Hammer's Definitive Dracula

After the success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer Horror sunk its teeth into another well known Gothic character. Christopher Lee, who played Frankenstein’s monster, once again left a mark on history with another defining portrayal of a monster.

1. Legal hoops existed even before it was even announced.

Like Frankenstein, Hammer had to make sure not to step on Universal’s take on Dracula. Further complicating copyright matters were the authors of a Dracula stage adaption and Bram Stoker’s widow. Hammer was able to come to an agreement, but it was so complex it wasn’t done until their Dracula had actually finished filming.

2. Dracula shared a lot with The Curse of Frankenstein.

Screenwriter James Carreras, who had written the successful Frankenstein adaption, returned to try his hand at this new villain. Director Terence Fisher, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Valerie Gaunt, composer James Bernard, and cinematographer Jack Asher, as well as other Hammer regulars, also returned to showcase their talents again.

3. The script cut-to-the-chase.

The filming schedule was 25 days with a budget of 82 pounds. As such, the film didn’t have the luxury of expensive locations, and characters were removed to keep the focus on the story essentials. “It wasn’t a matter of what to retain, but what to throw out,” screenwriter James Carreras stated. Despite the challenge, he found new heights to horror.

4. Hammer gave their Dracula bite.

Due to budget restriction and their own tastes, Hammer ditched Dracula’s ability to turn into a bat and climb walls. Instead, they made their villain younger and were the first to have Dracula bear fangs (though other versions showed fangs). While posters exaggerated the fangs’ length, they were actually one slightly bigger than Lee’s teeth.

5. Lee’s Dracula cried.

Though not on purpose. Lee wore red contact lenses for his character, and they were so uncomfortable that sometimes it appeared he was crying. He also walked into people and set pieces because he couldn’t see.

6. Censors tried to take a bite out of Dracula.

Among the scenes considered problematic were the violent vampire slayings, a seduction, and a particularly plot-important death. Dracula’s screenwriter James Carreras passionately argued to keep each element in his film, but eventually a compromise was reached with the censors that kept the film’s integrity intact.

7. Dracula was a box office smash.

The film made $56 thousand in three weeks, and Universal’s president at the time told Lee that the film saved their studio from bankruptcy. Dracula was a career defining role for Lee, and he appeared as Dracula in nine sequels.