THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)
Welcome back to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.
Today we look at the Hammer classic, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), the first time Peter Cushing played Dr. Van Helsing in the movies, and also of course the first time Christopher Lee played Dracula.
While Cushing does have some neat lines as Van Helsing, none of them are spoken to Dracula, as one of the fun parts of this movie is that these two central characters don’t meet until the end of the film, and at that point, they’re involved in a fight to the death. Throughout all of HORROR OF DRACULA, it’s a chase, as Van Helsing is constantly pursuing Dracula, and he never quite catches up to him, as Dracula always remains a step ahead, until the film’s riveting climax, when Van Helsing pursues Dracula into his castle, and it’s there inside Castle Dracula where the two adversaries finally confront each other for the first time.
But before this, Van Helsing enjoys some notable lines. Here’s a look at some of Peter Cushing’s more memorable lines of dialogue in HORROR OF DRACULA, screenplay by Jimmy Sangster:
When we first see Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) in the movie, he’s following upon the heels of his friend and colleague Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) who had already arrived at Castle Dracula, as part of their plan to destroy the undead vampire. Van Helsing arrives at the inn and engages in a conversation with the landlord (George Woodbridge) when he spies fresh garlic flowers displayed around the room.
VAN HELSING: What are you afraid of?
LANDLORD: I don’t understand you.
VAN HELSING: Why all these garlic flowers? And over the window? And up here? They’re not for decoration, are they?
LANDLORD: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
VAN HELSING: I think you do. And I think you know something about my friend. He came here with a purpose: to help you.
LANDLORD: We haven’t asked for any help.
VAN HELSING: You need it all the same.
LANDLORD: Look, sir, you’re a stranger here in Klausenberg. Some things are best left alone, such as interfering in things that are beyond are powers.
VAN HELSING: Please don’t misunderstand me. This is more than a superstition, I know. The danger is very real. If the investigation that Mr. Harker and I are engaged upon is successful, not only you but the whole world will benefit. Castle Dracula is somewhere here in Klausenberg. Will you tell me how I get there?
LANDLORD: You ordered a meal, sir. As an innkeeper, it’s my duty to serve you. When you’ve eaten, I’ll ask you to go and leave us in peace.
In one of Cushing’s best scenes as Van Helsing, after rescuing Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) and young Tania (Janine Faye) from the clutches of the vampire Lucy (Carol Marsh), he approaches little Tania, and in his gentle reassuring manner sees to it that she’s okay, since she had witnessed the shocking scene of his fighting Lucy off with a crucifix.
VAN HELSING: Put this on (puts his coat on her).
TANIA: Please, I want to go home.
VAN HELSING: And so you shall. I’ll just go and fetch Mr. Holmwood and then we can all go home together.
TANIA: Not Aunt Lucy.
VAN HELSING: No, not Aunt Lucy. Now you sit there, and be a good girl. There, you look like a Teddy Bear now. Will you wear this pretty thing? (Puts a crucifix around her neck). There. Isn’t that lovely?
VAN HELSING: Now, you promise not to run away?
TANIA: I promise.
VAN HELSING: If you watch over there (points) you’ll see the sun come up. Keep warm.
And of course the goof here is that Van Helsing makes reference to Tania “looking like a Teddy Bear,” which is an anachronism, since this story takes place in 1885 and the term “Teddy Bear” didn’t come into use until 1902.
Moments later, standing by Lucy’s coffin, Van Helsing has this exchange with Arthur Holmwood:
VAN HELSING: You understand now?
ARTHUR (nods): But why Lucy?
VAN HELSING: Because of Jonathan. You read my note in his diary about the woman he found at Klausenberg. This is Dracula’s revenge. Lucy is to replace that woman.
ARTHUR: Oh, no!
VAN HELSING: I’ve watched her tomb each night, since she was interred three days ago. Tonight she ventured out for the first time. Holmwood, I know your one wish is that Lucy should rest in peace. I promise to fulfill that wish, but first, if I have your consent, she can lead us to Dracula.
ARTHUR: How can you suggest such a thing? That she should be possessed by this evil for another second? And what about Gerda’s child out there? And the others she will defile? Oh no, I couldn’t, I couldn’t!
VAN HELSING: Of course. Will you take that child home and then meet me back here in about an hour’s time? It’s all right. It’s nearly dawn. She won’t leave her coffin again.
And when Arthur returns, Van Helsing explains to him that he needs to drive a wooden stake through Lucy’s heart:
ARTHUR: Is there no other way?
(Van Helsing shakes his head.)
ARTHUR: But it’s horrible!
VAN HELSING: Please try and understand. This is not Lucy, the sister you loved. It’s only a shell, possessed and corrupted by the evil of Dracula. To liberate her soul and give it eternal peace, we must destroy that shell for all time. Believe me, there is no other way.
What follows is one of the movie’s bloodiest and most violent scenes, as Van Helsing does indeed drive a wooden stake into Lucy’s heart. What’s neat about this scene is in vampire films prior to this one, the staking scenes tended to occur off camera, and they certainly weren’t shot with the type of graphic effects used here. Sure, these effects seem tame today, but in 1958, they were shocking.
HORROR OF DRACULA is also blessed with frequent moments of well-timed humor, like in this scene where Van Helsing is speaking into a 19th century recording device, and he’s interrupted by a porter who’s confused when he enters the room and finds Van Helsing alone, when he clearly heard Van Helsing speaking to someone.
VAN HELSING: Anything the matter? What is it?
PORTER: Well, sir, to tell you the truth, when I was outside I thought I heard you— talking to someone.
VAN HELSING: Of course you did. I was talking to myself.
We finish with a line from near the end of the film, after Dracula (Christopher Lee) has put the bite on Arthur’s wife Mina (Melissa Stribling). Van Helsing and Holmwood plan to stand watch outside the house all night in order to catch Dracula when he arrives to bite Mina again.
ARTHUR: You said Lucy would lead us to Dracula. Why didn’t I listen to you? This would never have happened!
VAN HELSING: You mustn’t blame yourself for that, but you must have the courage to let Mina lead us now. We’ll give her every protection we can. Tonight we’ll watch the windows of her room. They face two sides of the house, don’t they?
VAN HELSING: I know I ask a great deal of you. But you mustn’t weaken now! We have it within our power to rid the world of this evil. (hands a crucifix to Arthur) And with God’s help, we’ll succeed.
And with that, we wrap up another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING. Until next time when we’ll look at other memorable quotes from another Peter Cushing movie, thanks for reading!