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 creation, once again left a mark on film history with another outstanding portrayal of a monster.

1. Legal hoops existed even before it was announced.

As with their adaption of Frankenstein, Hammer had to make sure not to step on Universal’s toes by creating a vampire that was too close to their Dracula. Matters were further complicated since they also had to come to an agreement with Bram Stoker's widow. Hammer was able to finish the deal, but it was so complex that 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,  cinematographer Jack Asher, and other Hammer regulars 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. Given these restrictions, the movie 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, they still found new heights for 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 they were the first to have Dracula bear fangs (though other versions showed his fangs). While posters exaggerated the fangs’ length, they were actually only slightly bigger than Lee’s normal 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 properly.

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

Violent vampire slayings, a seduction scene, and an important plot-related death were considered problematic by censors. Dracula’s screenwriter James Carreras passionately argued to keep each element in his film, but eventually a compromise was reached that appeased their standards but also kept the film’s integrity intact.

7. Dracula was a box office bonanza.

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.