In 1885, Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at the castle of Count Dracula to be its librarian. He meets a young woman who says she is a prisoner and begs for help. Dracula (Christopher Lee) arrives to meet him and takes him to his room. Harker’s diary reveals to us that he is a vampire-slayer and has come to destroy Dracula. The woman appears again and bites Harker’s neck, but Dracula drags him off as Harker passes out.
The next day, he finds bite-marks on his neck, writes in his diary, and hides the book outside the castle. He enters the crypt and finds Dracula and the vampire woman in their coffins. He stakes the woman and she dies instantly of old age, but Dracula is no longer in his coffin. In fact, he shuts the crypt door and traps Harker inside. Days later, Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) arrives, looking for Harker, and an innkeeper’s daughter gives him Harker’s journal. Arriving at the castle, Van Helsing finds it deserted, though he discovers a portrait of Harker’s fiancée Lucy Holmwood (Carol Marsh). He finds Harker in Dracula’s coffin, now a vampire, and stakes him before leaving.
In Karlstadt, he reveals Harker’s death to Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) and Mina (Melissa Stribling), Lucy’s brother and sister-in-law. Lucy has the mark of the vampire on her neck. Dracula arrives soon after that and bites her again. Mina asks Van Helsing’s help, but Lucy tells the maid Gerda (Olga Dickie) to remove the garlic protecting her and she is found dead. Van Helsing turns over the journal to Arthur. Three days later, the vampire Lucy lures Gerda’s daughter Tania (Janina Faye) to a graveyard where Lucy’s tomb is empty. Van Helsing repels her with a cross. Van Helsing wants to use her to track Dracula, but Arthur refuses and Van Helsing stakes her.
Van Helsing and Arthur travel to Ingolstadt in search of Dracula’s coffin. Dracula lures Mina to an undertaker’s business on Karlstadt, where Dracula is waiting for her. Arthur tries to give her a cross for safety, but it burns her. Van Helsing gives her a blood transfusion. Dracula’s coffin is found empty in the cellar. Dracula has vanished with Mina. They chase Dracula to his castle, where he tries to bury Mina alive but is interrupted by Van Helsing and Arthur. Van Helsing tears down the curtains and lets in the sunlight and makes a cross out of two candlesticks. Dracula crumbles into dust, but Mina recovers and her scars fade.
The film was directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster. Its British name was Dracula, but it was called Horror of Dracula in the US so it would not be confused with the Universal Pictures effort. The film added fangs, red contact lenses, wooden stakes and decolletage to the sub-genre—not to mention Christopher Lee’s brooding sexuality and Dracula as a tragic figure. The critics raved and the film garnered 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Christopher Lee’s Dracula cape was found in 2007 in a London costume shop after going missing for thirty years. Lee had only sixteen lines in the film, during seven minutes of screen-time and speaks only to Jonathan Harker. He received 750 pounds for the role and the movie made 25 million dollars.
Peter Cushing played Van Helsing or a descendant in five movies. Sequels to Horror of Dracula include Brides of Dracula in 1960 (No Dracula, but Cushing appears as Van Helsing), Dracula Prince of Darkness in 1966 (with Christopher Lee), Dracula has Risen from the Grave in 1968 (also with Lee), Taste the Blood of Dracula in 1970 (also with Lee), Scars of Dracula in 1970 (with both Lee and Cushing) Dracula AD 1972 in 1972 (also with Lee and Cushing), The Satanic Rites of Dracula in 1977 (Christopher Lee as Dracula for the last time), and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in 1974 (with Peter Cushing, but it is more a kung-fu movie than a horror flick.