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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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE BLACK CAT (1934)

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the black cat posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi masterpiece THE BLACK CAT (1934), up now in the January 2015 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

 

THE BLACK CAT (1934) is my favorite teaming of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.  It’s also the first time these two horror stars appeared together in a movie.

THE BLACK CAT was made when both Karloff and Lugosi were at the height of their popularity, each coming off the success of their first horror hit, Lugosi with DRACULA (1931) and Karloff with FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  Audiences definitely responded, as this was Universal’s biggest money maker at the box office in 1934.

Since the two play adversaries in THE BLACK CAT, it’s very easy to see this movie as Dracula vs. Frankenstein.  This concept wasn’t lost on director Edgar G. Ulmer, as he takes full advantage of these two actors’ famous monster counterparts.  Lugosi gets to spout haunting dialogue throughout, a la Dracula.  When Karloff is introduced, it’s through a silhouette.  We see his solid physique which in shadow strongly resembles the Frankenstein Monster, and Karloff’s first few minutes of screen time are spent in silence, as if, like the Monster, he cannot speak.

In THE BLACK CAT, Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Bela Lugosi) returns to Hungary in search of his wife.  On his way there, he befriends two Americans on a train, author Peter Allison (David Manners) and his wife Joan (Jacqueline Wells) who for some reason are honeymooning in Hungary.  Whose idea was that?  When there is a car crash in a storm, and Joan is injured, Vitus brings the couple to the home of Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff), in order to treat her injuries.  Poelzig is the man Vitus has come to see, believing that his wife is now living in Poelzig’s home.

The two men have a history.  Poelzig was the commanding officer of the military unit in which Vitus served in World War I, and according to Vitus, Poelzig abandoned his men, leaving them to be killed or worse yet, captured, which is what happened to Vitus. After spending fifteen years in prison, Vitus has returned to claim his wife back from Poelzig.  Vitus demands Poelzig bring him to his wife, and he does, but his wife is dead, her body preserved in a glass case.

It turns out, Poelzig is a Satanist, and he has set his sights on Joan as his latest sacrificial victim, unless Vitus can stop him.

THE BLACK CAT is one of the more interesting Universal horror movies of the 1930s.  It has many things going for it.  It has Karloff and Lugosi of course, and it also has an amazingly talented director at the helm, Edgar G. Ulmer, who does a phenomenal job with this movie.

Ulmer offers a lot of neat touches.  There’s some nifty camerawork, offering creative transitions from scene to scene.  Ulmer also made the unusual decision to include background music in nearly the entire film.  Most films during this time period employed very little music other than during the opening and closing credits.  Nearly all of THE BLACK CAT has music playing in the background.

It’s a compact little film.  At 65 minutes, things move briskly and efficiently.  There’s no time to daydream.

The screenplay by Peter Ruric tells a haunting story which was quite gruesome for its day.  Karloff’s Poelzig keeps women—evidently his dead wives— preserved in glass cases in his own personal museum— talk about trophy wives!  He most likely killed all these women, making him one of the earliest movie serial killers.

There’s also a very gruesome “skinning alive” scene that still makes me squirm each time I see it.

Poelzig’s ultra-modern house is incredibly cool.  It has a modern design because Poelzig is supposedly his country’s most talented architect.  The house is unlike anything else seen in the Universal monster movies.  Usually the events in these movies take place in decrepit castles and laboratories, but here, we have revolving rooms, slick sliding doors, communication systems, and interior architecture which resembles something you’d find on STAR TREK.

Although the title THE BLACK CAT comes from the Edgar Allan Poe short story, the film has nothing at all to do with Poe’s tale.  In fact, the only connection to the events in the movie and the black cat is that Vitus suffers from an intense fear of cats.

By far, the best part of THE BLACK CAT is Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Lugosi is on top of his game throughout, and he gets to deliver one memorable line after another.  For me, it’s always a treat listening to Lugosi speak in a movie, as his voice and his accent have a poetic quality about them that make his dialogue all the better, and he’s got some classic lines in this movie.

When speaking of Poelzig’s home, which was built on a massive battlefield graveyard, Vitus says, “The masterpiece of construction, built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction.”

Karloff’s got some great lines as well.  My favorite is when Peter Allison barks at him that the phone is dead, Poelzig turns to Vitus and says, “The phone is dead.  Do you hear that, Vitus?  Even the phone is dead!”

So, you have Lugosi strutting his stuff throughout, displaying all the skills which he used to create Dracula, and you think, there’s no way anyone in this film can be better, but then you get to Karloff, whose style is the antithesis of Lugosi’s.  While Lugosi is commanding and authoritative, and all about the dialogue which he uses to great dramatic effect, Karloff is the opposite, seeming so relaxed and subtle.  With Karloff, it’s a nuanced expression, the raising of an eyebrow, the clenching of a hand.  He incites fear in his audience so effortlessly it’s amazing.  His is a different style, and he not only holds his own against Lugosi, he surpasses him.  The interactions of these two actors in this movie is a nice microcosm of how their careers played out in real life, with Karloff continuing to grow stronger over the years on his way to becoming the “King of Horror.”

There’s just a relaxed glee about Karloff, like when he comments on Lugosi’s fear of cats, lines he delivers with a devilish smile:  “You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness.  He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form.  He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.”

Even David Manners, who’s usually the straight—and dull— leading man in such films as DRACULA and THE MUMMY (1932)— gets to display an edge here not always seen in his other roles.

Not only is THE BLACK CAT one of Universal’s best horror movies and the best of the Karloff/Lugosi pairings, it’s also one of the finest horror movies ever made, period.

Looking for a winter vacation destination?  Check out Hjalmar Poelzig’s place.  I’m not sure how the skiing is, but I hear the skinning is just fine.  Ouch!

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