IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963)

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Since Christopher Lee was not interested in playing Dracula again after Hammer Films’ megahit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), (it would take him a few more years to change his mind) Hammer made a sequel without him, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), in which Peter Cushing reprised his role as Doctor Van Helsing.

And after the success of THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, Hammer decided to follow it up with another vampire movie, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963), this one without either Lee or Cushing, and without their A-List director, Terence Fisher.  It was directed by Don Sharp.

All this being said, while not as highly regarded as some of Hammer’s best vampire movies, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is nonetheless a well-made, well-acted, and extremely atmospheric vampire movie.  If not for a poorly conceived and executed conclusion, it would have been even better.

KISS OF THE VAMPIRE opens with a chilling pre-credit sequence which is quintessential Hammer.  As the village priest leads a burial ceremony, complete with grieving townspeople, a man Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), arrives upon the scene.  Taking a shovel, he drives it into the loose soil of the girl’s grave, causing a fountain of bright red blood to gush from underneath the ground.  Cue James Bernard’s rousing music score.  It’s a perfect beginning to another atmospheric Hammer vampire film.

A young couple Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel) on their honeymoon arrive in a small European village, stranded there temporarily when their car runs out of petrol.  They are invited to the castle overlooking the village, and there they meet their host, Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) who introduces the couple to his family, which consists of his son and daughter, and he promises to get them some petrol so they can continue their journey.

In the meantime, Dr. Ravna invites Gerald and Marianne to a party at the castle.  It seems like the perfect idea, until Gerald and Marianne realize that their hosts— and in fact all the guests— are vampires!  We’ll take that petrol now, thank you very much!

When Marianne is abducted by this undead family, Gerald turns to the knowledgable Professor Zimmer for help in saving Marianne and destroying the vampires.

KISS OF THE VAMPIRE has a lot of things going for it.  First off, it looks fabulous.  In terms of atmosphere and capturing that whole vampire feel, it’s up there with THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).  Director Don Sharp deserves a lot of credit for the way this one looks.

And while its story is nothing new— young couple runs afoul of a vampire in a remote European village— there are parts of it that are refreshing.  For instance, instead of one vampire, we have a family of vampires, and eventually an entire congregation of vampires.

The Ravna family is charming, hospitable, and friendly.  They don’t seem like vampires at all.  It’s easy to see how Gerald and Marianne let their guard down so easily.  And unlike the traditional black and red garb that Dracula wears, Ravna and his vampires wear white robes.

Producer Anthony Hinds wrote the screenplay under his pen name “John Elder.”  Hinds wrote a lot of Hammer Films, including some of their best, films like THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964), and DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), to name just a few.  It’s an intriguing screenplay.

There are things, however, that don’t work all that well.

For starters, Noel Willman is no Christopher Lee.  His vampire Dr. Ravna is a little too non-vampiric. He comes off as polite and gentlemanly, with just a touch of vulgarity.  He’s hardly sensual, and the scenes where he commands his vampire women to do his bidding are difficult to believe.  The best part of his performance is it’s easy to believe when village officials refute accusations that he’s a vampire since he’s the area’s most upstanding citizen.  Willman pulls off this side of Ravna’s personality with ease.  The problem is he doesn’t do much with the other side, the darker side.  He’s not much of a vampire.

Barry Warren and Jacquie Wallis are both rather wooden as Ravna’s adult vampire children, Carl and Sabena.  The best vampire performance in the movie belongs to Isobel Black as Tania, one of the village girls held captive by the Ravnas, who is turned into a vampire.  Black’s Tania is sensuous, mesmerizing, and eager to drink blood.

Edward de Souza makes for an amiable hero as Gerald Harcourt, although he does tend to overract a bit at times, something he didn’t do in his earlier Hammer Film appearance, in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

Jennifer Daniel is less effective as heroine Marianne Harcourt.  She’s rather blah.

And as the main hero, the eccentric Professor Zimmer, Clifford Evans does an adequate job, although just as Noel Willman is no Christopher Lee, Evans is no Peter Cushing either, and Zimmer is no Van Helsing.  KISS OF THE VAMPIRE definitely misses a strong presence like Cushing or Lee.  But Evans is a very good actor, and in the scenes where Zimmer is not drunk, Evans makes him an effective vampire hunter.

While director Don Sharp makes KISS OF THE VAMPIRE a very atmospheric vampire movie, he doesn’t handle the horror scenes as well.  The scene where Harcourt and Professor Zimmer rescue Marianne from Ravna’s clutches lacks punch, and there really aren’t any memorable shock scenes in this one, other than the pre-credit sequence.

Then there’s the ending.

The conclusion where Professor Zimmer uses a black mass ritual to destroy the vampires was originally conceived for THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).  The vampire in that movie, Baron Meinster, was supposed to have been torn apart by a horde of vampire bats, unleashed by a ritual performed by Dr. Van Helsing, but Peter Cushing balked at this idea, claiming that Van Helsing wouldn’t resort to the dark arts to defeat a vampire, a decision I believe he was spot-on with.

So writer Hinds went with that idea for his ending to KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.  While it’s an intriguing idea, mostly because having bats attack and destroy your vampires is pretty unique when it comes to vampire movie endings, I’m still not sure I understand it. Professor Zimmer says his ritual will in effect turn the forces of darkness on each other, but I’ve never understood why this happens.  What is it that Zimmer does that makes the vampire bats attack the vampires?  Are they confused?  Vengeful that the vampires allowed Zimmer to perform this ritual?  It’s never clearly explained in the movie.

The sequence is ultimately done in by inferior special effects.  The incoming swarm of vampire bats descending upon the Ravna castle is filmed with cheap animation, looking like the bats in SCOOBY DOO cartoons.

The bats inside the castle look just as fake and don’t look any better than the bats used in the old Universal Dracula movies.  In fact, in color, they actually look a bit worse.

As such, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE has never been one of my favorite Hammer movies.  It’s not bad, but it lacks the sensuality and horror usually associated with the best of the Hammer vampire flicks.

Then again, if the vampiric Tania were to show up at your bedroom window in the dead of night, I doubt you’d be able to turn her away.  In fact, I’d wager to guess you’d be powerless to prevent her from giving you the KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.

Wild garlic, anyone?

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GORGON (1964)

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Hammer Films’ THE GORGON (1964) reunited stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee with director Terence Fisher for the first time in five years, as they hadn’t made a movie together since THE MUMMY (1959).

Yup, in the late 1950s, these three had taken the world by storm with their megahits for Hammer:   THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), and THE MUMMY (1959).  But in the years afterwards, Cushing and Lee largely avoided horror films, although Cushing made a couple, and while Fisher continued to direct quality horror movies for Hammer like THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) neither of these films performed well at the box office.

So, when Hammer finally reunited its A Team, there were high expectations.  The result, THE GORGON, is a movie that comes oh so close to being another Hammer classic, and while it’s a very good horror movie, it falls just short of being a great one.

It’s funny, but the best and worst parts about THE GORGON are the same thing:  the gorgon!  The best part about THE GORGON is its subject matter, which for Hammer, a studio whose bread and butter had been its remakes of the old Universal horror movies, was a nice change.  Gone were Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy, and in their place was a new monster, taken from mythology, the gorgon, who turns her victims to stone, and with this new monster the movie also told an original story.

But the worst part of THE GORGON is also the gorgon, and that’s because the special effects here are abysmal.  We don’t actually see the face of the gorgon until the end of the movie, but once we do, it’s laughable.  Supposedly, a woman with snakes on her head was too much for make-up artist Roy Ashton to pull off successfully, which is a real shame since the rest of the movie plays like a superior thriller, and then it comes to a crashing halt when you see the actual effect.  As Christopher Lee has been quoted as saying, “The only thing wrong with THE GORGON is the gorgon!”

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It’s also kinda hard to believe, since Hammer’s monster make-up had always been excellent— Lee as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Oliver Reed as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, for example.  You just don’t expect the monster to look so bad in a Hammer Film, especially in one where everything else about it is so very good.

THE GORGON takes place in the early 20th century in a small European village known as Vandorf, where a series of murders has occurred where the victims have all turned to stone.  Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe), whose son was one of the most recent victims, arrives in Vandorf to investigate his son’s death, which has been reported as a suicide, a claim Heitz refutes.  Heitz’ investigation uncovers reports that a gorgon, Megera, had settled in the village years ago and legend has it that it still prowls the countryside at night turning its victims to stone.

Heitz visits an old acquaintance, Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), a brain specialist who practices medicine in Vandorf, seeking his support, but Namaroff dismisses Heitz’ claims as pure fantasy. When Heitz himself falls victim to the gorgon, his second son Paul (Richard Pasco) arrives to seek answers about both his father’s and brother’s deaths, and he too is met with resistance from the town’s authorities and from Dr. Namaroff.  He does befriend Namaroff’s beautiful young assistant Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley), and she promises to help him learn the truth.

Paul receives more help when his professor from college, Professor Karl Meister (Christopher Lee) arrives in Vandorf to lend his support.  Together, they attempt to solve the mystery of the gorgon.

THE GORGON is a beautifully shot atmospheric horror movie, another gem by director Terence Fisher.  Its strength is its creepy atmosphere, especially the scenes inside the haunted castle overlooking the village of Vandorf, and its scenes of suspense, both expertly handled by Terence Fisher.  One of the more suspenseful scenes has Paul and Meister breaking into Dr. Namaroff’s home looking for evidence, and having to hide when Namaroff arrives.

The only thing lacking in this one is scenes of frightening horror.  Terence Fisher’s best horror films all have scenes like this— the Creature’s first appearance in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the staking of Lucy in HORROR OF DRACULA— but his lesser films tend to lack this visceral punch.  THE GORGON, as atmospheric and haunting as it is, lacks jolt and could really have used an infusion of terror.

For me, the best part of THE GORGON has always been the reuniting of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  Their presence definitely lifts this movie.  With Dr. Namaroff, Cushing pretty much plays a variation of Baron Frankenstein.  He actually makes Namaroff even colder than Frankenstein, as in general, Cushing always instilled some saving charm for the Baron to keep him from being an outright villain, except for that one time in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).  Here, Namaroff has no charm.  He’s actually quite the unlikable character.

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Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in THE GORGON (1964).

Christopher Lee is cast against type, as he plays the energetic and very charming Professor Meister.  Under a gray wig and beard, he looks like Albert Einstein’s cousin.  It’s a fun role for Lee, and it’s definitely fun seeing him play the hero, going against not only the gorgon but Cushing’s villainous Namaroff.

The only drawback is Cushing and Lee don’t have a lot of scenes together in this one.  Had they been in this one together more, it would have been an even better movie.

Barabara Shelley, always a class act, is very good as Namaroff’s assistant Carla, the woman who means well in spite of her sinister secret.  Yikes!  Michael Goodliffe is also solid as Professor Jules Heitz.  He provides a strong presence early on, so much so that his early death comes as a surprise.  You have the feeling that he’s going to be in this story for the long haul, but then the gorgon had other ideas.

The rest of the cast is rather wooden and unforgettable, although Patrick Troughton shows up as Police Inspector Kanoff.

And again, by far, the appearance of the gorgon at the end of the movie is the weakest part of THE GORGON.  The rest of the film is seeped in seriousness, and then you see the monster and it looks like an amateur student special effect.  Both Terence Fisher and Hammer stumbled in a similar way several years earlier with their Sherlock Holmes movie THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959). HOUND is a fabulous superior movie, one of Hammer’s best, and yet in the film’s climax the “hound from hell” is incredibly fake looking and a major disappointment.  However, it’s not as damaging as the effects in THE GORGON, because HOUND was a Sherlock Holmes movie, and the hound, phony looking or not, was not the focus of that movie, which was dominated by Peter Cushing’s masterful performance as Sherlock Holmes.  The gorgon in THE GORGON was a major character and as such, its lackluster appearance really takes this one down several notches.

But back to the plus side, my favorite Hammer composer James Bernard provided another exceptional music score for this one.

As a fan of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and all things Hammer, I really like THE GORGON.  However, it’s not on the same level as Hammer’s initial hits nor is it one of the best horror movies of the decade.  But it is an atmospheric original horror tale directed by a master of the genre, Terence Fisher, and it stars Cushing and Lee.  You could do a lot worse than THE GORGON.

Just don’t expect to turn to stone when at long last in the film’s conclusion you finally behold the creature’s face.  If you’re reduced to anything, it’ll be tears from the laughter at seeing so goofy a visage.

—END—

 

 

 

 

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Lee, Cushing, and Price Talk Horror

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The following mock interview uses real quotes spoken by horror icons BORIS KARLOFF, BELA LUGOSI, LON CHANEY JR., CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, and VINCENT PRICE.  The quotes and answers, therefore, are real.

My interview, obviously, is not.

That being said, I hope you will read on as I “interview” these horror stars with questions on their thoughts on horror.

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Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to a special Halloween column.

Here with me today to discuss horror are six of horror movies’ biggest stars, BORIS KARLOFF, BELA LUGOSI, LON CHANEY JR., CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, and VINCENT PRICE.  Thank you all for joining me tonight.

Let’s get right to it.  Your thoughts on the horror genre and horror movies.  Boris, we’ll start with you.

BORIS KARLOFF:  Thank you, Michael.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  What does horror mean to you?

BORIS KARLOFF:  Horror means something revolting.

Anybody can show you a pailful of innards. But the object of the roles I played is not to turn your stomach – but merely to make your hair stand on end.

CHRISTOPHER LEE (to Karloff):  You’ve actually said you don’t like the word “horror.”  You’ve said the same thing, Lon.  (Chaney nods).  And I agree with the both of you.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  They said that?

CHRISTOPHER LEE:  Oh yes.  Both Lon and Boris here don’t like the word “horror”. They– like I— go for the French description: “the theatre of the fantastique.”

LON CHANEY JR.:  But on the other hand, nothing is more natural to me than horror.

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Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi

PETER CUSHING:  Strangely enough, I don’t like horror pictures at all. I love to make them because they give pleasure to people, but my favorite types of films are much more subtle than horror.

I like to watch films like BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI (1957), THE APARTMENT (1960), or lovely musicals.

VINCENT PRICE:  I sometimes feel that I’m impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it.

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Peter Cushing and Vincent Price

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Second and final question tonight.  Your thoughts on the roles you have played?

BELA LUGOSI:  Every actor’s greatest ambition is to create his own, definite and original role, a character with which he will always be identified. In my case, that role was Dracula.

And Dracula never ends. I don’t know if I should call it a fortune or a curse, but Dracula ever ends.

CHRISTOPHER LEE:  There are many vampires in the world today – you only have to think of the film business.  (Everyone laughs)

Seriously, though, I’ve always acknowledged my debt to Hammer. I’ve always said I’m very grateful to them. They gave me this great opportunity, made me a well-known face all over the world for which I am profoundly grateful.

PETER CUSHING:  Agreed.  I mean, who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein so that’s the one I do.

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Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing

LON CHANEY JR.:   All the best of the monsters played for sympathy. That goes for my father,myself and all the others. They all won the audience’s sympathy.

The Wolf Man didn’t want to do all those bad things. He was forced into them.

VINCENT PRICE:  I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge.

BORIS KARLOFF:  For me it was pure luck.

You could heave a brick out of the window and hit ten actors who could play my parts. I just happened to be on the right corner at the right time.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And often that’s really what it comes down to.  Being in the right place at the right time, and of course, being persistent.

Thank you gentlemen, for joining me this evening.

And thank you all for reading!

Happy Halloween!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

SHOCK SCENES: DRACULA’S DEMISE – A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings – Part 3

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SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings

Part 3

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to Part 3 of our look at the endings to the Hammer DRACULA series, where we examine how Dracula met his demise in the various Hammer Dracula movies. Previously we looked at the endings to the first four Hammer Dracula pics.  Here in Part 3 we’ll look at the endings to the next two films in the series, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) and SCARS OF DRACULA (1970).

And remember, if you haven’t seen these films, there are major spoilers here, so proceed with caution.

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TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969)

Give credit to director Peter Sasdy.  With the exception of the first two Hammer Dracula films by Terence Fisher, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is probably the best looking of the Hammer Draculas.  The cinematography is clear, crisp, rich and colorful, with deep dark reds and blues spilling onto the screen like a bruised corpse dripping blood.

While most of the Hammer Dracula sequels are shot in a way that make them look like horror films, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA looks like a PBS drama.  The cinematography here is simply a step above the rest.

And Christopher Lee has never looked better as Dracula. Gone are the red bloodshot eyes (for the most part – they’re back in some scenes) and pasty white face shot with green light in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), and in their place is a more noble and princely looking Lee.  In fact, at times Sasdy’s camera makes Lee look about ten years younger.  Other than way back in HORROR OF DRACULA, when he was only 36, Christopher Lee is probably photographed at his handsomest as Dracula here in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA.

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) in the desecrated church in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969).

 

The film gets its title because in this one, a young devil worshipper Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates) gets hold of a vial of Dracula’s blood, spilled after the vampire was impaled on a cross at the end of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).  To resurrect Dracula, he mixes his own blood with Drac’s and then orders the men he has brought into his circle to drink it.  Hence the title.

While TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA may be richly photographed, it’s not my favorite of the Dracula sequels.  Its story doesn’t always makes sense, and its characters simply aren’t as likable or as developed as those in the previous films in the series.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA also has the strangest ending of the entire series.

Young Paul (Anthony Corland) attempts to rescue his girlfriend Alice (Linda Hayden) from the clutches of Dracula (Christopher Lee) who’s hiding out in a desecrated church.  Paul places crucifixes throughout the church and puts a white cloth over the altar.  As you might imagine, Dracula is none too happy about these changes, and there is a struggle.

Dracula flees to the upper level of the church to get away from Paul’s crosses, and when he smashes a stained-glass window, he turns to see the entire church lit with candles and looking like it’s ready for Sunday Mass.  It’s a miracle!  Unable to withstand this sudden burst of holiness, Dracula falls from his perch and proceeds to disintegrate into ashes once more.

Scratching your head?  Me, too, and I’ve seen this ending multiple times.  It appears as best as I can figure it, that in this movie, God destroys Dracula!  Yup, that’s about the size of it.  It’s a weird ending, and worse yet, it’s simply not very satisfying.  It also serves as proof that the characters in this movie aren’t up to the task of destroying Dracula, so, why destroy him at all?  I still think some of these Hammer Dracula sequels would have been even better had Dracula simply survived at the end.  It would have given these movies some very dark endings which would only have made them more memorable.

And while the special effects in the disintegration sequence are impressive, they lack the excitement and thrill of the effects in HORROR OF DRACULA.

It all makes for a very bizarre and rather disappointing ending.

 

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SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)

While TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA may have had the strangest ending to the series, the next movie, SCARS OF DRACULA, has the worst ending.

SCARS OF DRACULA was an attempt by Hammer to give Dracula more screen time, which is a rarity since even in the best of the Hammer Draculas, like HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), for example, Dracula just isn’t in the film very much.  The Hammer Draculas always made the most of Dracula’s brief screen time.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), Hammer’s biggest money-maker of all time, struck a nice balance with its Dracula scenes, and Dracula seemed to be in this one more than the other films.  On the other hand, it took Dracula nearly half of TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA to show up, which no doubt left viewers disappointed, regardless of how richly photographed that movie was.

In this regard, giving Dracula more screen time, SCARS OF DRACULA  succeeds.  Dracula (Christopher Lee) shows up within the first few minutes of the film and is in this one quite a lot.  He also has a field day, as SCARS OF DRACULA is probably the most violent film in the series, as in addition to biting people on the neck, Dracula also whips, stabs, impales and brands his victims here.  Ouch!

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) doing his best Norman Bates impersonation as he stabs a victim in SCARS OF DRACULA (1970).

The other neat thing about this movie, and which makes it stand out from the rest of the Hammer Draculas, is the way Dracula appears and disappears. In the previous films, most of Draculas entrances were all highly dramatic, often with undead king baring his fangs and hissing in some genuine shock scenes.  Here, director Roy Ward Baker made the interesting choice never to show Dracula enter or exit a room.  Suddenly, he’s just standing there, and when a character turns around for a moment, he’s suddenly gone.  Even though it’s not the traditional Christopher Lee interpretation, it works.

So, for the most part, I really like SCARS OF DRACULA, even though its cinematography is vastly inferior to that of TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA.  More so, it’s inferior to the cinematography of the rest of the Hammer Dracula’s as well.  There’s something very rushed and cheap looking about this movie, which goes against the Hammer Films formula of making sure that at the very least their films looked like they had a high budget.

But the ending is the worst and takes the rest of the film down several notches.  Dracula is on the roof of his castle, once more battling a young man over his girlfriend.  Dracula needs some lessons on dating.  Anyway, Dracula grabs a spear and prepares to hurl it at his adversary when a lightning bolt zaps the spear and ignites Dracula in a fiery blaze.  So, in the last film Dracula was desroyed by God.  This time he’s done in by— the weather?   Yep, Dracula is struck down by Mother Nature.  How implausible is that?  If you can’t write characters who are worthy of destroying Dracula, just let him survive already!

Dracula bursts into flames and as he screams in agony, he’s filmed in ridiculous slow motion.  When he falls from the castle roof, the shot of him plunging down the side looks as realistic as one of the freefalls of Wile E. Coyote.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love SCARS OF DRACULA.  But I don’t like the ending.  At all.

So, that about wraps things up for Part 3 of our look at the endings to the Hammer DRACULA series.  Join me next time for Part 4, when we’ll look at the endings to the rest of the films in the series.

See you then!

And thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOCK SCENES: DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer DRACULA Endings- Part 2

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SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings

Part 2

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to Part 2 of our look at the endings to the Hammer DRACULA series, where we examine how Dracula met his demise in the various Hammer Dracula movies. In Part 1, we looked at the endings to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).  Now, it’s on to Part 2.

And remember, if you haven’t seen these films, there are major spoilers here, so proceed with caution.

 

DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)

Although THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) was a sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), it didn’t feature Christopher Lee.  DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS did.

And that’s because Lee had avoided reprising the role of Dracula like the plague to avoid being typecast, but after years of unrelenting Hammer pressure, he finally gave in and agreed to play the role again, providing fans a chance to be terrified once more by their favorite blood-sucking vampire.

DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS was released eight years after HORROR and the story takes place ten years after the events of the first movie.  It was once again directed by Hammer’s top director, Terence Fisher.  DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS probably comes closest to any of the other sequels to duplicating the feel of the original, although it certainly lacks its potency.

Dracula is absent for the entire first half of the movie, as the film uses this time to build up the dramatic rebirth of Dracula.  This in itself is a good idea, but the problem is, once resurrected, he’s only in the film for about 20 minutes before meeting his demise once again.  To me, Hammer would have been better served not to destroy Dracula at the end of every movie.  After all, he had survived hundreds of years before Van Helsing finally caught up with him and destroyed him, so wouldn’t it make sense if he survived that long again?  Wouldn’t it make him scarier if it really were that difficult to stop him?  Of course it would!  Plus, when Van Helsing defeated him, it made sense because Van Helsing was a brilliant scientist, a one-of-a-kind adversary for Dracula, but in the subsequent movies Dracula’s opponents  are less and less impressive, yet they still destroy him.  But I digress.

The ending to DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS is actually very memorable, but not quite as powerful or as visually impressive as the ending in HORROR.  Once more, Dracula is chased back to his castle, this time by the knowledgable Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) and the dashing young Englishman Charles Kent (Francis Matthews) as they try to rescue Kent’s wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) from Dracula.

As Dracula’s coffin lay on ice by the castle, having fallen there from the back of the horse-drawn coach at the end of the exciting chase, Charles attempts to drive a stake through Dracula’s heart before the sun goes down, but he’s too late.  Dracula bursts from his coffin and engages Charles in a physical battle on the ice.  Diana urges Father Sandor to shoot Dracula, but he tells her it would do no good, because as we all know, bullets cannot harm vampires.  But Diana grabs the rifle anyway and fires a shot, which rips a hole in the ice, which gives Father Sandor an idea:  according to vampire lore, vampires cannot cross running water (who knew!) and in this movie, they can’t swim, either!  How convenient!

So, Father Sandor shoots around the ice, allowing Charles to escape but trapping Dracula on the quickly sinking slab.  Dracula tries to hold on, but slides screaming into the underwater grave beneath the ice of Castle Dracula.  While it doesn’t contain the eye-popping special effects from the HORROR OF DRACULA ending, it’s still a pretty unique and impressive ending to a Dracula movie.  And director Terence Fisher gives it style, as the last part of Dracula to fall into the ice is his cape in a dramatic last shot.  We even get to see Dracula submerged in his icy grave as the end credits roll!

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) slips into his watery grave in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

It would also prove quite convenient for resurrecting Dracula.  After all, Dracula was reduced to ashes which blew away in the breeze in HORROR OF DRACULA.  It took half of DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS to set the events in motion for his resurrection.  It would be much easier in the next film.  And there would be a next film because DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS made lots of money at the box office.  There would be no turning back now for Christopher Lee and Hammer.

As Dracula movie endings go, the conclusion to DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS is very, very good.  Definitely worth a look.

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DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

The third Christopher Lee Dracula film for Hammer was the aptly titled DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).  Terence Fisher did not direct this movie, making it the first Hammer Dracula film that he did not direct.  In fact, Fisher wouldn’t direct any future Hammer Dracula films.  While he helmed HORROR OF DRACULA, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, and DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, from here on out Dracula would be in the hands of other directors.

For DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, it was Freddie Francis, a respected camera-man who also directed many horror movies.  While I’m not as big a fan of Francis’ work as I am Fisher’s, Francis struck gold here with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.  In terms of style, it doesn’t come close to the Fisher Dracula films, but it boasts a strong script by Anthony Hinds in spite of it being a simple revenge story.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE was so successful at the box office that it remains today Hammer Film’s biggest all-time money maker.  Dracula was Hammer’s bread and butter, and because of this, there would be four more Christopher Lee Dracula movies over the next five years.

Dracula (Christopher Lee) shows up much quicker this time around than he did in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS.  A pair of priests go to Castle Dracula to perform an exorcism to keep Dracula’s spirit confined forever, but one of the priests, a cowardly sort, loses his way (literally and figuratively) and slips and falls on some ice, banging his head, cracking the ice where we see Dracula resting below.  The blood from the priest’s head wound seeps below the ice and makes its way to Dracula’s lips, reviving him.

While I do like DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE a lot, its ending isn’t the strongest part of the movie.  It’s okay, but it certainly falls several notches below the endings in the previous movies.  This time the hero is young atheist Paul (Barry Andrews) who’s trying to rescue his girlfriend Maria (Veronica Carlson) from Dracula.

Dracula forces Maria to remove the cross by the door to his castle, placed there by the priests at the beginning of the movie. She throws it off a cliff, where it lands upright, which is about as realistic as having Dracula spend an entire movie chasing down Maria in the first place to get her to remove the cross from his front door when he could have hypnotized anyone from his neighborhood to do it in about a minute’s time.

Paul arrives, he scuffles with Dracula, and they both fall off the cliff.  Paul is fortunate enough to grab onto some bushes, breaking his fall, but Dracula is not so lucky, as he lands directly onto— you guessed it!— the cross sticking out of the ground.  Yup, Dracula is impaled on a cross.  Sure, it’s somewhate dramatic, although like I said, it’s rather far-fetched.  There’s lots of blood dripping from Dracula’s wound and eyes as the cowardly priest, who had been turned into Dracula’s slave, redeems himself by reciting a prayer to help destroy Dracula once again, and he is destroyed, this time being reduced— not to ashes– but to gallons of blood.

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) gets a bad case of heartburn in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).

Not a bad ending, but also not one of the best. Still, the rest of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is excellent, and this one may be the most satisfying and entertaining sequel of the entire series.

Okay, that’s it for now.  Join me next time for Part 3, when we look at the endings to the next films in the Hammer Dracula series, including TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969).

See you then!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOCK SCENES: DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer DRACULA Endings- Part 1

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) screams in agony in the conclusion to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings

Part 1

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome back to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at famous scenes in horror movie history.  Up today, a look at the Hammer DRACULA series, specifically the endings, those scenes where Dracula meets his demise, which is a strange thing when you think about it:  the King of the Undead is an undead, immortal, and yet at the end of every movie he’s thrust back down into the world of ashes and dust.  It’s a wonder how he survived so long in the first place!

Anyway, we’ll be looking at the various endings to these Dracula movies to see how Dracula met his end in each one.  So, if you haven’t seen these films, be forewarned, there are spoilers galore, so consider this a major spoiler alert.  If you have seen these films, read on and enjoy!

Here we go:

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HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

The first Hammer Dracula film, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)  is widely considered to be Hammer Films’ best movie, as well as one of the finest Dracula movies ever made.  A big reason for this is the ending. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) chases Dracula (Christopher Lee) into Castle Dracula.  They scuffle, and Dracula pins Van Helsing into a corner, but the clever doctor sees a sliver of sunlight shing through the curtains, and he climbs onto the long table, runs across it, and leaps up at the window, tearing the curtains down.

The sunlight knocks Dracula to the ground, and Van Helsing keeps him there by grabbing two candlesticks and using them to make a cross, forcing Dracula into the sunlight, where the shrieking vampire disintegrates into dust before our very eyes.

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This is one of those endings where once you see it, you never forget it.  Hands down, this is the best ending of any Dracula/vampire movie.  Ever.  Period.  Not even close.  If you have not seen HORROR OF DRACULA, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  The ending alone makes it worth it, and of course, fans know the rest of the movie is every bit as effective as its famous conclusion.

There’s lots to talk about here.  First off, the special effects, for 1958, are amazing.  Dracula’s disintegration looks horrific and authentic at the same time.  It’s all done with a series of cutaways.  The camera cuts back and forth between Dracula’s disintegration and Van Helsing’s reactions.  It’s all very quick, but effective.  The last stage is pretty much a dummy of a rotting Dracula head with red lights inside lighting up his eyes. It’s a really cool image.

Of course, for years, the original uncut ending was not shown to Western audiences, until just a few years ago (and I’ve written several blog posts on this along with the video links, so feel free to check them out.) when the uncut footage was discovered in a vault in Japan.  The footage, which shows a few more scenes of disintegration, as well as one very cool shot of Dracula clawing the flesh off his face— again, for 1958 these were some incredibly bold effects— was finally released to European audiences but for some reason has still not been included in U.S.versions.  That being said, I did include a link of this footage on my blog post so feel free to check it out.

Strangely, when Hammer chose to restore HORROR OF DRACULA several years ago and insert the “lost” scenes from the Japanese version, they didn’t include all the scenes. For some reason, there are still scenes from the finale in the Japanese version which did not make it into the recently restored print of the film.  I don’t know why they were not restored.  Anyway, if you check YouTube, you can sometimes find the complete ending from the Japanese version.

The other reason this ending stood out in 1958 was before this, the endings to the Universal DRACULA series had been pretty much anticlimactic.  Heck, Dracula was staked off camera in the original Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and none of the subsequent Universal films contained dramatic endings, but that’s a story for another column.

A few other items about the ending to HORROR OF DRACULA:  supposedly, it was Peter Cushing himself who suggested the infamous run across the table and leap to tear down the curtains from the window.  The original script had Van Helsing taking out a crucifix from inside his coat to ward off Dracula, but as Cushing once put it, he felt like a “crucifix salesman” pulling out crosses in nearly every scene, and so he suggested the more dramatic leaping from the table.

And as far as I know, since I’ve never read or heard otherwise, that is Peter Cushing himself and not a stuntman making that run and leap at the curtains.  If anyone out there has information to the contrary, I’d love to hear from you.

Of course, the ending takes liberties with the tradition of a crucifix warding off a vampire.  In this ending, rather than using a blessed religious crucifix, Van Helsing forms two candlesticks into the shape of a cross and uses that to fend of Dracula.  It probably shouldn’t work, but it sure makes for great cinema!  And it also has made it into vampire lore.  In one of my favorite lines from the vampire movie FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) George Clooney asks the folks trapped with him by the gang of vampires what they know about vampires, and one guy suggests making crosses out of anything they can find.  When Clooney asks if that will work, the guy replies, “Peter Cushing does it all the time.

HORROR OF DRACULA not only contains the best ending in the Hammer Dracula series, but it’s also the most dramatic and memorable ending of any Dracula movie period.

It’s one for the horror movie history books.

 

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

Christopher Lee declined to play Dracula again in Hammer’s proposed sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA from fear of being typecast.  Of course, he would change his mind several years later.

But in 1960 Hammer went ahead without Lee and made THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), a film that in spite of its title did not feature Dracula, but instead one of Dracula’s disciples, Baron Meinster (David Peel).  Hammer did get Peter Cushing to return to play Van Helsing once again.

The ending to THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, while not as memorable as the ending to HORROR OF DRACULA, is very good.  The film was directed by Hammer’s best director, Terence Fisher, who also directed HORROR, and he goes all out with this one.  THE BRIDES OF DRACULA may be the best looking of the Hammer DRACULAS- it’s certainly the most atmospheric, and is one of the most atmospheric vampire movies ever made.  For some fans, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is their favorite Hammer Dracula, and considering that Christopher Lee isn’t in the movie,that’s saying quite a lot.

The ending, as directed by Fisher, is every bit as atmospheric as the rest of the film.  One of my favorite shots is when Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) enters the old windmill in search of Baron Meinster.  Its shot with purple lighting, and Van Helsing is backlit, and it makes for an indelible image.  It’s also reminiscent of the scene in THE EXORCIST (1973) when Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) first enters Regan’s home.  I’ve often wondered if EXORCIST director William Friedkin was influenced by this scene in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA.

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One of the most memorable parts of the ending comes when Meinster and Van Helsing battle, and this time Meinster wins and actually bites Van Helsing, setting up one of the most memorable scenes in the film, where Van Helsing uses a hot poker to burn the bites on his neck before dousing them with holy water, in effect curing him of the vampire’s bite.  Once again, Hammer takes liberties with vampire lore, but it again sure makes grand horror cinema!

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Later, Van Helsing burns Meinster’s face with holy water, setting up the film’s dramatic conclusion, where Van Helsing leaps onto the wings of the windmill, using it to form a shadow of a cross which falls on Meinster and destroys him.  Terence Fisher purposely did not show the shadow of the windmill but only of the wings, and he did this for full dramatic cinematic effect.

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As Hammer Dracula endings go, this one is one of the more understated, as Meinster simply collapses, and we do not see him distintegrate.  For story purposes, this makes sense, since unlike Dracula who was centuries old, Baron Meinster had only been a vampire for a relatively brief time.

The ending to THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, like the rest of the movie, is wonderfully atmospheric and cinematic.

Of course, this wasn’t the original ending.  Originally, Van Helsing was to use a little black magic to conjure up the forces of darkness to unleash a barrage of vampire bats which would descend upon Baron Meinster and tear him apart.  Peter Cushing objected to this sequence because he felt it out of character for Van Helsing to turn to black magic rather than religion and science, and I agree with him. I’m glad they changed it.  Hammer would use a variation of the vampire bats sequence for the ending to their next vampire movie, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1964), which once more did not feature Dracula.

That’s it for now.  Join me next time for Part 2 of SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings, when we’ll look at the endings of the next two Hammer Dracula movies, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) and DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).

See you then!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quotable Cushing: ISLAND OF TERROR (1966)

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Welcome back to The Quotable Cushing, that column where we look at some of Peter Cushing’s most memorable lines in the movies.  Why, you ask?  Because I grew up watching Peter Cushing in the movies, and his performances in horror movies from the 1950s-1970s is a major reason why I write horror fiction today.  I will never stop celebrating the career of Peter Cushing, mostly because I want to share his work with fans, old and new alike.

Today on The Quotable Cushing, we’re looking at a very entertaining science fiction horror movie from the 1960s, ISLAND OF TERROR, a gripping tale of cancer research gone wrong, as mutated creatures that devour human bone run loose on a small island, terrifying its inhabitants.

It’s a fun role for Peter Cushing, as he plays a scientist— of course he does.  It’s a rare thing that he’s not playing a doctor or scientist— named Dr. Stanley who along with the younger and more dashing Dr. West (Edward Judd) tries to figure out a way to stop the creatures.  It’s an enjoyable role because in this rather taut and suspensful thriller by director Terence Fisher, Cushing gets most of the good lines, many of them humorous, which is a good thing since this flick remains tense even today.  In fact, uncharacteristically, Cushing’s Dr. Stanley seems to be cracking jokes at every turn.

Let’s check out some of these lines from ISLAND OF TERROR, screenplay by Edward Andrew Mann and Allan Ramsen.

A lot of the humor stems from Peter Cushing’s Dr. Stanley being very aware of how much danger he and everyone else on the island is in, and how frightening their situation is.  For example, as he and Dr. West return to the building where they first discovered the creatures, specifically the basement of the building, Stanley quips:

DR. STANLEY:  I’m not very keen on going down in that cellar  again.

Another time, Dr. West’s girlfriend  Toni (Carole Gray) protests to Gray about being left alone in the car, a sentiment which Cushing’s Stanley agrees with.  Let’s listen:

DR. WEST:  Toni, you stay in the car.

TONI:  I’m not staying here with all those things running around.

DR. STANLEY:  Oh, let her come. I wouldn’t want to stay out here alone, either. It’s too damn creepy.

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Peter Cushing, Carole Gray, and Edward Judd in ISLAND OF TERROR (1966)

He possesses the same self-awareness in this scene with Drs. West and Landers:

DR. WEST:  Brian, hold it! Come back to the car. If there is something in there, we’d better not get too close until we know what we’re up against.

DR. LANDERS:  What do you think is in there?

DR. WEST:  I don’t know. But let’s not take any unnecessary risks.

DR. STANLEY:  Yes, especially with me!

 

Cushing’s Dr. Stanley also has a very playful side.  Take this sequence, for example, where he gets in this zinger, having some fun with his friend Dr. West and West’s girlfriend Toni.

DR. STANLEY:  What the devil did Napoleon do on that island to keep himself busy?

DR. WEST:  He invented solitaire.

West’s girlfriend Toni then leans into West and says to him in sultry voice.

TONI:  I’ve a much better game in mind.

To which Dr. Stanley quips with a sly grin:

DR. STANLEY:  Can three play?

 

At another point, after being treated for his injuries, Stanley has this to say:

DR. STANLEY:  One more transfusion and I’ll be a full-blooded Irishman.

And it’s some injury.  ISLAND OF  TERROR provides Peter Cushing with one of his more memorable on screen moments, when his Dr. Stanley is attacked by one of the creatures on the island, and to save him, his friend Dr. West has to chop off Stanley’s hand, since the bone-sucking creature has a tight grip on Stanley’s wrist.  It’s the most jarring moment in the movie, and as always, Peter Cushing nails it, grimacing and yelping in extreme agony.

And since Dr. Stanley is such a playful fellow in this one, he has this to say to his buddy Dr. West after the amputation:

DR. STANLEY:  Watch it boy, or I’ll sue you for malpractice.

ISLAND OF TERROR is one of the more thrilling horror science fiction movies from the 1960s, a must-see for Peter Cushing fans.  In addition to the memorable lines shared here, there are many more exciting moments in the film.

So, that’s it for now.   I hope you enjoyed this look at Peter Cushing’s memorable lines in ISLAND OF TERROR.  Join me again next time for another installment of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING where we’ll look at other fine quotes from a Peter Cushing movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael