IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE SKULL (1965)

0
lee-cushing-the skull

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in THE SKULL (1965).

 

Amicus Productions, the other horror film company from Great Britain that competed with Hammer Films in the 1960s-70s, is famous for their anthology horror movies, but one of their all time best horror films is not an anthology flick but one that tells a single story.

It’s THE SKULL (1965), starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and it’s one of the better horror films to come out of the 1960s, if not for anything else, for its original story.

Of course, it helps to have superior source material.  THE SKULL is based on the story “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” by Robert Bloch.

THE SKULL (1965) tells the story of Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), a collector of all things macabre, who is offered the skull of the Marquis de Sade by the shady buyer and seller Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark). Not sure if he wants to add it to his collection or not, Maitland visits his friend Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) to seek advice on the item’s authenticity and is shocked when Sir Matthew tells him it is the real deal because Marco stole it from him. When Maitland offers to help Sir Matthew get it back, Sir Matthew tells him he wants no part of it and warns Maitland against purchasing it, citing the skull’s dangerous supernatural powers. Maitland scoffs at his friend’s warning and even calls him a coward, saying he’d welcome the full force of the skull’s powers if they existed so he could write about them.

Maitland goes ahead and adds the skull to his collection.

You should have listened to your friend’s advice.

Because it turns out that the skull is indeed evil, and it leads to the death and destruction of everyone who comes in contact with it.

THE SKULL has a lot of things going for it, and it’s one of those movies that has aged well and holds up better today than when it first came out.

For starters, it’s one of the first Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee horror movies not to be a period piece. It’s set in modern times, and as such, as much as I enjoy all the period piece Hammer Films, THE SKULL plays like a breath of fresh air.

THE SKULL also gives Cushing and Lee a chance to appear in the same scenes together and actually hold some intriguing conversations. Prior to THE SKULL, most of their movie scenes together involved them dueling to the death, with Cushing’s hero usually gaining the upper hand over Lee’s monster. Here, they share some noteworthy scenes together. My favorite is their conversation over a game of pool where they argue over the power of the skull. With a little imagination it’s easy to perceive this scene as a dialogue between Baron Frankenstein and Scaramanga. It kinda has that feel.

There’s also a neat dream sequence— or is it?— where Cushing’s Maitland is whisked away by some weird gangster thugs and taken to a secret court where he’s forced to play russian roulette with a loaded pistol. It’s a bizarre sequence, but it really works.

The special effects here for a 1965 movie aren’t half bad.  The skull looks pretty cool, and the scenes shot from inside the skull, an idea conceived by director Freddie Francis, also work.

But what works against the movie, and in the past, used to prevent me from truly loving it, is it has pacing issues, especially towards the end, where there are long scenes of Peter Cushing sitting and staring at the skull, which are hardly all that thrilling.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, according to director Freddie Francis, the script by producer Milton Subotsky was largely unfinished and resembled more of an outline than a full-fledged screenplay. According to Francis, he had to add quite a bit to the film’s story to make it reach feature-length.

Also, while Freddie Francis directed a lot of movies, he’s more known for his cinematography, for films in the 1950s, and later, on such classics as THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) and GLORY (1989). He’s not one of my favorite horror movie directors, although I did enjoy his work on DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) which I think is his best horror movie.

But as I said, THE SKULL has aged well, and I regard it much more highly than I did say thirty years ago.

The pacing remains slow, but that seems to matter less now, because its scenes of horror have only gotten better. It opens with an extremely atmospheric graveyard scene which takes place in the 1800s, and so even though this one isn’t a period piece, it begins that way, which makes its switch to modern-day later all the more effective.

There’s something very intelligent and artistic about the entire production, and that’s the part that seems to have gotten better with age. The other notable thing about THE SKULL is it’s not a movie where the good guys win. The forces of darkness are the victors here. In fact, the entire movie seems to be seeped in an aura of evil. It really resonates.

And the film has a very strong cast.  Of course, you have Cushing and Lee, but they’re supported by folks like Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, and Michael Gough.

Peter Cushing always delivers a top-notch performance, although his best work is when he plays the hero or the villain. Here, as Christopher Maitland, he’s a flawed character who isn’t strong enough to fend off the powers of the skull, but as such, it’s rather refreshing to see him play this kind of role.

Christopher Lee’s Sir Matthew Phillips is largely a supporting role, but it is an excellent performance nonetheless. As many of Lee’s early performances so often were, it went largely unnoticed by critics, but he is quite good here as the man who, unlike Maitland, realizes just how dangerous the skull is and tries to tell his friend to walk away from the supernatural object.  Lee does a terrific job creating a character who shows both strength and fear.

Producer and writer Milton Subotsky had a vision for this film to be a feature-length horror movie with very little dialogue. He once said in an interview, “It’s a fantastic film and I think, will someday be considered a horror classic.”

It may have taken over 50 years, but I think Subotsky was right.

We’ve reached the point where we can safely call THE SKULL a classic horror movie from the 1960s.

–END—

 

 

Advertisements

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

0

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.

taste the blood of dracula poster

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.

taste-the-blood-lee in church

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.

 

scars of dracula poster

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!

scarsofdracula lee knife

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

0

dracula-prince-of-darkness-movie-poster-1966

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!

dracula prince of darkness end

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.

dracula-has-risen-from-the-grave-movie-poster-1968

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.

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave ending

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

0
horror-of-dracula-ending

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:

horrorofdracula poster

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.

horror of dracula ending

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.

van helsing entrance

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!

vh-burns-the-evil-out

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.

BridesofDraculashadow

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEADING LADIES: VERONICA CARLSON

0
carlson - maria

Veronica Carlson

LEADING LADIES:  Veronica Carlson

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in horror movies, especially from years gone by.

Today we look at the career of Veronica Carlson, the Hammer starlet who burst onto the scene in the Hammer Dracula movie, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) and would go on to add her beauty and elegance to several more Hammer Films before leaving the business altogether for two decades.  She returned to films in the 1990s and has since appeared in a few low budget movies.

But she’s best known for her roles in the Hammer movies, and if you’ve seen her, you know the reason why.  Sure, she was stunningly beautiful back in the day— she was a former model, after all— but she was also a decent actor.  It’s really too bad she didn’t make more movies.

In DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE Carlson plays Maria, a young woman who ends up being Dracula’s most sought after victim.  In this, the third film in the Hammer Dracula series, Dracula (Christopher Lee) seeks revenge against the Monsignor (Rupert Davies) who had exorcised his castle, and he does this by pursuing the Monsignor’s niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson).

Carlson is absolutely beautiful in this movie.  She shares most of her screen time with her goofy intellectual boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) who eventually gets to be the hero in this one, and she’s very convincing as a young lover infatuated with her handsome boyfriend.  She’s also sufficiently frightened and mesmerized by Dracula.

Carlson followed up this performance with the female lead in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969), Hammer’s darkest Frankenstein movie.  She plays Anna, engaged to a young doctor Karl (Simon Ward), and all is well until these two young lovers are blackmailed by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) into helping him with his latest creation.  This film also contains the most controversial scene in the entire series, where the Baron rapes Anna, a scene that Peter Cushing is on record as saying he did not want to do.

Anna (Veronica Carlson) tormented by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing)

Anna (Veronica Carlson) tormented by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is a lurid, brutal movie, and Veronica Carlson is up to the task at playing the tormented victim of Baron Frankenstein.  One of her best scenes finds her dragging a dead body which has been unearthed by a busted water main in her courtyard, and she has to do this while she’s pummeled by a forceful water spray, because if she doesn’t hide the body and the authorities discover it, she’ll either be arrested or worse, have to face the wrath of Baron Frankenstein.  It’s a chilling suspenseful scene.

Carlson also appeared in the next Hammer Frankenstein movie, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), the only film in the series not to star Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was Hammer’s failed attempt to re-boot the series with Ralph Bates playing a younger Baron Frankenstein in what amounted to be a remake of sorts of their first Frankenstein movie, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was directed by longtime Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and unfortunately, he proved to be a better writer than a director. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is the worst film in the series with very little to offer other than a fine cast, which included Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.  Carlson is quite good yet again, but she’s simply not enough to save this movie.

Veronica Carlson would star with Peter Cushing one more time in THE GHOUL (1974), a mediocre horror movie about an attic holding a sinister secret. This one also co-starred a young John Hurt.

Carlson may return to the big screen here in 2015.  She’s listed in the credits of a still unreleased horror movie called THE RECTORY.  It would be nice to see her on the big screen again, even now at 70 years old.

Here’s a partial list of Carlson’s 21screen credits, concentrating mostly on her horror films:

SMASHING TIME (1967) – Movie Actress At Premiere- Carlson’s first screen credit, a bit part in a musical comedy starring Michael York and Lynn Redgrave.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) – Maria- Carlson impresses in her first starring role in this third Christopher Lee Hammer Dracula movie, the studio’s most profitable horror movie ever.  A box office smash.

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) – Anna – tormented and terrorized by Peter Cushing’s evil Baron Frankenstein.  Probably Carlson’s most riveting performance.

CROSSPLOT (1969) – Dinah- small role in this thriller starring Roger Moore which also features Moore’s future Bond boss “M” Bernard Lee as well as Hammer supporting actor Francis Matthews.

PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU (1970) – Liz – comedy starring Ian McShane with a screenplay co-written by Woody Allen.

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – Elizabeth Heiss – stars in her second Frankenstein film for Hammer, the only one without Peter Cushing.  Ralph Bates is OK as the devilish Baron Frankenstein, but Darth Vader himself David Prowse plays a pretty ineffective monster.

OLD DRACULA (1974) – Ritva – awful horror comedy starring David Niven as Count Dracula, released the same year as Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, no doubt trying to cash in on that film’s success.  Also stars fellow Hammer actress Linda Hayden and Carlson’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED co-star Freddie Jones.

THE GHOUL (1975) – Daphne – Mediocre horror film starring Peter Cushing as a man with a sinister secret.  Also stars John Hurt.  Carlson’s last film appearance for 19 years.

BLACK EASTER (1994) – Veronica Carlson returns to horror movies in this B movie terror tale.

FREAKSHOW (1995) – Grace Harmsworth – Carlson in another B movie, this one an anthology, also starring Leatherface himself Gunnar Hansen from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).  Reportedly Carlson’s segment is the best.

THE RECTORY – An as-of-yet unreleased horror movie evidently in production at present with Veronica Carlson’s name in the credits.

I was fortunate enough to meet Veronica Carlson at a horror movie convention in the late 1990s.  It was one for the ages, as it was the same convention where I met Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, and Michael Ripper.

Veronica Carlson will be forever remembered for her notable performances in two of Hammer’s best shockers, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.

Hopefully we’ll see her on the big screen again.

Veronica Carlson was born on September 18, 1944, in Yorkshire, England, UK.   At present she is 70 years old and living in the U.S. where she enjoys a successful painting career.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

0

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave - posterThis reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA Newsletter in February 2008 on the third Christopher Lee Hammer Dracula flick, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) is up now in the current February 2014 edition of the HWA Newsletter.

And don’t forget, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

  IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

            Have you heard the news? 

            Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

            I love that title.

            DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), Hammer Films’ third entry in their famous Dracula series, was so successful at the box office, it sent Hammer on a crazed vampire movie spree between 1968 -1973 where they made an unprecedented 11 vampire films in five years, including four more Dracula films with Christopher Lee, three vampire movies with Peter Cushing, including TWINS OF EVIL (1971) and THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1973), and four without either star, including the very popular CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (1973).

            Vampires never had it so good.

            DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is a revenge tale, as most of the Hammer Draculas were.  Seems Drac had nothing better to do than get back at people.  You’d think that a guy who was immortal— well, anyway.  A monsignor (Rupert Davies) and a village priest (Ewan Hooper) attempt to stamp out the evil of Count Dracula once and for all by reading a prayer of exorcism and sealing the castle door with a cross.  The cowardly village priest flees in fright but slips and falls, smashing his head on some ice.  Underneath this ice rests Dracula (Christopher Lee), frozen there since the end of the previous installment in the series, DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  Blood seeps through the ice onto Dracula’s lips, reviving him, and presto!  The count has risen from his icy grave!

            Dracula makes the priest his slave and vows revenge against the monsignor for placing the cross on his castle door.  Of course, one wonders why Dracula just doesn’t order his new slave to take down the cross himself.  It would have saved him a heck of a lot of trouble!

            Lucky for Dracula, the monsignor has a beautiful niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson) and so the Count gets to throw in a few hickeys as part of his revenge plot.  It’s up to the monsignor and Maria’s atheist boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) to save the day. 

            DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE actually has a better than average script, so screenwriter John Elder deserves credit for penning a very enjoyable story, with very likeable characters.

            Director Freddie Francis scores well here.  It may be his best directing effort for Hammer.  He crafts several exciting scenes, including not one but two rooftop chases, and an extremely memorable “stake in the heart” sequence in which Dracula actually rips the stake from his own heart. I told you it was memorable.

            The performances are all first-rate.  Character actor Michael Ripper delivers one of his best performances, as Max, the baker and tavern owner.  Say what you want about Christopher Lee, today famous more for his longevity than for his acting ability, but he makes a terrific Dracula.  You cannot take that away from him, and with another actor in the role, the Hammer Dracula films just wouldn’t have been as good.  Lee captures the essence of undead evil in a way that causes you to remember his performance long after you’ve seen it.

            DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE also boasts amazing sets.  They look like they’re from a major Hollywood studio. 

            DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is a keeper, a natural crowd pleaser. 

From its opening moments with a bloody corpse stuffed inside a church bell, to its bloody finale outside Castle Dracula, it won’t let you down. 

            But a word of warning- this winter, watch your step on the ice.  Should you slip and fall, you-know-who might be resting underneath.

—END—

 

In The Shadows: MICHAEL RIPPER

0

Michael Ripper as coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

Michael Ripper as coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

In The Shadows:  MICHAEL RIPPER

 

By Michael Arruda

 

 

Character actors add so much to the movies they’re in, it’s hard to imagine these movies without them.  Never receiving the praise heaped upon the major actors and stars of the genre, these folks nonetheless are often every bit as effective as the big name leads.

 

One of my favorite character actors from Hammer Films is Michael Ripper.  Ripper appeared in many Hammer Films over the years, so much so that if you watch enough of these movies, he becomes a very familiar face.

 

I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Ripper in 1998 at a convention, two years before he died, and I remember the look of joy and wonder on his face as he was greeted by so many adoring fans.  It was almost as if he couldn’t believe the outpouring of affection he was receiving.

 

My favorite Michael Ripper role was Max the tavern owner in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).  His Max is a happy-go-lucky guy you could easily see yourself having a drink with, and he helps to lighten the mood in this third Christopher Lee Dracula movie.  It’s one of Ripper’s largest roles.

 

A close second is his portrayal of the former pirate/smuggler turned coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps in the Peter Cushing movie NIGHT CREATURES (1962).  In this film, he’s the loyal right hand man to Cushing’s Captain Clegg.  It’s one of Ripper’s more dramatic performances.

 

Here’s a partial list of Ripper’s amazing 220 movie credits, focusing mainly on his Hammer Film appearances:

 

X-THE UNKNOWN (1956) – Sgt. Harry Grimsdyke

 

QUATERMASS II:  ENEMY FROM SPACE (1957) – Ernie

 

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – with Peter Cushing-  Kurt, the grave robber

 

THE MUMMY (1959)- with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee –  Poacher

 

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) – with Peter Cushing-  Coach Driver

 

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) – with Oliver Reed –  Village Drunk

 

NIGHT CREATURES (1962) – with Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed-   Jeremiah Mipps

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) – with Herbert Lom-   Cabbie

 

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) – Achmed

 

THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) – Sgt. Jack Swift

 

THE REPTILE (1966) – Tom Bailey

 

THE MUMMY’S SHROUD (1967) – Longbarrow

 

TORTURE GARDEN (1967) – with Peter Cushing, Jack Palance, and Burgess Meredith-   Gordon Roberts

 

THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) – Sea Lawyer

 

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) – with Christopher Lee-  Max

 

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) – with Christopher Lee-   Inspector  Cobb

 

SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) – with Christopher Lee-   Landlord

 

THE CREEPING FLESH (1973) – with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee-   Carter

 

LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975) – with Peter Cushing-   Sewer man

 

 

Michael Ripper provided many memorable movie moments in a career that spanned seven decades, from the 1930s through the 1990s.  I will always remember him from his roles in the Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, although he appeared in many more movies than just the horror movie credits listed here.

 

Michael Ripper: January 27, 1913 – June 28, 2000.

 

Thanks for reading everyone!

 

—Michael