Fifty Years ago….
I actually missed the date: May 8, 1958, when Hammer’s classic version of Dracula was released in the US (as Horror of Dracula).
The film made Christopher Lee a star overnight. (It almost type-cast him to death as well.) But the effect it had on cinema is hard to appreciate now. Martin Scorcese has spoken often about the impression the baroque and bloody Hammer films made on him as a teenage movie-goer in New York. Gone forever were the days of grainy blank and white farces featuring Abbott & Costello as they confronted campy versions of the wolf man, Frankenstein’s monster and a decrepit Bela Lugosi.
The above scene for me remains one of the all-time greatest endings in film.
According to Lee, to this day Hammer remains Britain’s most successful independent film company. They came up with a formula they knew no one else could duplicate. Great locations, classy actors with stage experience (Peter Cushing was a protege of Laurence Olivier–and note Tim Burton’s favorite Michael Gough), a signature film composer (the magnificent James Bernard, a protege of Benjamen Britten) and a blunt refusal to play it for laughs.
Virtually none of these movies are still scary in this day and age–but the best ones, like Dracula, remain classy.