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Jimmy Sangster's original shooting script for The Horror of Dracula joins a growing catalogue of screenplays now available for fans and film students.

Book Review: The Horror of Dracula Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, Edited by Philip J. Riley

“Standing in the door to the hall is COUNT DRACULA. A tall man, his face is thin and saturnine, with deep set eyes, high cheekbones, aquiline nose, high forehead topped by jet black hair. When he speaks we may notice that his two canine teeth are slightly longer than normal, and definitely more pointed. One gets the impression that unless he makes a conscious effort to the contrary, these teeth would lay along his lower lip. As it is he keeps them well concealed, except when he talks. He is wearing complete and unrelieved black, a costume cut in the severest lines. Over his suit he wears a long black cloak with a high, pointed collar. He carries a black hat.”

Such is screenplay author Jimmy Sangster’s description of Count Dracula for the script for Hammer Films 1958 The Horror of Dracula. The second of Hammer’s series starring the then relatively unknown Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Horror followed the lead of 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein which established the formula that made the British film company the new force in classic horror films. In essence, a small studio with a very limited budget was beginning to put out product that didn’t look or feel like second-rate productions.

Fifty-four years later, the script to Horror is now part of a new series, that of editor Philip J. Riley’s ongoing editions of original movie scripts now available in print from Bear Manor Media. They range from Frankenstein, the original 1931 shooting script, to The Mummy’s Curse, the original 1944 shooting script, to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the original 1953 shooting script. According to the credits at the end of Horror, “Riley has also contributed to 12 film related books by various authors as well as numerous magazine articles and received the Count Dracula Society Award and was inducted into Universal’s Horror Hall of Fame and won the Halloween Book Festival 2011 award in the horror category.”

Clearly, Riley knows his stuff. Clearly, he also has access to quite a treasure trove of original scripts, including a number of “lost” screenplays that were written but never produced. For horror fans, it’s hard to imagine a true devotee of the genre who isn’t already assembling a collection of these publications.

But, as stated in a short note at the beginning of The Horror of Dracula, Riley sees a wider audience and purpose for these publications. In particular, students of the art of screenwriting can benefit from seeing the scripts for classic films and compare what was written with what we’ve seen on the screen. For Horror, for example, Riley included a “Production Background” essay by Ronald V. Borst which was revised from a 1977 analysis first published in Photon magazine. It establishes the historical contexts for the film, discusses the on-set production, and then traces what followed in the various sequels. Of special interest are the notes clarifying the differences between the shooting script and what was ultimately filmed. Sangster’s screenplay for The Horror of Dracula, for example, ended with a rather undramatic death for the evil Count. But utilizing the set’s curtains and prop candlesticks, director Terence Fisher was able to use the sunrise for a more spectacular finish.

So monster movie fans and film buffs alike should enjoy and benefit from this contribution to a growing catalogue of once rare foundations for beloved movies. As Riley notes, while books are published in the hundreds to the millions, shooting scripts are normally printed in less than 50 copies. Now, we can read what the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing saw before they began to imagine how they’d breathe life, even if undead life, into the roles they were about to play. Me, I want to be horrified by Dracula again to see the glossy, erotic adventure with a fresh lens.

About Wesley Britton

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