Though not nearly as incompetent and uninteresting as Tod Browning’s 1931 interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the first colour version brings nothing new to the table. I do appreciate the elaborate nature of the sets, and I do like both Cushings and Lee in their respective roles. Just for such a familiar story it feel so incredibly by the numbers, and the film’s only potential gateway to making an interesting comment, or at least entertaining take on the vampire myth is crushed by the time it was made. I don’t entirely buy this, as strict censorship laws have never been enough to stifle sensuality or at least sexual tension, I mean, made exactly ten years beforehand, Black Narcissus has more sex appeal in any single scene than the entire length of this picture. Though, perhaps… that’s an exaggeration. There is a single moment that I love, I’ll get to it in a bit.
Again, like with the 1931 Dracula, I dislike the change in script… though this one is not nearly as clumsy. It mostly comes down to the change in the female role, which I like so much in both Nosferatus and even Coppola’s version. As exciting as the final fight between Van Helsing and Dracula is, I’d like to see some power restored to the women. Even as vampires, the women are so subservient and relatively… forgive the pun, “lifeless”. At least Lucy is given a little more meat this time, opposed to Browning’s. While not as visually stimulating as I’d have hoped, seeing her actually lure away children in her white dress adds a little more visual oomph. Going back to the lack of sexual tension, the film really misses the boat in exploring what is set up as an interesting idea. When infected by Dracula, the women become SO much more animated in spite of physically becoming weaker. I’m unfortunately dwelling on this aspect so much because it strikes me as the only aspect of the film that could have been a chance to explore something new or interesting. It’s too faithful, and too clean. It lacks any kind of nuance or subtext that I’m just left starving for something more.
There is one SINGLE moment that I loved, and yet again, it’s about the sex. Dracula shows up in Mina’s room one night, and he lies on top of her, and before biting her neck he caresses her face. This is the kind of stuff I want dammit! The moment is all too short though, and really emphasizes the rest of the film’s failure. I don’t think this is a bad film, it’s actually very competently made, but it simply does not appeal to my interests and my thirst for a little something extra. Unfortunately, as one of the most appreciated film in the Hammer oeuvre, I’m afraid that I’m only doomed to more mediocrity from the famed British studio.