THE HORROR JAR: Genre Films Where PETER CUSHING Did NOT Play A Doctor/Scientist/Professor

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Peter Cushing - The Skull

Peter Cushing and the Skull in THE SKULL (1965), a horror film in which Cushing did not play a doctor.

 

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies.

Up today, my all time favorite horror movie actor, Peter Cushing.

When you think of Peter Cushing, his two most famous roles immediately come to mind, Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing, two characters who were also both doctors.  In fact, a lot of Cushing’s roles in horror movies were of medical doctors, professors, or scientists.  So much so, that I thought:  when did he not play a doctor?

Turns out— many times.

Here’s a look at those roles, the times Peter Cushing starred in a horror or science fiction film but did not play a doctor or scientist.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) – Sherlock Holmes.  Technically not a horror film, but that being said, Hammer Films added plenty of horror elements to their rendition of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale.  Directed by Terence Fisher, with Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville.  Superior little movie, atmospheric and full of thrills, with Cushing’s energetic Holmes leading the way.

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Cushing as Holmes in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959).

 

NIGHT CREATURES (1962) – Rev. Dr. Blyss – even though the character is identified in the credits as “Dr. Blyss” he’s really the vicar of the small village of Dymchurch— check that, he’s actually the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, hiding out, posing as the vicar, while secretly smuggling rum in this rousing adventure/horror tale by Hammer Films.  Cushing at his energetic best.

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Peter Cushing delivers one of his best performances, as Captain Clegg/Dr. Blyss in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

 

SHE (1965) – Major Holly – lost cities, a supernatural woman, and lots of action in this fantasy adventure by Hammer Films.

THE SKULL (1965) – Christopher Maitland – plays a private collector interested in the occult who purchases the skull of the Marquis de Sade with deadly results.  Christopher Lee co-stars as Cushing’s rival in this fine horror film by Hammer’s rival, Amicus Productions.

TORTURE GARDEN (1967) – Lancelot Canning – another film by Amicus, this one an anthology film featuring five horror stories based on the works of Robert Bloch.  Cushing appears in the fourth segment, “The Man Who Collected Poe,” once more playing a collector of the macabre.  Jack Palance co-stars with Cushing in this segment.

THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) – Inspector Quennell-  One of Peter Cushing’s worst movies.  In fact, Cushing himself considered it his worst.  Produced by Tigon Films, a company that tried to join Hammer and Amicus as a voice in British horror but ultimately failed.  The monster is a woman who turns into a giant moth that preys on men’s blood, and Cushing plays the police inspector (in a role originally written for Basil Rathbone) who tries to stop her.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) – Major Heinrich Benedek – pretty much just a cameo in this film, famous for being the first time Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all starred together in the same movie.  A bizarre flick, perfect for 1970, but ultimately a disappointment as Cushing and Lee only appear briefly, while Price gets a bit more screen time.

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) – General von Spielsdorf – Cushing finally appears in a vampire movie where he’s not a doctor or a professor!  This time he’s a general, but he’s still hunting vampires in this atmospheric and very sensual vampire film from Hammer, starring Ingrid Pitt as the vampire Carmilla.  The first of Hammer’s “Karnstein” vampire trilogy.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) – Philip Grayson – Another anthology film by Amicus.  Cushing stars in the second segment “Waxworks” and plays a retired stockbroker who runs afoul of a nefarious wax museum.  Director Peter Duffell once said in an interview that Peter Cushing’s entire segment in this film was simply a contrivance to place his head on a platter, which remains one of the more shocking images from the film.

TWINS OF EVIL (1971) – Gustav Weil – Cushing is excellent (as he always is) in this vampire film from Hammer, playing a different kind of vampire hunter.  He leads the Brotherhood, a fanatical group of men seeking out witches in the countryside, a group that is every bit as deadly as the vampires.  As such, when the vampire threat becomes known, and the Brotherhood turn their attention to the undead, it makes for a much more interesting dynamic than the typical vampire vs. heroes.  It’s one of Cushing’s most conflicted roles.  There’s a scene where he laments that he only wanted to do the right thing, that really resonates, because for most of the film, he’s been doing the very worst things.  The third “Karnstein” vampire film.

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Peter Cushing as the fanatical Gustav Weil in TWINS OF EVIL (1971).

 

I, MONSTER (1971) – Utterson – plays a lawyer in this version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale by Amicus, which changed the names of Jekyll and Hyde to Marlowe and Blake, played here by Christopher Lee.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) – Arthur Edward Grimsdyke – famous Cushing role in yet another anthology film by Amicus.  Cushing appears in the third segment, “Poetic Justice” where he plays an elderly junk dealer who is terrorized into suicide by his neighbors, but a year later, and this is why the role is famous, he returns from the grave.

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) – Captain – cameo in this Vincent Price sequel.  Blink and you’ll miss him.

ASYLUM (1972) – Smith – appears in the segment “The Weird Tailor” in this anthology film by Amicus.

FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) – The Headmaster – plays a sinister headmaster, in this thriller written and directed by Jimmy Sangster, and also starring Joan Collins and Ralph Bates.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974) – The Proprietor – plays the owner of an antique shop, and the man in the wraparound story in this Amicus anthology horror vehicle.

MADHOUSE (1974) – Herbert Flay – plays a screenwriter in this one, and best friend to Vincent Price’s horror actor Paul Toombes.  Toombes is having a rough go of it, as the character he played in the movies- Dr. Death – seems to be committing murders in real life.  A really interesting movie, not a total success, but definitely worth a look, mostly because Price and Cushing share equal and ample screen time in this one.

TENDRE DRACULA – Macgregor – bizarre ill-conceived French horror comedy, notable for featuring Cushing’s one and only performance as a vampire.

LAND OF THE MINOTAUR (1976) – Baron Corofax – plays the villain to Donald Pleasence’s heroic priest in this tale of devil worship and demons.

STAR WARS (1977) – Grand Moff Tarkin – aside from his work in Hammer Films, the role which Cushing is most known for.  As Tarkin, he’s the one character in the STAR WARS universe who bossed Darth Vader around and lived to tell about it.

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Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977).

 

SHOCK WAVES (1977) – SS Commander – Nazi zombies attack!    Nuff said.  With John Carradine.

THE UNCANNY (1977) – Wilbur – Cushing plays a writer who learns that cats are a little more “active” than he first imagined in yet another horror anthology film.

MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1981) – William T. Kolderup – plays the “richest man in America” in this bizarre horror comedy.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983) – Sebastian Grisbane – famous teaming of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and John Carradine in the same movie for the first (and only) time ever, this really isn’t a very good movie.  It tries hard, and ultimately isn’t all bad, but could have been so much better.  Price and Lee fare the best.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MASKS OF DEATH (1984) – Sherlock Holmes – Holmes comes out of retirement to solve a case.   Again, not horror, per se, but since this film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Anthony Hinds, and of course starred Peter Cushing, there is a definite Hammer Films feel about this movie.  John Mills plays Dr. Watson.

There you have it.  A list of genre films starring Peter Cushing where he did not play a doctor, scientist or professor.  Perhaps next time we’ll have a look at those films where he did don a lab coat or carry a medical bag.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there’s the ending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild garlic, anyone?

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GORGON (1964)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—END—

 

 

 

 

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

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

My interview, obviously, is not.

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

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Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to a special Halloween column.

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

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

BORIS KARLOFF:  Thank you, Michael.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  What does horror mean to you?

BORIS KARLOFF:  Horror means something revolting.

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

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

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  They said that?

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

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

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Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi

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

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

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

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Peter Cushing and Vincent Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing

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

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

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

BORIS KARLOFF:  For me it was pure luck.

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

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

Thank you gentlemen, for joining me this evening.

And thank you all for reading!

Happy Halloween!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Part 1

By

Michael Arruda

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

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

Here we go:

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HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s one for the horror movie history books.

 

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you then!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.  It’s on the Hammer Film THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960).  Enjoy!

—Michael

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll poster

When Hammer Films struck gold with their horror hits THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), remakes of the iconic classics FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and DRACULA (1931) it was for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them was each film made changes to the original versions that blew audiences away.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Peter Cushing shocked  audiences with his villainous portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, and in HORROR OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee terrified viewers with his explosively violent portrayal of Count Dracula.  For some reason, in their subsequent remakes, Hammer wasn’t able to duplicate these impressive improvements, and so, while their handsome productions would continue to look good and genuinely entertain, they never seemed to regain that edge which their first two remakes possessed.

Take THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960) for example.  This is yet another very good looking Hammer Film, directed by their top director Terence Fisher, and it even features Christopher Lee in a supporting role, but at the end of the day, while modestly entertaining, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL remains vastly inferior to the versions which came before it, the 1932 version DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, in which Fredric March won an Oscar for his performance in the lead dual role, and the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE starring Spencer Tracy.

The gimmick Hammer uses here in TWO FACES is that when Jekyll turns into Hyde, he doesn’t become a hideous looking monster but an extremely handsome gentleman.  Yet, in spite of his looks, Mr. Hyde is still a sinister being.  Now, this tweak to the story in itself is rather interesting, and I have no problem with it.  However, the problem here isn’t the tweak, but the fact the the evil Mr. Hyde in this movie, played by Paul Massie, pales in comparison to the previous dark interpretations by Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.

Both March’s and Tracy’s performance remain disturbing today.  While I like both performances and both versions a lot, I’ve always given the Tracy version a slight edge because Tracy instills such an abhorrent evil in his Hyde that I still find this movie difficult to watch, even today.  I always feel like I need to shower after watching it.  The way he torments Ingrid Bergman’s Ivy is horrifying and unpleasant.

Paul Massie doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of either March or Tracy with his performance as Mr. Hyde.  He’s even worse as Dr. Jekyll.  Spencer Tracy makes Dr. Jekyll such a heroic figure it’s almost impossible to believe that Mr. Hyde could emanate from him.  Massie’s Jekyll is a boring bearded scientist who speaks and looks like he’s spent the last several years living in a cave.

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Paul Massie as a handsome Mr. Hyde

The script by Wolf Mankowitz doesn’t help matters.  As Hammer Films often did, the story is simplified, and characters condensed.  Instead of having Jekyll and Hyde deal with both a wife and a mistress, in this version he only has a wife Kitty (Dawn Addams), who happens to be someone else’s mistress!  Yep, she’s having an affair with the unscrupulous Paul Allen (Christopher Lee).  Now, not only is Allen sleeping with Jekyll’s wife, but he’s also living off Jekyll’s money, as he keeps asking for handouts which he doesn’t pay back, and Jekyll is fool enough to keep paying him!

As you can see, Jekyll in this movie is sort of a clueless dolt, and he’s not particularly sympathetic. Worse yet, when Mr. Hyde comes along and decides he’s going to steal Kitty away from Allen, he’s a miserable failure at it!  Some evil villain!  Sure, eventually he exacts his revenge against these two, but compared to March’s and Tracy’s Hyde, this guy’s a pussycat.

Sadly, the story here is all rather boring, and the characters don’t help.  Both Kitty and Paul Allen are unlikable, Dr. Jekyll is a sad sack who deserves his fate, and Mr. Hyde is as ineffective a villain as Wile E. Coyote!  None of these folks have much to do.  The only thing on Hyde’s agenda here is disrupting the adulterous relationship between Kitty and Paul Allen, and he’s not terribly successful at it.

Director Terence Fisher who usually crafts at least one memorable scene in each of his films fires blanks with this one.  And the pacing is dreadfully slow.  For example, one of the first scenes is a long drawn out scene of exposition dialogue between Jekyll and one of his colleagues that seems to go on forever and really gets the film off to a molasses-like start.

Christopher Lee fares the best here with his supporting role as Paul Allen.  First of all, it’s a rare time that Lee isn’t playing the villain, the hero, or some pompous snobby type.  He’s a handsome cad here,  who prides himself on how much fun he can have at other people’s expense, and when he first meets Hyde, the two naturally become friends, until later when Hyde turns against him.

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Christopher Lee in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

It’s also a chance to see just how handsome Christopher Lee was.  When we think of Lee we think of red bloodshot eyes and hissing fangs, but without his Dracula make-up, he was quite the handsome man.  He’s rarely looked as dashing as he does here in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

Lee also gives the character of Paul Allen some depth.  He gives the guy an undercurrent of conscience.  He doesn’t like Hyde the more he gets to know him, nor does he really treat Kitty all that badly.  He genuinely seems to have feelings for her.  In a strange way, Paul Allen may be the most likable character in the movie.

Another fun part about THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is a young Oliver Reed shows up in a pre-THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) performance in an unbilled bit as a bouncer.   He gets to confront both Hyde and Paul Allen before being promptly thrashed by the both of them.  It’s fun to see Lee and Reed in the same scene.

But other than Lee’s performance and Reed’s one scene, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about concerning THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.  The whole film plays like DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE LITE.  And that’s really the biggest problem with this movie.  It doesn’t come close to duplicating the effectiveness of the previous JEKYLL AND HYDE movies.  It doesn’t contain the powerhouse performances of Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, nor does it have the same disturbing story the previous versions tell.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is as good looking and well-produced a Hammer Film as any, but in this case, without anything extra special to lift it above the prior versions of this Robert Louis Stevenson tale, it’s simply not enough.

And that’s because in this movie the two faces of Dr. Jekyll are neither heroic nor monstrous, and as a result not at all memorable.

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