had beckoned her, much to their shock. Later that same night, Lucy, now undead and evil, lures away Tania once more to a graveyard with the intent to feed on her and turn her into a vampire. But the girl is saved when Arthur, having come to investigate Lucy's tomb and finding it empty, stops her. Lucy sets to attack him, but Van Helsing manages to ward her off with a cross and forces her to flee back to her crypt.

After comforting Tania and finding Lucy back in her coffin, Van Helsing explains to Arthur that she was targeted to replace the woman that Harker killed. Van Helsing suggests using her to lead them to Dracula, but Arthur refuses out of fear of others that she could potentially infect. As such, Van Helsing goes to stake her, telling Arthur that the Lucy he knew is long dead, that she is now nothing more than a "shell", a walking corpse under Dracula's command, and that the only way to grant her eternal peace is to destroy her body. Van Helsing stakes her in her coffin and, when Arthur takes one final look at Lucy's body, he sees her body free of corruption and finally at peace.

Now both Van Helsing and Arthur agree to work together to destroy Dracula: they travel to the border crossing at Ingolstadt to track down the destination of Dracula's coffin (which Van Helsing saw carried away when he arrived at Dracula's castle). Meanwhile, Mina is called away from home by a message telling her to meet Arthur at an address in Karlstadt – the same address Arthur and Van Helsing are told the coffin was bound for – and Dracula is waiting for her.

The next morning, Arthur and Van Helsing find Mina in a strange state. They leave for the address they were given, an undertaker's, but find the coffin missing. When they decide to set off again to inspect an old graveyard they suspect might be the coffin's new resting place, Arthur tries to give Mina a cross to wear, but it burns her, revealing that she is infected by vampirism and is slowly turning into a vampire herself.

During the night, Van Helsing and Arthur guard Mina's windows outside against a return of Dracula, but Dracula nonetheless appears inside the house and bites her. She is saved when Arthur agrees to give her an emergency blood transfusion administered by Van Helsing. When Arthur asks Gerda to fetch some wine, she tells him that Mina had forbidden her to go down to the cellar. Upon hearing this, Van Helsing realizes the coffin's location: the cellar of the Holmwoods' own house. He bolts downstairs to find it, but Dracula is not in the coffin and instead he escapes into the night with Mina, intent on making her a new vampire bride. After planting a cross inside Dracula's coffin, Van Helsing realizes that Dracula now has only his castle to hide in.

A chase then begins as Dracula rushes to return to his castle near Klausenberg before sunrise. He attempts to bury Mina alive outside the crypts, but is interrupted by the arrival of Van Helsing and Arthur. Chasing Dracula inside the castle, Van Helsing struggles with the vampire before eventually tearing open the library curtains to let in the sunlight and, forming a cross from two candlesticks, he forces the Count into it. Dracula crumbles into dust as Van Helsing looks on. Mina recovers, and the cross-shaped scar fades from her hand, indicating that she has been saved, whilst Dracula's ashes blow away in the morning breeze, leaving only his clothes and ring behind.



Special effects

The filming of Dracula's destruction included a shot in which Dracula appears to peel away his decaying skin. This was accomplished by putting a layer of red makeup on Lee's face, and then covering his entire face with a thin coating of mortician's wax, which was then made up to conform to his normal skin tone. When he raked his fingers across the wax, it revealed the "raw" marks underneath. This startling sequence was cut out, but was restored for the 2012 Blu-ray release, using footage from a badly damaged Japanese print.

Zodiac wheel in final scene

At the end of the film, Dracula is destroyed on an inlaid Zodiac wheel on the floor, which has several quotes in Latin and Greek. The inner circle in Greek has a quote from Homer's Odyssey Book 18.136–7: "τοῖος γὰρ νόος ἐστὶν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων οἷον ἐπ᾽ ἦμαρ ἄγησι πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε" (or "The mind of men who live on the earth is such as the day the father of gods and men [Zeus] brings upon them.") The outer wheel is written in Latin, and is a quote from Hesiod via Bartolomeo Anglico (De proprietatibus rerum, Book 8, Chapter 2): "Tellus vero primum siquidem genuit parem sibi coelum stellis ornatum, ut ipsam totam obtegat, utque esset beatis Diis sedes tuta semper." (or "And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.") Dracula's ring is left on the glyph of the sign of Aquarius on the Zodiac wheel.


Dracula was a critical and commercial success upon its release and was well received by critics and fans of Stoker's works. The film currently holds an approval rating of 88% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Trading gore for grandeur, Horror of Dracula marks an impressive turn for inveterate Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, and a typical Hammer mood that makes aristocracy quite sexy."[9]

The trade journal reviews from 1958 were very positive. Film Bulletin noted, "As produced by Anthony Hinds in somber mid-Victorian backgrounds... and directed by Terence Fisher with an immense flair for the blood-curdling shot, this Technicolor nightmare should prove a real treat. The James Bernard score is monumentally sinister and the Jack Asher photography full of foreboding atmosphere."[10]

Harrison's Reports was particularly enthusiastic, "Of all the "Dracula" horror pictures thus far produced, this one, made in Britain and photographed in Technicolor, tops them all. Its shock impact is, in fact, so great that it may well be considered as one of the best horror films ever made. What makes this picture superior is the expert treatment that takes full advantage of the story's shock values."[11]

Vincent Canby in Motion Picture Daily said, "Hammer Films, the same British production unit which last year restored Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to its rightful place in the screen's chamber of horrors, has now even more successfully brought back the granddaddy of all vampires, Count Dracula. It's chillingly realistic in detail (and at times as gory as the law allows). The physical production is first rate, including the settings, costumes, Eastman Color photography and special effects.".[12]

The film earned around $3.5 million worldwide.[3]



The film was released in the U.S. on 7 May 1958[13] on a double feature with the Universal film The Thing That Couldn't Die.

Home media

The film made its first appearance on DVD in 2002 in a U.S. stand-alone disc and was later re-released on 6 November 2007 in a film pack along with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Dracula A.D. 1972; which was part of Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema's "4 Film Favorites" line of DVDs.[14] On 7 September 2010, Turner Classic Movies released the film in a four-pack along with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Curse of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The film was released on DVD in the U.K. in October 2002 alongside The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy in a box-set entitled Hammer Horror Originals.

The film was digitally restored and re-released in the U.K. by the BFI in 2007. When the film was originally released in the U.K., the BBFC gave it an X rating, being cut, while the 2007 uncut re-release was given a 12A.

For many years historians pointed to the fact that an even longer, more explicit, version of the film played in Japanese and European cinemas in 1958. Efforts to locate the legendary "Japanese version" of Dracula had been fruitless.

In September 2011, Hammer announced that part of the Japanese release had been found by writer and cartoonist Simon Rowson in the National Film Center at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.[15] The first five reels of the film held by the center were destroyed in a fire in 1984, but the last four reels were recovered. The recovered reels include the last 36 minutes of the film and includes two extended scenes, one of which is the discovery of a nearly-complete version of the film's iconic disintegration scene. Some experts rightly note that there is still footage missing from the disintegration scene, as evidenced by stills and the memories of those who had seen the sequence decades before. The announcement mentioned a HD telecine transfer of all four reels with a view for a future U.K. release.[15]

On 29 December 2012, Hammer announced that the restored film would be released on a three-disc, double play Blu-ray Disc set in the U.K. on 18 March 2013. This release contains the 2007 BFI restoration, along with the 2012 high-definition Hammer restoration, which includes footage which was previously believed to be lost.[16] The set contains both Blu-ray Disc and DVD copies of the film, as well as several bonus documentaries covering the film's production, censorship and restoration processes.

A further digital restoration was done by the current domestic rights holder, Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with the BFI, for December 2018 release on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

Comic book adaptation

  • The House of Hammer #1 (October 1976)[17]


After the success of Dracula, Hammer went on to produce eight sequels, six of which feature Lee reprising the titular role, and four of which feature Cushing reprising the role of Van Helsing.

See also


  1. "DRACULA (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 6 August 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
    • Rigby, Jonathan (2000). English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Richmond: Reynolds & Hearn. p. 256. ISBN 9781903111017. OCLC 45576395.
  2. "Hammer: Five-a-Year for Columbia". Variety. 18 March 1959. p. 19. Retrieved 23 June 2019 via Archive.org.
  3. Jackson, Kevin (31 October 2009). "Fangs for the memories: The A-Z of vampires". The Independent. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  4. "Hallowe'en: Why Dracula just won't die". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  5. "Why Christopher Lee's Dracula didn't suck". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  6. Calhoun, Dave; Huddleston, Tom; Jenkins, David; Adams, Derek; Andrew, Geoff; Davies, Adam Lee; Fairclough, Paul; Hammond, Wally (17 February 2017). "The 100 best British films". Time Out London. Time Out Group. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  7. "The 100 best horror movie characters". Empire. Retrieved 2 December 2017
  8. "Horror of Dracula (1958)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  9. "Horror of Dracula". Film Bulletin. Film Bulletin Company. 12 May 1958. p. 12. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  10. "'Horror Of Dracula' with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Melissa Stribling". Harrison's Reports. 10 May 1958. p. 74. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  11. Canby, Vincent (6 May 1958). "Horror of Dracula". Motion Picture Daily. Quigley Publishing Company. p. 4. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  12. "When did HORROR OF DRACULA premiere? An Answer. – Where the Long Tail Ends". Where the Long Tail Ends. 25 August 2018. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  13. 4 Film Favorites: Draculas (Dracula A.D. 1972, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Horror of Dracula, Taste the Blood of Dracula) (DVD). Burbank: Warner Home Video. 2007. ASIN B000U1ZV7G. ISBN 9781419859076. OCLC 801718535.
  14. Hearn, Marcus (14 September 2011). "Dracula Resurrected!". Hammer Films. Archived from the original on 23 November 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  15. "DRACULA on UK Blu-ray". Hammer Films. 29 December 2012. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  16. "The House of Hammer #1". Grand Comics Database.
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