Tag Archives: Dracula Movies

The Dracula Movies #11: ‘Dracula’ (Bill Eagles, 2006)

27 Jul

marc_warren_470x352

The 2006 BBC production of Dracula is the latest version that’s loosely based on Stoker’s novel that I’ve seen, and brings our journey on this series to an end for now. The 2002 Italian mini-series and Canadian silent film homage (also 2002) I may return to at some point, but as a self contained adaptation of the novel, I’ve settled on the BBC presentation as my final stop on the Stoker film trail. There is a more recent 3D version of the story, but again, one I shall perhaps view and return to on here in the future.
I first saw the 2006 BBC version during the Christmas season it was first screened, and I wasn’t over thrilled to give it another viewing because although I’d originally found it reasonably entertaining, it had not made a huge impact on me at the time. But my interest in the whole Dracula/Vampire/Classic Horror genre has been building into something of a personal renaissance in recent years so I’ve been quite keen to give it a proper re-evaluation. So it still came as something as a surprise to me that I got a bit bored halfway through watching this version, and if anything it had even less impact on me than it did nearly seven years ago. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Dracula Movies #10: ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (Francis Ford Copolla, 1992)

10 Feb

1992-bram-stokers-dracula-poster1

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Copolla, 1992)

For those that don’t know, I’m currently nearing the end of my Masters in Film and Literature, and my final thesis is concerned with the sanitization (‘defanging’ if you will) of the vampire in modern media; how and why the vampire has become a romantic icon rather than a symbol of the uncanny; what Freud described as unhiemlich. One of my core ‘texts’ for the project is Francis Ford Copolla’s 1992 film version of Dracula, which I’m presenting here as the latest of the on-going Dracula film reviews. However, as I’m so immersed in critically embracing it, it’s actually quite difficult to offer as generalised a review as I might have done with the others. With that in mind, I’ll probably have even more to say about this film at some point in the near future. In the meantime, however, I’ve already decided that its one of my favourite versions.

Bram-Stokers-Dracula-Dracula-Mina

Continue reading

The Dracula Movies #9: ‘Dracula’ (John Badham, 1979)

6 Aug

From the moment the titles started to show, I could tell this was going to be quite a classy production. It also takes a few liberties with the book, which I’m not entirely satisfied with, but I grudgingly admit work quite well. It all depends on whether you prefer your version of Dracula to be more of a romantic anti-hero. Frank Langella’s take on the role is very much in this mould, and the fact that he’s a very dashing embodiment of the Count helps enormously.

Image

The film is quite well directed, with some great sets and creative, metaphorical touches (I love the view from the spider web at Carfax abbey, when Lucy visits. The moment that the Count has entered the room below, the spider in the web arrives at and obscures Lucy many feet beneath). There isn’t much in the way of genuine scares though, or bloody horror. This is a more sensual, even sexy version of the novel.

Image

Continue reading

The Dracula Movies #7: ‘Count Dracula’ (1977)

19 Jan

Count Dracula (Phillip Saville, 1977)

Image

So, onwards with our journey through the cinematic world of Bram Stoker’s Vampire Count, with a look at the BBC’s first adaptation, from 1977.  Sadly, I have to start on a negative. The one thing that lets down the BBC’s sterling archive of literary output more than anything else, in my opinion, is the medium of professional videotape. To a modern audience it makes the otherwise sublime look unfortunately cheap.
That problem was one I could see here, alongside some unfortunately dated video effects. Overall, however, this TV version stands strong against the more lavish or classic product.
Louis Jordan is a surprising choice to play the Count, but proves quite effective, using charm and manners as an effective and manipulative veneer. Also in the cast are a pre- Clash of the Titans Judi Bowker, and a pre-Emmerdale Susan Penhaligon, both of whom turn in very watchable performances. Frank Finlay is also more than fine as Van Helsing, but elsewhere the performances are not as strong. Richard Barnes’ turn as Quincy is often unintentionally corny, with a rather amusing American accent. Barnes’ role is actually a combination of the characters of Quincy and Arthur Holmwood ). Continue reading

The Dracula Movies #6: “Dracula” (Dan Curtis, 1973)

9 Oct

Jack Palance. A very scary Dracula indeed.

Dan Curtis’ version of Dracula is in many ways relatively faithful to the novel (although some elements are changed or omitted altogether, such as the character of Renfield), but it adds a romantic element not present in the Stoker original, which would be touched upon again in the 1992 film version.
The change in the emphasis was done to give Dracula an apparently more plausible reason for coming to England, as he wants to find the reincarnation of his lost love, although to be fair I always thought fresh blood and good old fashioned vampiric invasion were good enough reasons on their own. Continue reading

The Dracula Movies- The Universal sequels

19 Jun

I couldn’t talk about Todd Browning’s 1931 film of Dracula without touching on the successful horror franchise it spawned (along with James Whale’s version of Frankenstein). There is nothing here to compare with the Frankenstein sequels (Bride of Frankenstein especially) but there are some notable Dracula films from Universal. I’ll come to the 1979 Universal film in due course, but that (and 2004’s Van Helsing) were made so long after the original run of films that they are not really part of the same series.

Also, although technically not a sequel, the Spanish version of Dracula was produced at the same time Browning’s 1931 movie. I’ve not seen it yet, so I shall have to reserve judgement, all though I am aware that it is well regarded.

The best of the Universal series…

Dracula’s Daughter (1936).

An informal sequel to Dracula, which sees Edward Van Sloan return as Van Helsing to encounter Dracula’s daughter, (played by Gloria Holden) who goes by the name of Countess Marya Zaleska.
In this film the Countess treats her vampirism as a hereditary disease; she spends most the movie seeking to get rid of the family curse, from turning up to claim her father’s body, which she ritually burns, through to even seeking medical help in an effort to cure her lust for blood.
Gloria Holden is quite good in the part. She brings a certain hypnotic, on-screen presence to the role and successfully manages to maintain a slightly sinister undertone, despite the film’s overall leaning towards ambiguity. The film seems intent on reminding the viewer that there’s no concrete evidence for her vampirism and implying that she’s simply a troubled (and possibly mad) woman. Whilst this gives the film a certain air of mystery, it does rather dampen down the ‘horror’ film effect. It does make up for this somewhat with a few very evocative scenes where the Countess shows her mesmeric powers to great effect, and also a return to Castle Dracula towards the end of the film, where the Countess is seen rising from her coffin.
It’s not the best of vampire movies and it’s probably a tad on the slow side. But nevertheless, it’s still deeply atmospheric, and I found it even more watchable than the 1931 film which spawned it, which was helped by this film actually having a half decent score, and slightly better performances.

Son of Dracula (1943)

Although the Universal star Lon Chaney is most associated with his role as The Wolfman, he did infact play The Mummy several times, and also Frankenstein’s monster in Ghost of Frankenstein, before appearing here as a version of Dracula. Unlike the previous film, no attempt is made to establish a link to the actual Dracula that appears in Universal’s 1931 classic, except via a very loose mention in passing. I don’t know quite why this film is called Son of Dracula. Perhaps Universal didn’t want to bother thinking up a way of resurrecting the original Count, or perhaps they felt that Lugosi, being the only person to play Dracula up to this point, was too closely identified with the character by audiences to accept a portrayal by a different actor.
Anyway, although the film does score points on a number of other levels, it’s my opinion that Chaney wasn’t anything other than average as an actor and I think his performance here reflects that.
In this film, Dracula, who is travelling ‘incognito’ as Count Alacard, (an idea later re-used in Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972) turns up in America on a southern plantation, & subsequently ends up in cohorts with a young heiress called Katherine Caldwell, who has a rather dark fascination with supernatural and occult matters.
The interesting slant with this movie is that Katherine isn’t mesmerized by Dracula at all in the way that most of his female victims are. In fact, she has a plan to gain eternal life through being vampirised by Dracula and for her fiancée to then destroy Dracula, leaving her to pass on the gift of immortality to him, so that they can spend eternity together.
It’s a quite a busy little movie that sets into motion a fairly complex chain of events involving the various characters, which include a ‘Professor Laslo’, who is a ‘Van Helsing’ by proxy, who’s very knowledgeable about Dracula and vampires in general, played by J.Edward Bromberg, who in my opinion gives a much more effective portrayal than his predecessor Edward Van Sloan did as Van Helsing. Robert Paige gives a largely convincing performance as Katherine’s fiancée and Louise Allbritton further augments the generally good performances in this film with an evocative performance as Katherine.
The movie also benefits from some nice visual set pieces, such as the highly eerie scene where Dracula first materializes from his coffin at in the swamp, and floats across the water to make his first contact with Katherine. The film utilizes several times the idea of Dracula transforming into and from a misty vapour, something which the later Hammer films would use to great effect.
In fact to be honest, there’s not too much to fault this movie on, aside from Chaney’s Dracula, who for me is the weakest link. The large framed Chaney looks like an older, slightly overweight Vincent Price, and although he looks visually imposing in at least one scene, where he throws Katherine’s fiancée through a door, in a display of inhuman strength, he generally doesn’t exude the malevolent demeanour that comes through in the best Dracula portrayals at certain times. His voice doesn’t sound right somehow and his acting unfortunately errs towards the side of wooden, for the most part.
As a film it has quite a lot going for it, and I’d rate it higher were it not for the fact that the most important character of the film is overshadowed by the rest of the cast.

House of Dracula (1945)

The poster pretty much sums it up- it's a bit of fun, but not likely to be very scary!

A year after Son of Dracula, Universal made the first of its ‘monster fests’ in 1943, with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. Their classic period was coming to an end and they followed up in 1944 with House of Frankenstein, which incorporated not only Frankenstein and the Wolfman, but also Count Dracula, played by John Carradine.
Carradine’s Dracula returned one more time along with Frankenstein and the Wolfman in 1945’s House of Dracula, which is the final film included on the Universal box set of Dracula movies.
Personally, I don’t really class this as a proper Dracula movie, any more than House of Frankenstein. It’s merely a vehicle for Universal to bring their classic monsters together (with the conspicuous exception of The Mummy) in one last outing before they’re consigned to the humiliating fate of meeting with Abbot & Costello a couple of years later (Poor Bela Lugosi in his second ever on screen Dracula appearance).
As a Dracula movie it’s by far the poorest outing on this blog, but as a mildly entertaining, no-brainer romp, it’s ok for a lazy Sunday afternoon’s viewing, but it adds nothing to the Dracula mythos. John Carradine’s performances as Dracula probably rounds out as slightly inferior to even Chaney’s. The voice and overall acting is a bit better, but unfortunately Carradine’s wildly staring eyes, which are supposed to be hypnotic, are pure comedy gold that will have you rolling in your seat. Carradine’s Dracula exudes no real menace, and even wooden Lon Chaney managed a bit of that. So, with Abbot and Costello waiting just around the corner, Universal’s conception of Dracula finished up on a sadly farcical note that I’m sure Bram Stoker wouldn’t have appreciated. Hard to rate this movie in context, but even viewing it as the Universal monster run-around that it is, it’s not a great picture.

Lugosi gets to play Drac again in the last of the Universal series. Sadly, it's an Abbot and Costello comedy, and leaves Dracula looking like a bit of joke. An ignoble end for Lugosi's interpretation.

Talking about vampires….and The Dracula movies- #2: ‘Dracula’ (1931)

17 Jun

So, onto the second Dracula film….the famous Universal production of 1931. There was a Hungarian film that predates it, but this no longer exists and was not a true adaptation of the novel, so we’ll skirt over that one.

Firstly though, let’s continue to talk vampires.

I got into mythology and folklore in my teens and the vampire fascinated me. A potent time to gain an interest as one’s sexuality begins to awaken and I imagine for women especially the idea of blood gains new significance. I saw Hammer’s series some time in the ’80s on late night re-runs, with Christopher Lee. They were extremely gaudy and colourful to my teen eyes, and not particularly scary; although I did find them mildly erotic and wonderfully stylish. Not sure which one would have been my first Hammer. I’m thinking it was Dracula- Prince of Darkness, but the memory cheats a little. I certainly didn’t see the 1958 Hammer version of the book until a couple of years ago, although I was familiar with the showdown scene between Cushing and Lee involving the curtain. Not sure where I would have seen that, but I only saw the full film recently, and intend to watch it again for this thread. I was a bit underwhelmed by it, to be honest, due to the high expectation I had- but more of that later.
Elsewhere I’ve seen other vampire films. I do like the other Hammers, and Countess Dracula, with the late Ingrid Pitt, is a favourite. I also loved Vampyros Lesbos, which, quite frankly, was a bit of European vampire soft porn (let’s not pretend it’s anything else!) Underworld and Blade entertained to a degree, but I prefer things more traditionally gothic. Blade, incidentally, was a spin-off from Marvel comics’ much lauded ‘70s title Tomb of Dracula, in which The Count is resurrected in the present day and Stoker’s book is treated as if it was a document of real events. The modern ascendants of Van Helsing, Harker, et al, team together with some new characters to over-throw the Vampire Lord’s evil schemes. Plus Dracula gets to fight Spider-Man and The Silver Surfer, which is either especially cool or a travesty of classic literature, depending on how you view things. Overall, Tomb of Dracula introduced the character to a whole new generation that was too young for Hammer (who’s style the Marvel comic emulated). Buffy was also a good series in many ways, but I feel it failed miserably as a vampire series. By turning the vampire into part of a teen high school drama, the series forgot to treat the dark fable with any reverence in my view. The vampire should be erotic and scary, and Buffy and Angel were neither.

A floating dead baby over a grave....not your usual kind of Marvel cover then.

My experience of vampire literature has been surprisingly limited actually. I haven’t touched Anne Rice’s novels yet, for example. But I have read Stoker’s great novel, and also class Stephen King’s second novel ‘Salem’s lot as a brilliant book. As King says, all these years later, it’s still one of his good ones; one of the scary ones…

So the vampire fascinates me. Occasionally (very occasionally, mind) I’ll consider if such a horror could exist, and what an eternity of hunger and flawless alabaster flash would be like…but some things are better off left to the world of fiction. God may have put eternity into the heart of every man, but what happens when your heart stops beating? It’s a frightening idea. No matter what worlds and other possible lives may await us, an eternity on Earth in constant blood lust, never able to see a sunrise again, is surely a tragic kind of hell.

So let’s dim the lights and slide the DVD in your player, or turn the page of your book. Somewhere in your psyche is a dark part that will believe in the fiction, and we’ll be scared together.

Was that your door creaking, or mine? Or was it….something else…..

 

 

 

Dracula (Todd Browning, 1931)

Todd Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula is a classic for many reasons, but especially for the way it came to define the character of the Count in the popular imagination. Such was the visual impact of Universal studio’s horror output in the ‘30s and ‘40s. As with Boris Karloff as the monster in Universal’s version of Frankenstein, released the same year, Lugosi’s interpretation of Dracula is considered by many to be definitive. They are not as Shelley or Stoker originally envisioned their characters, but they have become what most people imagine them to look like. Lugosi’s performance as Dracula has influenced most of the performances made later, by other actors. Add to that the rather creepy atmosphere pervading much of the film, and you have a horror picture that has endured. To a modern audience it isn’t all that scary, but it leaves much to the imagination, which is no bad thing.

The long periods of silence in the film also help give a far more eerie atmosphere in my opinion. There is actually a version with a different soundtrack, and a score created in 1999 which apparently doesn’t do justice to the film (matter of opinion again, of course). The production design (especially Castle Dracula) is generally sumptuous. The sets look a little stagy (like the acting) but this is to be expected for the time (and particularly here, in an adaptation of a stage play version). Sadly, I have to say once we pass the very impressive and suitably cinematic opening in Transylvania and the castle, we then return to the London home of Mina (Helen Chandler) and Jonathan Harker (David Manners), and everything becomes far less visually exciting and (again) rather too stagy.

Also on the downside, I do find it too slow in places and the theatrical style presentation I mentioned can undo much of the possible conviction of the performances. Many of the performances here are far too mannered and as wooden as the dressing, although there are exceptions. Universal horror regular Edward Van Sloan is very engaging as Van Helsing, and Dwight Frye almost upstages Lugosi as a very loopy Renfield (given a larger role here than in more faithful versions of the novel). Chandler and Manners fill their roles well enough, but are often too affected for my taste.

Bela Lugosi’s performance, however, is the key to the film’s success. Easy now to mock his theatrical gestures and accent, but as far as this is from the Bram Stoker original, this is a captivating central performance from a true Eastern European. Lugosi, never topped his success here, and only played Dracula twice on screen, but his interpretation is the version of Dracula that most readily springs to mind, accent, gestures, cape and all. His take on Dracula is no where near as horrific as Max Shreck in “Nosferatu” (and the film he’s in is no where near as impressive) but it’s a very captivating performance nevertheless.

Ultimately Dracula is all too apparently a film version of a stage play, made at the beginning of the sound era. This gives the whole production many of the qualities of a stage production, thereby wasting much of the potential of the film medium. Perhaps outside of Hollywood the film would have been more experimental and subversive, perhaps with blood and death on display and less action talked about and not shown (although much of that is to do with what was then acceptable). The film also has a very abrupt ending that may leave a modern audience feeling a bit cheated. But despite its dated qualities and flawed presentation, Dracula remains an atmospheric and highly influential version of the story, and one that started the great tradition of 1930s horror film-making from Universal pictures. It’s an old classic, its silver images lulling us into a comfortable nostalgic viewing experience, while retaining some of the eerie menace the 1931 audience would have felt.