Four Film Favorites: Draculas

Dist: Universal

I'm still coming to terms with the usage of the plural in the title of the box-set. It's not as if there are multiple Counts: brothers, perhaps. It might even make sense if there were multiple actors portraying Dracula, e.g. Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and Udo Kier, included here. But there isn't. It's all the now-knighted Christopher Lee, in the role for which he is, justifiably, most famous, with four of the Hammer movies that turned him into an icon. To some extent, it's a shame they didn't go the whole hog and include another disc with the two other entries in the series: Scars of Dracula and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, purely for completeness, though since I already possess the latter, I amn't too concerned. [The set also includes Dracula has Risen From the Grave, which was previously reviewed elsewhere].

As with the other Hammer box-set recently reviewed, the print quality is excellent, with the films all letterboxed, apparently uncut, and in pristine condition. The lack of extras is somewhat disappointing: there are trailers, which are a hoot [the one for AD 1972 in particular], but the only other thing you get are some very disappointing and uninteresting text screeds. I know Lee tends to look down his nose at these films [claiming he was semi-blackmailed into doing them, with Hammer tellng him he'd be responsible for throwing people out of work otherwise], but I'm sure he'd have a wealth of stories about the films, and working with life-long friend Cushing. However, the film alone make this well worth the purchase price: in Dracula and Has Risen, you have two rock-solid classics, and 1972 wasn't as bad as I remembered it. Highly recommended.

[August 2010]

Lee's please me
See also... [Index] [TC Home Page]


[a.k.a. The Horror of Dracula]
Dir: Terence Fisher
Star: Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Melissa Stribling

More than fifty years on, this still remains one of the classic vampire films of all time, and possibly the best version of Bram Stoker's original novel ever filmed, despite some interesting deviations from the plot. Most obviously, Jonathan Harker is not an innocent solicitor, but goes to Dracula's castle fully intent on destroying him. He succeeds in killing the Count's bride, which makes Dracula's interest in Harker's fiancee, Lucy, a matter of personal revenge as much as anything. However, Harker is a total wuss, a fatal flaw in a vampire hunter - his hesitation when staking is what dooms him. That makes an interesting contrast to his colleague, Dr. Van Helsing (Cushing), who is decisive and sharp-witted. For instance, when trying to protect Lucy, he wisely doesn't get into the whole vampire thing, and simply dictates the preventative measures: . garlic flowers, windows closed, etc. Arthur Holmwood (Gough) discovers the truth of what's going on for himself, which certainly beats having to explain it - though Cushing, as ever, sells the outlandish concepts involved with marvellous conviction.

The other side of the equation is Lee as Dracula: initially a suave aristocrat, but it's not long before that side of his character vanishes - after his bride tries to nibble on Harker, he doesn't say a single coherent word to anyone the rest of the film, it's all hisses and snarls. However, the groundwork has been laid, and there's also an enormous amount of sexual tension on view, particularly for the era - this is most notable when he is draining Lucy, but is present in almost every scene in which Lee appears. Van Helsing has an interesting speech comparing vampirism to a drug-habit, a concept explored more fully in Abel Ferrara's The Addiction, and he also disparages the notion that the Count can shape-shift. Indeed, Dracula here doesn't have many special powers at all, beyond near-hypnotic charisma. The film is quite beautiful to look at, and during the slower moments [not that there are many], you find yourself admiring the set design and cinematography. But it's Lee and Cushing who power this, and even if they share only a couple of scenes, neither man has been bettered in their respective roles since.

[August 2010]

Dracula feels a little cross
See also...
  • Related films can be found at the top of this article
[Index] [Next] [Previous] [TC Home Page]

Taste the Blood of Dracula

Dir: Peter Sasdy
Star: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Linda Hayden, Anthony Corlan

This takes place immediately after the events of Dracula has Risen From the Grave, with a travelling salesman stumbling across the remnants of the Count. He takes the relics - cape, clasp, and a tube of powdered blood - back to London, and provides them to a dissolute young rake, Courtley (Ralph Bates). He uses them in a black magic ritual with three older gentlemen looking for new kicks, led by William Hargood (Keen), but it ends in the death of Courtley, as his colleagues opt out. Dracula is, however, resurrected, sporting some of the coolest red eyes you'll ever have seen, at least in the days before CGI. He vows to take revenge on those responsible for the death of the disciple - not least Hargood's young daughter, Alice (Hayden) and her secret boyfriend (Corlan).

The aim seems to be to say something about Victorian hypocrisy, with Hargood smacking Alice about for flirting "like a harlot" - before heading off with his cronies to an East End brothel (staffed, it must be said, by some singularly unattractive whores). Guess he'd know what "like a harlot" means. After the opening, it's almost 45 minutes before Drac's back, and while it's somewhat amusing to watch one of the blokes from Last of the Summer Wine try to play a rake, that can't quite carry the movie. The supporting cast has its moments, with the likes of Bates and Martin Jarvis providing credible support: it's really the blandness of Corlan as the hero that derails things. The script hardly bothers with developing him earlier on, so when he is expected to command centre-stage and take control in the second half, it doesn't work, because you keep expecting someone else to come forward. Add a climax that doesn't make much sense, and I'd be hard pushed to call this one of the better entries.

[August 2010]

Last of the Summer Vein
See also... [Index] [Next] [Previous] [TC Home Page]

Dracula A.D. 1972

Dir: Alan Gibson
Star: Stephanie Beacham, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Christopher Neame

I didn't hate this nearly as much as I remembered, though the post-prologue sequence, featuring a hideously 70's party and "introducing" a beat combo called Stoneground, made me fear otherwise (why haven't we heard anything of Stoneground outside this film? Turns out they're still available for corporate functions and weddings!). It has some similarities to Taste the Blood with, once again, a bunch of people carrying out a black mass for kicks, at the behest of a disciple - here, the crappily named Johnny Alucard (Neame). When Dracula (Lee) is resurrected, turns out he wants revenge on the family of Van Helsing, whose ancestor staked him in the prologue - curiously, named "Lawrence" there, rather than Abraham? The decendants are Lorrimer (Cushing) and his grand-daughter Jessica (Beacham), the latter of whom was one of group involved in the satanic ritual. When the bodies of the other women who took part start turning up, mutilated and drained, and the police have problems grasping what's going on, it's up to Lorrimer to stop his family's enemy himself, after Dracula arranges for the kidnap of Jessica.

It's Cushing who really holds this together. Like most attempts at creating something hip 'n' happening, when viewed forty years later, it looks incredibly dated, with the fashions, hair, cars, etc. presented here, no more than a sniggerworthy distraction. However, when the film is not irrevocably located in 1972, it's much better, with Beacham a decent damsel in distress, and Neame enjoyably loopy as the Renfield character - we can only presume Malcolm McDowell was unable for the part. Credit also to Michael Coles' Inspector Murray: he's the main target of disbelief for Cushing's explanations, and once again, Cushing sells it so absolutely, you wonder why the entire police force of London is not out there with torches and pitchforks. It's this seriousness that yanks the film up by the bootstraps and by the end, you've forgotten the silliness with which the film arrives in the present-day. It would have been nice to have more of Cushing and Lee facing off, for the first time in the series since the original, but I'll take what we get here, and am happy enough to do so.

[July 2010]

Rave From the Grave
See also...
  • Related films can be found at the top of this article
[Index] [Next] [Previous] [TC Home Page]