1. The Brides of Dracula(1960). This should be no surprise to readers of this blog. Indeed, I recently ranked Brides among my top five choices for the greatest horror films of all time. It's a first-rate affair from start to finish with strong performances, interesting themes, and an exciting, inventive climax. The only thing it's missing is Count Dracula--but David Peel's Baron Meinster is a worthy substitute. Less physically threatening than Christopher Lee's vampire, the charming, handsome Meinster may be a more dangerous adversary. One of the film's best scenes is when the sweet Marianne introduces her paternal friend Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to her new boyfriend.
Dracula is staked--but not for long.
2. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave(1968). Vastly underrated, this lively tale has a revived Dracula (Lee) seeking revenge against a Monsignor who has "desecrated" his ancestral home by performing an exorcism. The theme of religion combating the evil of vampirism is not an uncommon one, but rarely has it received such a rich treatment. The film also benefits from director Freddie Francis' brilliant cinematography, some fabulous rooftop sets, and a solid cast. Veronica Carlson may be the most fetching of all Hammer heroines (well, let's call it a tie with Caroline Munro..and Valerie Leon).
Van Helsing's makeshift crucifix.
3. Horror of Dracula (aka Dracula) (1958).The one that started it all is an effective adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. The opening scenes with Jonathan Harker at Castle Dracula and the climatic confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing are marvelous. My only complaint is that the pacing drags in the middle when the action shifts to England. Still, it set the standard not only for the rest of the Dracula series, but for all the Hammer vampire films that followed it. James Bernard's exceptional score would become very familiar to Hammer fans.
John Forbes Robertson as Dracula.
4. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Who would have thought that a mashup of vampires, kung fu, and The Seven Samurai would be so much fun? When Dracula and some unconventional vampires take over a small Chinese village, its residents send for visiting lecturer Van Helsing (Cushing). The journey to the village, punctuated by some well-staged fight scenes, sets the table for an all-out climax that ends with another Dracula-Van Helsing face-off. Be sure to skip the heavily re-edited version called The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula.
Barbara Shelley as a vampire.
5. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1964). Although well-made and sporting an impressive cast, the direct sequel to Horror of Dracula lacks inspiration. Christopher Lee seldom has much dialogue in the Dracula films, but, in this one, he has none! The premise, which injects attractive English tourists into the Transylvanian landscape, seems recycled from the previous year's superior Kiss of the Vampire. Still, there are some nice touches, such as how Barbara Shelley goes from a dull lass to a smoking-hot vampire.
Lee strikes an imposing pose.
6. Scars of Dracula (1970). An improvement over the same year's Taste the Blood of Dracula, the sixth film in the series offers little of interest other than a flashy finale and a creepy shot of Dracula climbing down a castle wall, face first, as he did in Bram Stoker's novel. In The Films of Christopher Lee, the actor said: "Instead of writing a story around the character (Dracula), they wrote a story and fit the character into it."
Count Dracula--corporate CEO.
7. The Satanic Rites of Dracula(1973). As modern-day variations go, I like the idea of Count Dracula as a businessman who recruits four influential blokes to help him take over the world. I don't like the idea of Drac releasing a strain of bubonic plague as some kind of revenge on mankind. The resulting film reminds me of a lesser episode of The Avengers that sorely needs Steed and Mrs. Peel.
Cushing as a Van Helsing descendant.
8. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). My main problem with this entry is that it came two years too late. The 1970 Count Yorga, Vampire had already mixed vampires and contemporary youths. Hence, there was nothing jarring about seeing Count Dracula in modern-day London. The film does get credit for pairing Lee's Dracula and Cushing's Van Helsing (a Van Helsing descendant actually) for the first time since the 1958 original.
Dracula on the verge of being destroyed.
9. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). There was no Dracula in the original film treatment for this fifth series installment. The intention was for Ralph Bates' character to be killed and then resurrected as a vampire to avenge his death. However, when Christopher Lee agreed to appear in the film, the script was rewritten and Bates' character stayed dead--with Dracula avenging him. The premise, which revolves around a sort of Hellfire Club, is initially interesting. However, it soon evolves into a straight revenge tale and ties Satanic Rites for the worst climax in the series.