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—

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leading Ladies: FAY WRAY

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Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in King Kong’s clutches in KING KONG (1933).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.  Up today, it’s Fay Wray, the woman who King Kong carried to the top of the Empire State Building in KING KONG (1933).

Fay Wray had a ton of credits.  She began her career as a teenager in silent movies, and so by the time she made KING KONG in 1933 at age 26, she had already amassed fifty four screen credits!

All together, Fay Wray had 123 screen credits, but none bigger than her role as Ann Darrow in KING KONG.

Here’s a partial list of Wray’s movie credits:

GASOLINE LOVE (1923) – Fay Wray’s first screen credit.

THE COAST PATROL (1925) – Beth Slocum- Wray’s first feature film role.

DOCTOR X (1932) – Joanne Xavier- horror movie with Lionel Atwill, famous for being shot in Technicolor.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) – Eve Trowbridge – Thriller directed by KING KONG director Ernest B. Schoedsack and featuring Carl Denham himself, Robert Armstrong.

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)- Ruth Bertin- classic horror movie featuring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, and Dwight Frye.  Atwill is the mad scientist, Douglas the hero, Wray the heroine, and Frye is the creepy guy the villagers think is the vampire— but they’re wrong.  Very atmospheric creepy horror movie.

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) – Charlotte Duncan – Reunited with Lionel Atwill in yet another classic horror movie.  Like DOCTOR X, it was also shot in color and was believed to have been lost for decades before being re-discovered in the late 1960s.  Directed by Michael Curtiz, who also directed that little wartime movie, CASABLANCA (1942).

KING KONG (1933) – Ann Darrow – the film that made Fay Wray a star, and she spends most of it screaming, as she is abducted and chased by Kong throughout.  Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, with an outstanding music score by Max Steiner, and starring Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Wray, and of course King Kong.  Amazing special effects by Willis O’Brien.  This classic movie still holds up wonderfully today.  By the way, Wray was not blonde.  She wore a wig for her most famous role.  That is her real scream, though.

MASTER OF MEN (1933)- Kay Walling- The last of eleven movies Wray made in 1933!

BLACK MOON (1934) – Gail Hamilton – Horror movie about a voodoo curse, directed by Roy William Neill, the man who in addition to directing many of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies also directed FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934) – Louise Loring – Crime movie starring Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas, based on a book by Dashiell Hammett.

THE CLAIRVOYANT (1934)- Rene – Effective mystery/horror movie with Claude Rains as a fake clairvoyant who suddenly finds himself with real predictive powers.

HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955) – Kay Stanley – Film-noir with Edward G. Robinson and Alan Ladd.

CRIME OF PASSION (1957) – Alice Pope- more film-noir, this time with Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, and Raymond Burr.

TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957) – Mrs. Brent-  First of four “Tammy” movies, starring Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Nielsen, and Walter Brennan.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS – “Dip In The Pool” (1958) – Mrs. Renshaw/  “The Morning After” (1959) – Mrs. Nelson – two appearances on the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS TV show.

PERRY MASON – “The Case of the Prodigal Parent” (1958) – Ethel Harrison/ “The Case of the Watery Witness” (1959)- Lorna Thomas/ “The Case of the Fatal Fetish” (1965) – Mignon Germaine – several appearances on the classic PERRY MASON TV show starring Raymond Burr.

GIDEON’S TRUMPET (1980) – Edna Curtis – Fay Wray’s final screen credit, in this TV movie starring Henry Fonda based on the true story of Clarence Earl Gideon.

Even though she never had a bigger role than Ann Darrow in KING KONG, Fay Wray enjoyed a long and successful movie career.  She passed away in 2004 at age 96.

Fay Wray – September 15, 1907- August 8, 2004.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of LEADING LADIES.  Join me again next time when we look at the career of another Leading Lady.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 4

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

Part 4

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to Part 4 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 six Hammer Dracula pics.  Here in Part 4 we’ll look at the rest of the series.

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

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DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

Dracula meets the 1970s!

After the success of the Dan Curtis film THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the movie that introduced reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) to the world and had Kolchak hunting a vampire in present day Las Vegas, Hammer decided that for its next Dracula movie they would take Dracula out of the 19th century and put him in the heart of present day London, which at the time happened to be 1972.

DRACULA A.D. 1972 also marked the return of Peter Cushing to the series, as he played Lorrimer Van Helsing, a descendant of the original Van Helsing.  On paper, it  sounded like a neat idea.  In reality- mostly because “modern day” at the time was the groovin-yeah-baby year of 1972, the film really doesn’t work- at least not the way Hammer intended.  THE NIGHT STALKER, it ain’t!

However, that being said, in spite of it being lambasted by critics and doing poorly at the box office, DRACULA A.D. 1972 is actually a pretty fun movie.  I’ve always really liked this one.  The dialogue is so over the top and overdone, it’s a hoot!  It’s like watching an episode of SCOOBY-DOO.

It’s also a lot of fun seeing Peter Cushing return to the series as Van Helsing, even if he is playing one of Van Helsing’s descendants.  As usual, Christopher Lee doesn’t have a lot to do as Dracula, but he makes the most of his few scenes.

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Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) isn’t doing her grandfather any favors when she removes the knife from Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) heart during the finale of DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972).

Unfortunately, the ending isn’t anything to brag about, even with Cushing’s Van Helsing battling Lee’s Dracula once again.  Compared to the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA, the ending to DRACULA A.D. 1972 is slow and tired.  There’s a brief chase, this time with Dracula chasing Van Helsing, a brief scuffle, and then an all too easy death scene where Dracula falls into a pit of wooden stakes, set up there earlier by Van Helsing, although how he would know Dracula would fall inside is beyond me!  This is followed by the obligatory and not very impressive Dracula-turns-to-dust scene.

Far out, man!

Not really.

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THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

Immediately after the release of DRACULA A.D. 1972, Hammer went into production with their next Dracula movie, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) which again starred both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and once more took place in the 1970s.

The attempt was made to improve upon DRACULA A.D. 1972, and so in this film the hippies are gone, and instead Dracula acts likes he’s a villain in a James Bond movie as he tries to take over the world with the help of other devil worshiping dignitaries. When Scotland Yard investigates and learns about the satanic cult, they turn to their resident expert, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

It’s a fairly interesting plot, but it’s all rather flat, and I’ve always enjoyed DRACULA A.D. 1972 more.  Because DRACULA A.D. 1972 performed so miserably at the box office, Hammer decided not to release SATANIC RITES in the U.S., until that is, five years later when it was released under the ridiculous title COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE in 1978.  The only good thing about the delay was I was 14 at the time, and when it opened at my local theater, it provided me with my first opportunity to see a Hammer horror film on the big screen.  Cool!

The ending to SATANIC RITES is actually a bit better than the ending to DRACULA A.D. 1972.  The confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing is a bit longer this time.  It starts in a fiery house and then continues outside, as Van Helsing leads Dracula into the woods where he is able to get Dracula caught in a thorn bush.  See, in this movie, thorns are representative of Christ’s crown of thorns and as a result are fatal to vampires.  At least Hammer always remained creative!  Of course, what would a Dracula movie be without a good staking, and so Van Helsing drives a stake through Drac’s heart for good measure, which leads to the undead king’s umpteenth disintegration scene.

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) prepares to do battle with Dracula in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

The best part about this ending is that after Dracula disintegrates, all that is left of Dracula is his ring, which hearkens back to the ending of the first film in the series, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) where Dracula’s ring also remains after his disintegration.  In HORROR OF DRACULA, Van Helsing does not take the ring, and when Dracula is resurrected in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) he wears it again.  This time around, at the end of SATANIC RITES, Van Helsing does take the ring, symbolizing that this time Dracula is truly done for, which is appropriate, since this was the final Christopher Lee film of the series.

I say final “Christopher Lee” film in the series because even though Lee said his days as Dracula were over, Hammer wasn’t finished, and they would bring back Dracula for one more movie, without Lee.

 

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THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

This is one weird movie.  After the commercial failure of their previous two Dracula movies, Hammer decided that Dracula in the 1970s was not a good idea, and so their next vampire tale would once more be a period piece. THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES was originally not going to be a Dracula film at all, but simply a vampire movie, but this horror-martial arts combo was co-produced with The Shaw Brothers Company who insisted that since their Asian audiences loved Dracula, that Dracula had to be incorporated into the movie.

And so an introduction was filmed with John Forbes-Robertson hamming it up in thick Joker-like make-up as Dracula, where we see his spirit enter into that of an Asian warrior who had visited Dracula’s castle.  Dracula wants to seek out new blood in the Far East, and now inside a new body, he is able to assemble an army of Kung-fu vampires— the seven golden vampires— without people knowing who he is, except that old nemesis Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is also in the Far East and hot on his trail!

 

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One of the seven golden vampires in THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), Hammer’s final Dracula movie.

There are martial arts fights galore in this very unique film that somehow actually works.  It also has a fantastic music score by James Bernard.

Unfortunately, the ending is rather lame.  After all that choreographed martial arts fighting, Dracula returns to his old body where he is promptly done in— in very undramatic fashion- by Van Helsing.  It’s a very weak way to end the series.

Aside from the ending,  THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES is actually a pretty enjoyable movie.  And even though he’s not really involved in the fight sequences, Peter Cushing still enjoys lots of screen time as Van Helsing, and as always, he’s excellent.

Look also for the inferior yet worth checking out re-edited version entitled THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA (1974).  This version was originally released in the U.S. as an exploitation flick.  It’s fun to compare the two.  THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES plays out like an elegant atmospheric A-List Hammer vampire movie, whereas THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEETS DRACULA plays like a choppy incoherent blood fest shown at the Drive-In after midnight.  Same movie, different editing.  It’s fascinating to watch these two versions back to back.

So, that about wraps things up.  Thanks for joining me on this four part look at the various Dracula demises in the Hammer Dracula movies.

Join me next time for another SHOCK SCENES when I’ll we’ll look at other memorable scenes in horror movie history.

—END—

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stylish and Disturbing, THE NEON DEMON (2016) Is Difficult to Digest

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Beauty is power.

When you’re beautiful, people treat you differently, and in the fashion industry, where beauty is a much sought after commodity, people will kill to protect it.

That’s one of the themes in acclaimed director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest thriller, THE NEON DEMON (2016), along with the notion that the fasion industry really consumes— quite literally, in this case—the people in it.

THE NEON DEMON  is the story of a young 16 year-old girl  Jesse (Elle Fanning) who leaves home and moves to Los Angeles to become a model.  She uses photos taken of her by a young man Dean (Karl Glusman) she met on the internet to get hired by a major modeling agency.

Jesse also meets a make-up artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) who takes a fancy to Jesse and basically offers to look after her.  Ruby also introduces Jesse to two other models, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee).

Jesse meets with sudden success in the industry, as she is constantly showered with praises on just how beautiful she is, and that in terms of success, she has “it.”  When she enters a room, people notice.  A lot is made of her natural beauty, compared to the artificial beauty of most other models who undergo seemingly nonstop plastic surgery.

She’s suddenly the hottest new thing in modeling.  Eventually, her “friends” take issue with her success, Gigi and Sarah out of jealousy, and Ruby out of scorn since Jesse rebuffed her sexual advances.

THE NEON DEMON has a lot of things going for it, for a while anyway.  It loses steam during its second half, and then hits you in the gut with a jarring unexpected ending that works on an intellectual level but emotionally left me disappointed.

After all that had come before it, I expected more.

Still, for a while, I really enjoyed THE NEON DEMON.  It opens with the remarkable images of Jesse’s photo shoot with Dean, as Jesse is covered in fake blood.  It’s an incredibly stylish way to open the movie.  This style carries the film nearly all the way through, although during the second half things began to stall.

But early on, the film had me captivated.  I found director Nicolas Winding Refn’s work here reminsicent of the work of David Lynch.

The images in this movie dominate throughout.  From the various photo shoots, to the scene where Jesse kisses her reflected image, to the scenes of violence.

And there are plenty of  disturbing images.  There’s a scene of necrophelia, and also a frightening dream sequence in which Jesse’s creepy landlord, played with raw unpredictable brutality by Keanu Reeves, sticks a knife down her throat.  There’s also the shocking, vicious ending.

All of these images, for me, anway, are by far the strongest part of the movie.

“Beauty isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing,” says one of the characters in the movie.  I get the message this film is delivering.  Beauty is power.  As Jesse herself says at one point, she can’t act or write, and she isn’t particularly smart, but she is beautiful, and she can make money with her looks.  In a telling scene, at a restaurant, Dean argues with Jesse’s fashion designer, saying that he believes beauty isn’t everything, that it’s inside that counts.  The fashion designer disagrees, saying that he believes if Jesse wasn’t beautiful, Dean wouldn’t have even given her the time of day.  Jesse rewards Dean’s sentiments by telling him to take a hike.

And I get the ending.  Talk about a person being consumed by the industry she’s trying to break into!   Just before this ending, Jesse says her mom used to call her dangerous, and at that moment the audience senses that Jesse is feeling dangerous.  However, more importantly, Ruby, Gigi, and Sarah know she is dangerous, and for them, such a danger cannot survive.

The acting is all excellent.  Elle Fanning does a terrific job as Jesse, the stunning 16 year old who takes the fashion industry by storm.   She looks the part, because she was in fact 16 when she made this movie, making this an even more courageous performance when you consider her age.  I remember Fanning standing out as a child actor in the Steven Spielberg/J.J. Abrams vechicle SUPER 8 (2011).  As good as she was in that movie, she’s way better here.

I also really liked Jena Malone as Ruby, although her motives for taking a liking to Jesse were apparent to me from the get-go.  And I found both Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee— especially Lee— uber-creepy as models Gigi and Sarah.

Karl Glusman was very good as Dean, Jesse’s friend and initial photographer.  At first, especially since she met him on the internet, we’re not sure of his motives, but as the movie goes along, he reveals himself to be a decent guy, although Jesse hardly seems to notice and gravitates towards Ruby and her group, eventually severing ties with Dean.

Desmond Harrington is sufficiently cold and professional as top photographer Jack, and his nude photoshoot of Jesse is one of the more compelling scenes in the movie.  I also really liked Alessandro Nivola as the intense fashion designer.  In his brief time on screen, he gets some of the best lines in the movie.  It’s an unbilled performance.

And Keanu Reeves also makes an impression as the creepy landlord Hank at the seedy hotel Jesse stays at.  Reeves isn’t in the movie much, but when he is, he exudes raw animalistic ferocity.

For the first half of THE NEON DEMON, I was really into it.  Then, about midway through, things slowed down.  The strength of this movie is its visuals, and they remain strong throughout.  The screenplay however, by director Refin, and Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, isn’t as strong.  While I appreciate what it was saying about our attitudes towards beauty and the fashion industry in particular, the dialogue in this film, of which there’s not a lot, isn’t one of its strengths.  And so, after a while, the visually stunning scenes begin to collapse under their own weight without solid support from the film’s narrative.

And then comes the ending.  Jarring, disturbing, and in-your-face, it comes out of nowhere and wallops you in the gut, leaving an incredibly bad taste in your mouth— literally!  Again, intellectually, I get it.  The industry is all-consuming and eats up its own, and those in the industry prey upon those who they see as threats.  The film takes the figurative and makes it literal.

I don’t really have a problem with this.  The problem I have is in this two hour movie, I have followed Jesse’s story, gotten to know Jesse as a character, and looked forward to where she was going.  Where she ends up is ultimately disappointing.  Had this film been more about Ruby, then perhaps I could have digested— heh, heh– its ending better.

I just wanted more for Jesse.

One more positive is the film’s awesome music score by Cliff Martinez.  It really adds a lot to the movie.

All in all, THE NEON DEMON is a flashy, artistic tale that will dazzle, intrigue, and wow you before it ultimately hits you in the gut with a raw wrenching blow that will not only take your breath away but just might turn you off to all that came before it.

As for me, I liked THE NEON DEMON, even after the ending and its bitter aftertaste.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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