The Dracula movies- The Hammer sequels

16 Jul

Perhaps for a modern audience, Britain’s Hammer studios, more than even Universal, have provided the visual shorthand for Stoker’s vampire villain in the minds of the mass collective. Their output ranged from the stylishly sublime to the tackily ridiculous, but they were never boring. Let’s watch…if you dare!

Like Universal studios before them, Hammer films followed up their initial Dracula novel adaptation with a sequel, which came in 1960, with a film that didn’t actually feature the Count himself, so the title was a rather misleading….

 Brides of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1960)

….which was really a sequel for the character of Van Helsing, rather than Dracula.

But thankfully Van Helsing does return in splendid form, played once again by Peter Cushing , who encounters a rather feeble David Peel, probably cast for his looks, who plays a significantly less effective sub-Dracula type called Baron Meister, a vampire who’s own mother keeps him alive, but chained up at the decadent family castle. This is all until a well meaning visitor, Marianne, played by the beautiful Bardot-esque Yvonne Monlaur, sets him free.
Unfortunately, Peel is nowhere near as good as Lee, but luckily the film makes up for this is most other areas. It’s a very atmospheric movie with definite sinister undertones, and even a hint of an incestuous/Oedipus thing going on between the Baron and his mother, who even becomes one of his victims. Coupled with some great visual photography and Hammer’s usual attention to detail in their stunning set designs, this movie still has plenty going for it.

The new series of "Hollyoaks" had really taken a radical direction.

This is also by no means a slow paced movie and Van Helsing, played with possibly even more gusto than the previous outing, has his work cut out for him. He even gets bitten by the Baron, but in a superb scene, Van Helsing exhibits a moment of great, almost masochistic strength, when he cauterizes the bite wound with a red hot iron.
Eventually, Van Helsing, by now displaying the keen intelligence that we’ve come to expect from the character, utilizes the blades of a windmill to cast the moonlight shadow of a cross, which destroys Baron Meister in an excellent finale.
Yes, Lee’s presence is sorely missed, but in every other area this is a fine movie of the genre and though under-rated by some, it’s a very individual Hammer entry that stands up in its own right. Even without the ‘real’ Dracula, it has more than enough going for it to merit a viewing. It is a forgotten classic of the Hammer canon.

Dracula- Prince of darkness (Terence Fisher, 1966)

Fisher returns to direct, with much of same team as before. The direction is good, as is the production design, and the performances are fine (although there is an occasional moment of ham). The big news with this one, however, was Christopher Lee’s return to the role he had first played on screen some eight years previously. His fears of type-casting were perhaps not without truth, as he became synonymous with the role in a way that had not been seen since Bela Lugosi. His reluctance to reprise the role would increase as the scripts became ever less reverent to their source material.
Actually it is clear that Fisher creates a sequel that has a script so much like the original Hammer Dracula, that in theory you wonder why they bothered. In practice, the differences make the film a very entertaining one and the Hammer formula hadn’t yet become tired. The ‘Dracula’ formula seemed to be very much about Dracula being resurrected, a female succumbing to Dracula’s bite and joining the ranks of the undead, one female becoming tainted by Dracula, Van Helsing (or some other learned man, as in this film’s monk played by Andrew Kier) educating a younger hero in how to destroy the menace and a final showdown which sees Dracula destroyed forever (again!)

 The film does all this and it does it well. It doesn’t take Stoker’s original creation very seriously, but adds a slightly revised new mythology for the character (which would continue into the series). Two elements in Stoker’s book, but not in the first Hammer picture, find a place here- a crazy Renfield type character that eats flies and is controlled by Dracula and Dracula giving his heart’s blood to taint a human and put them under his power. Both are welcome and one can accept them late in the day in the context of Hammer’s ongoing series, which was obviously taking liberties with the character and premise from the start. It entertains tremendously despite its increasing distance from Stoker’s original. It also manages to be bloodier and sexier, without going too far from the original.

This picture indicates where the National Trust castle tours have been going wrong all these years.

In addition, what the film does do from the outset is fool us into thinking we’re getting almost exactly more of the same with the same cast, rather than an alternative follow up. Peter Cushing appears in the titles, in footage from the 1958 film, and Lee is a given. Yet Cushing fails to reappear and Lee does not speak. The fact that Cushing is not missed as much as one would expect and that Lee dominates the film with a great performance because of his mute role, rather than in spite of it, tells you how engrossing and slightly risk taking this film is. There is also one of the most original Dracula dispatches in film history for the closing scene- it’s the only time I think he’s ‘died’ that way on film.

Ewwww

So, it offers a few things the earlier film did not, but in a similar way, and because of that it is a fine sequel and has proven a personal favourite.


Dracula has risen from the grave (Freddie Francis, 1968)

Oh indeed he has! This film does exactly what it says on the film can!  A darker film than the previous three I’ve seen, Risen has Freddie Francis in the director’s chair and the style and more subtle touch of Terence Fisher is absent here which means the film’s tone is substantially different.
The whole film is a lot gaudier and bloodier, but the story suits this quite well, and Dracula is well utilised with Christopher Lee giving a captivating performance full of understated wrath. He gets some rather sparse but commanding dialogue here, all delivered in that marvellous baritone.

There are a few sections of the film that drag a little due to the time spent on the supporting characters. Often this is welcome and builds up the story, but I found Barry Andrew’s young hero Paul a bit of an annoyance, and Veronica Carlson is rightfully a Hammer icon, but her role as Maria is as wet as the demise Drac endured in the last film. Rupert Davies as the Monsignor is far better, as is Ewan Hooper as the weak willed priest, and servant of the Count.

We're getting into Bond girl territory here!

The film’s production design is pleasing, and the European town is convincing (in what I presume was studio bound footage). The chimneys and spires of the town make for a few nice scenes. I also love the bar and the many scenes shot in there, and I love the dresses! But Francis does tend to overdo it with the coloured filters in certain scenes, whenever evil is afoot. Considering this is the man who photographed The Innocents, you’d think he’d know better- it rather detracts from my overall enjoyment.
The exterior of Dracula’s castle is also substantially different from the one shown in the previous films, which is a shame considering the other continuity on show.

The climax of the film is also a bit disappointing, but the sets, great costumes and splashes of day-glo gore all make this a prime slice of goth campery. However, there is a feeling that the series was recycling ideas too much and relying on the same formula, and it’s already tired, but not quite ready for staking yet. Actually, just like Dracula in this film, it does look at one point like it’s going to die on its arse, before brushing itself off and giving us a few extra thrills. Not scary in the slightest of course, but fun. Bloody good fun.

Taste the blood of Dracula (Peter Sadsy, 1969)

There are aspects which define Hammer and their output, and fine performances, genuine horror and an erotic sexual undercurrent are not always those hallmarks. The fact that Taste the blood of Dracula has all that and the usual Hammer high points like set design and direction, make it a very good addition to the series.
The Hammer Dracula formula is fully in place and becoming very tired, but Taste has some of the best performances in the entire series, and keeps me watching avidly despite the sometimes lacklustre script.

There is no way you are telling me that Chris didn't enjoy this Dracula gig!

The story is quite engaging, and probably better than we have any right to expect after extending the franchise a bit further one more time, and all the ludicrous lengths that involves. As it is, the story of the business traveller finding Dracula as he meets his cross staked demise at the end of Dracula has risen from the grave, is as good a beginning as any. Kinnear is a good character actor and plays his role with a believable amount of fear. Infact, I can’t fault any of the performances in this film, except perhaps Ralph Bates who over does it a touch (although his character is a loon intent on resurrecting the count after all). Elsewhere the cast is so good how could it have been otherwise…Peter Sallis, Jeffrey Keen, Martin Jarvis and heaving bosum duties amply played by Linda Hayden and Isla Blair

Argh…error! Basically, a whole blog post has been lost, so just to rescue the main points I was going to make…

1. The film isn’t a great one, but is still a good entry to the series; highly convincing performances that convey the full horror of the vampire, are what makes it.

2. There are a few scenes of genuine horror, such as the three ‘gentlemen’ being goaded to drink Dracula’s blood, and the staking of Peter Sallis as Sexton. Geoffrey Keen is marvellous as Hargood, and never fails to convince. The characters reactions to what has happened to them is spot on in my opinion, and not as blasé as in some Hammers.

3. Christopher Lee looks marvellous in this, and his minimal dialogue works well.

4. Two great bosom heaving turns from Linda Hayden and Isla Blair.

5. A brief but noticeable nod to the sexual hypocrisy of Victorian society, which sits quite well in this story.

6. Great production design and sound. Direction is a bit point and shoot, but it occasionally surprises. Good enough.

7. All unfortunately let down in the final moments, as we get the weakest Dracula demise ever. This film is one of my favourites, and the Christian element on show here really ruins it for me. Killed by the power of the church?! What?! Hammer’s habit of making the vampire synonymous with Satanism reaches its nadir here, and the moralistic Christian tone is not welcome. Enough already. Really let’s the film down.

Overall a good addition to the series though.

Scars of Dracula (Roy Ward Barker, 1970)

This film looks as if it’s about to pick up where Taste the blood… left off, but that’s not entirely the case. For a start, Dracula’s remains do not appear to be in the same place we last saw him.  Either way the sight of a vomiting rubber bat is never the best way to start any Dracula film, I would have thought, and sadly sets the tone for a disappointing entry to the series.
Christopher Lee, however, has more dialogue than previously and gives a very pleasing performance. Dracula actually feels more like a real person here, with a history and reasonable motives (for an undead Count at least). Elsewhere, things aren’t as impressive, although there’s no one performance that stinks above the rest. Patrick Troughton is quite good though. Overall, it’s a bit run of the mill Hammer really, although the story includes a few elements borrowed from Stoker’s original novel. The whole production does however look a bit cheap and tired, and the script often takes silly liberties with vampire mythology such as the scene where Dracula uses a sword to kill the girl, and his demise is almost as bad as the one in the previous film.

Christopher Lee and Dennis Waterman...now there's a re-casting of "Minder" I'd love to see.

On the other hand it does have an engaging story and some scenes rise above the mediocrity. There is also much more sadistic violence on display from Dracula in this one, which might come as a slight shock following the more restrained Count of the previous films. But, whatever director Roy Ward Barker did to get Christopher Lee in this for more than ten minutes, I don’t know, but I applaud him!
Disappointing then, but watchable!

Dracula A.D. 1972. (Alan Gibson, 1972)

Despite a reasonably good cast, including Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame, Caroline Munro, and finally, the return of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, this perhaps the worst of the Dracula sequels.
Ignoring continuity to the previous movies, the film starts with a hitherto unseen confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing in 1872 (bizarrely, some 25 years before the events in Stoker’s original novel), whereupon Van Helsing destroys the vampire once again. Zoom forward one hundred years to 1972 (conveniently when the film was made) and we meet swinging dolly bird Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), who is the grandaughter of a modern day Professor Van Helsing who in turn is the great grandson of the original. In short, one of Jessica’s hippie group of friends, calling himself Johnny Alucard, ressurects Dracula, who seizes upon the chance to permanently end the Van Helsing line.

Chris is wondering what the hell he is doing in this film, and who can blame him.

This sounds fine in theory, but unfortunately the movie has dated really badly, and even at the time when it was made, I could imagine it coming over as awfully kitsch and desperate . Gone is James Bernard’s classic style of music, to be replaced by a horribly generic ‘Geoff Love & His Orchestra’ style of quasi-hip easy music, and some really corny rock music provided by some awfully average band of the day. Jessica, Alucard, and the other group of pseudo-hippies are so incredibly ham and unconvincing that it borders on embarrassing, although to be fair Stephanie Beacham isn’t bad in some bits.

It's got Caroline Munro in it. Even Chris Lee couldn't turn that down!

I can’t really fault Lee’s performance to be honest, He treats it with as much seriousness as possible, as you’d expect from a professional of his calibre. But, even the best actors can only work with what they’re given. The script and the plot are just average fare and along with Lee, only the great Peter Cushing really makes this movie worth bothering with. If anything, Cushing’s outing is even more effective than Lee’s, and he brings a welcome sense of gravitas and convinction to all his scenes. Still the nadir of the Hammer Dracula series though.

Despite the lukewarm response the public gave this entry, a year later Lee and Cushing would make one final Dracula film for Hammer…

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (Alan Gibson, 1973)

In this final instalment, Cushing returns once again as the descendant of the original Van Helsing, but this time his grandaughter is played by Joanna Lumley. It’s a better film than the previous one, but still not a great movie.

To summarise, Scotland Yard call in vampire expert Van Helsing to help them investigate an apparent case of vampirism, which eventually leads him to discover Dracula, who is posing as a property tycoon called D.D. Denham, and plans to unleash bubonic plague upon the world.

Lee’s appearance is reduced to little more than the part of a walk on extra, but at least when we finally see the Count, there’s some fairly satisfactory sparring between Cushing and Lee. Lee also gets to use some great lines from Stoker’s novel (which he’d been sneaking into the Hammer films since the beginning, but here they are perhaps especially needed to rescue the character from becoming marginilised!) The line “My revenge has spread over centuries and has just begun” is one of my all time favourite Christopher Lee lines, delivered with menacing relish. But much of the film is taken up with Van Helsing tracking down Dracula, and running into a clutch of vampires along the way.

Joanna Lumley in what is basically "The New Avengers" with vampires.

The film leans quite a bit on showing nudity which does nothing to advance the plot, and whilst not as corny as Dracula A.D. 1972, it still has some embarrassingly poor bad guy bikers who do the Count’s day time deeds!  In fact, in some ways, this film could almost be a feature length episode of The Avengers, or perhaps more accurately, the ‘70s The New Avengers, with a touch of Pertwee-era Doctor Who!
Once again, Cushing easily provides the best input into this movie, and it’s an entertaining and colourful entry, although by no means a good representation of Hammer Horror!

It's a tough job but someone has to do it...

By now, Hammer Films were in decline. They would produce a couple or three decent films around this time, but the glory days were gone, and the character of Dracula made a last cameo appearance in a truly dire Hammer film from 1974, called The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. An atrocious attempt to cash in on the popularity of martial arts movies, it’s quite possibly the worst film that Hammer ever made, despite managing to get Cushing onboard for a final stint as Van Helsing.
Dracula’s brief appearance was played by John Forbes-Robertson. This movie was too much for even Christopher Lee, who had long since developed issues with his most famous Hammer role, even though he kept coming back for more. Apparently the American distributors would be informed Lee was on board for each production, before Lee himself was asked! Each time Lee gave in to the emotional blackmail of having a hundred or so people be put out of work if he boycotted the next Dracula film! However, despite what he says, I reckon he enjoyed the part immensely and just kept coming back to snuggle up to the various Hammer babes’ necks.

Backtracking slightly to 1970, Christopher Lee, dissatisfied with Hammer’s Draculas, agreed to star in a non Hammer Dracula production made by Spanish film maker Jess Franco. This was to be a fresh adaptation based on Stoker’s original novel, and Lee agreed to take a very small salary as the production was to be faithful to Stoker’s work, and he wanted to be in it for that reason.
Just how faithful to Stoker’s book this proved to be, we shall find out in a future blog entry…

Until next time, my fellow vampire fans…time has caught us up, the sun casts its first light on the clouds, and the wolf and the bat have retreated to their homes…I bid you good morning! (the creaking of old hinges and the thud of the closing coffin lid to follow). 

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2 Responses to “The Dracula movies- The Hammer sequels”

  1. E. A Solinas August 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    “Dracula” was not the first vampire novel, nor was it Bram Stoker’s first book. But he managed to craft the ultimate vampire novel, which has spawned countless movies, spinoffs, and books that follow the blueprint of the Transylvanian count. Eerie, horrifying and genuinely mysterious, “Dracula” is undoubtedly the most striking and unique vampire novel yet penned.

    Real estate agent Jonathan Harker arrives in Transylvania, to arrange a London house sale to Count Dracula. But as the days go by, Harker witnesses increasingly horrific events, leading him to believe that Dracula is not actually human. His fiancee Mina arrives in Transylvania, and finds that he has been feverish. Meanwhile the count has vanished — along with countless boxes filled with dirt.

    And soon afterwards, strange things happen: a ship piloted by a dead man crashes on the shore, after a mysterious thing killed the crew. A lunatic talks about “Him” coming. And Mina’s pal Lucy dies of mysterious blood loss, only to come back as an undead seductress. Dracula has arrived in England — then the center of the Western world — and intends to make it his own…

    “Dracula” is the grandaddy of Lestat and other elegantly alluring bloodsuckers, but that isn’t the sole reason why this novel is a classic. It’s also incredibly atmospheric, and very well-written. Not only is it very freaky, in an ornate Victorian style, but it is also full of restrained, quiet horror and creepy eroticism. What’s more, it’s shaped the portrayal of vampires in movies and books, even to this day.

    Despite already knowing what’s going on for the first half of the book, it’s actually kind of creepy to see these people whose lives are being disrupted by Dracula, but don’t know about vampires. It’s a bit tempting to yell “It’s a vampire, you idiots!” every now and then, but you can’t really blame them. Then the second half kicks in, with accented professor Van Helsing taking our heroes on a quest to save Mina from Dracula.

    And along the way, while our heroes try to figure stuff out, Stoker spins up all these creepy hints of Dracula’s arrival. Though he wrote in the late 19th-century manner, very verbose and a bit stuffy, his skill shines through. The book is crammed with intense, evocative language, with moments like Dracula creeping down a wall, or the dead captain found tied to the wheel. Once read, they stick in your mind throughout the book.

    It’s also a credit to Stoker that he keeps his characters from seeming like idiots or freaks, which they could have easily seemed like. Instead, he puts little moments of humanity in them, like Van Helsing admitting that his wife is in an asylum. Even the letters and diaries are written in different styles; for example, Seward’s is restrained and analytical, while Mina’s is exuberant and bright.

    Even Dracula himself is an overpowering presence despite his small amount of actual screen time, and not just as a vampire — Stoker presents him as passionate, intense, malignant, and probably the smartest person in the entire book. If Van Helsing hadn’t thwarted him, he probably would have taken over the world — not the Victorian audience’s ideal ending.

    Intelligent, frightening and very well-written, “Dracula” is the well-deserved godfather of all modern vampire books and movies — and its unique villain still dwarfs the more recent undead.

  2. Wednesday August 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    I picked this book up about a year ago yearning for something to remind me of what vampires are supposed to be. What better way to do that than to read the book that started it all?

    In this book, vampires are not glorified, they are not romantic, they don’t go to prom and they don’t fall in love. They are powerful human predators. Bram Stoker gave a wonderfully animalistic approach to the vampire lore which I feel hadn’t been told as well since the myths of old and definitely hasn’t been touched upon since.

    What I love so much about this story is that the character of Count Dracula is developed under raw seduction. He’s terrifying not because he has sharp teeth and can stalk you in the night, but because he is so powerful that his victims, in the end, want to be his prey. No creature can be scarier than one that controls your will. The story mostly circles around the other characters–leaving the count himself as an eerie shadow lurking in the back of the readers mind–and in them we can see the transformation from naveté to fear to ignorance straight down to longing. The characters are all deeply important in their own ways; uniting despite their personal differences to overcome a great evil. This story is about influence and a primal fight for survival and free will.

    This book isn’t for lovers of action and generic horror; but from a psychological and developmental standpoint, it is fulfilling.

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