Hammer’s first Dracula movie is responsible for making an entire generation afraid of Christopher Lee. KAYLEIGH MARIE EDWARDS provides some fun facts you probably didn’t know about this 1958 horror classic.
1.) People lost their minds….
According to Christopher Lee, when this movie premiered, people were gasping and screaming at the screen – and that was just during the opening credit sequence in which we see Dracula’s stone coffin with blood dripping over his name. In 1958, this was considered graphic and shocking. When Dracula first appears at the top of the staircase, it is reported that audiences reacted with magnificent applause, followed by total silence as they hung on his every word. Some people were so afraid of him that they left the theatre.
2.) Dracula isn’t that chatty…
Dracula, the Prince of Darkness… the Unholy King… the Ultimate Night Terror… only has 13 lines of dialogue in this movie, and all of them are in scenes with Jonathan Harker. He never speaks to anyone else (not even his vampire bride). The only verbal interaction anyone else gets with him is when he hisses at them. In total, Dracula only has seven minutes of screen time, which is actually a testament to Lee’s performance because despite this, he made such an impression that though he wasn’t the first Dracula, he has been commonly referred to as ‘the definitive version’ for almost 60 years.
3.) Mistakes were made…
It would be a great challenge for anyone to discover a movie with absolutely no mistakes, and Dracula is no different. The ‘goofs’ in this film include:
- Dracula falling to the floor and starting to die before the sunlight actually hits him
- The coffin Dracula uses in the undertaker’s cellar has a huge cross on the lid, which should make it impossible for Dracula to sleep in or even approach
- The inclusion of the phrase ‘Teddy Bear’. This term wasn’t coined until 1902 – 17 years after the story in the film takes place
4.) Christopher Lee pays homage to Bela Lugosi…
The ring worn by Dracula in this film is actually a replica of a ring worn by Bela Lugosi, who also famously played Dracula (for Universal Pictures, not Hammer). Lee said that he wore it as a tribute to Lugosi because he admired his portrayal of the character and he wanted to acknowledge and honour his performance.
5.) Lee was basically blind for the whole film…
Lee’s contact lenses were not only painful and uncomfortable, but also totally impractical. Lee describes himself as being almost ‘rendered blind’ whilst wearing them, and missed his mark several times. In the scene where he finds his bride biting Jonathan, he runs towards her but during the first take he ran straight past her and the camera.
6.) Falling for Mina…
Literally. In the scene where Dracula is frantically trying to bury Mina, Christopher Lee tripped and fell into the grave, on top of Melissa Stribling’s (Mina) stunt double.
7.) Nailed it…
In the scene after Mina has been bitten, she enters the room looking deliciously smug. Actor Melissa Stribling was instructed to play the scene as though she had just ‘had the best sex of her life all night long’. They wrapped the scene after only one take. Stribling is either a great actor or she drew from memories that would make most of us blush. And jealous.
8.) Face Off…
When the movie was first released, a chunk of Dracula’s death scene was cut because it was deemed too gory and graphic, though it is commonly included in the finished film now. The offending shot is where Dracula rakes his own melting skin off his face, and the effects still hold up today. This ‘gag’ was achieved using a coating of wax, which was matched to his skin with make up, with a heavy layer of red makeup underneath it. This created the effect of his skin being pulled off and revealing the raw tissue.
9.) It’s all about Van Helsing…
Peter Cushing, who plays Van Helsing, received the top billing for this film and the original movie poster featured him most prominently, despite the fact that Van Helsing doesn’t turn up until around the half an hour mark. This was because Cushing had already established himself with Hammer and was a beloved fan favourite after playing Doctor Frankenstein the previous year. Lee was still basically unknown (though he had appeared as Frankenstein’s monster with Cushing). Lee was billed second, and paid the least (only £750 in total, according to Lee’s autobiography). John Van Eyssen, who played Harker, opens the film and mostly stars alone for the first half an hour, but he was not billed on the movie poster at all.
10.) Christopher Lee hated the film…
Lee was almost as famous for refusing to discuss Dracula in his later years as he was for playing him. However, the reason for this eluded many people. In a Q&A session at University College Dublin, Lee spoke about his dissatisfaction with the film, finally shedding light on his annoyance at being asked about it. As a fan of Bram Stoker’s novel, he was excited to play the character. However, upon receiving the script, he was most disappointed to find that the character was nothing like the one Stoker portrayed, the story was vastly different from the source material, and in his opinion, the dialogue was bad. He complained, “The character is not Stoker’s character”. Lee actually refused every sequel when offered the role, but felt ‘emotionally blackmailed’ to accept because he was told that if he didn’t, he would be putting numerous people out of work. However, in several of the sequels, Dracula has little or no dialogue because Lee refused to read the lines, on account of them being ‘terrible’.
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