Dracula: A British Film Guide by Peter Hutchings

By Peter Hutchings

Peter Hutchings' many faceted account of Hammer's 1958 gothic horror vintage explores the ways that the heritage of the Dracula tale, in addition to the Hammer company's personal fortunes affected the character of the movie, and appears heavily on the movie itself and the special functionality kinds of its stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

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In other ways too, The Quatermass Experiment spoke of a certain ambition on the part of Hammer; it had higher production values than previous Hammer films, it made much more of its British settings (including a conclusion in Westminster Abbey), and displayed clear aspirations to be something more than just a support feature. The commercial success of The Quatermass Experiment gave Hammer the opportunity to develop itself further. In part it did this through making films in the same vein as The Quatermass Experiment, namely X – The Unknown () and Quatermass II ().

Nowadays Hammer is usually thought of as a plucky little British company that against all odds managed to achieve unprecedented commercial success, but the change in Hammer’s fortunes that occurred in the early s, and which helped set the company on its way to worldwide fame, related more to shifts in the American film industry than it did to anything happening in Britain. In  Hammer negotiated a deal with American independent producer Robert Lippert whereby American stars would appear in Hammer’s support features.

American horror in the s and s had developed a propensity for expressive and sometimes extravagant camerawork that often went beyond the immediate needs of the narrative to evoke mood and atmosphere. One thinks here, to give just two examples, of the ‘creation’ scene in The Bride of Frankenstein () and the heroine’s night-time journey to the voodoo ceremony in I Walked with a Zombie (). To a certain extent, the opening sequence of Dracula does precisely what these other sequences do; it evokes a particular mood, a mood of ominous foreboding.

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