Two men embark upon the destruction of the King of Undeath, the venomous creature spreading its infection throughout Europe: the cost is paid in blood, their eternal souls at stake. Terence Fisher directs this Hammer masterpiece of climactic fury, resurrecting Dracula with a narrative economy that cuts directly to the chase.
Jonathan Harker travels to the foreboding castle to end the unlife of the vile Count, thinly disguised as the new librarian. He encounters a desperate woman whose indelible bite tattoos his intent upon his throat. After discovering the rather easily identifiable antechamber, he first stakes the lascivious vampire through the heart, revealing a shriveled corpse in the wake of bloodletting. Dracula awakens and slakes his thirst turning Harker into a minion, whose sleep of restless death is eventually ended by a hammer blow of violent compassion. Jonathan, here’s a hint: always kill the Big Baddy first and worry about the servants later, especially if they become powerless after losing their bloodthirsty benefactor!
Fisher transmutes the story into an action film, allowing just he right amount of suspense, melodrama, and violence to span our attention. Van Helsing’s journey to the castle and discovery of his cohorts demise is shown through a few establishing shots tainted with a ghostly atmosphere: a nice shot of Van Helsing with a shattered picture frame, a torn corner of a photograph we know to be Lucy’s stuck in the corner. This mise-en-scene conveys much information: Dracula ripped the photo from the frame, knows who and where Lucy is, and will turn this beautiful portrait into an icon of horror. The film then races against time as Van Helsing must convince Lucy’s brother Arthur that she can be protected, Arthur’s wife can be cured, and they must find the new hiding place of the nocturnal nightmare.
Dracula becomes a surreal spectacle of sexual addiction, as Lucy awakens each night excitedly expecting to share her viscous elixir, and Mina seems rosy and nearly orgasmic with life after being pierced by the Count. Arthur’s decision nearly costs him the eternal soul of his wife, but the sun’s rays of hope and crossed candlesticks save Mina from her near-undeath experience.
Final Grade: (A)