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09 August 2010 @ 12:44 am
Hammer Time: Dracula Edition  
I've started working my way through the classic Hammer Films Dracula movies starring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. I've seen most of them before, here and there, but now, as the proud owner of them all on DVD, I am watching them in chronological order.

There are nine films that can be considered part of this continuity, although some are only loosely connected; they all feature either Lee or Cushing or both of them (as indicated) and are listed here in order of setting, not production:

Dracula, aka Horror of Dracula (L & C)
Brides of Dracula (C)
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (L)
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (L)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (L)
Scars of Dracula (L)
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (C)
Dracula A.D. 1972 (L & C)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (L & C)

I have watched the first three so far. It all starts with Dracula, a very liberal adaption of Bram Stoker's original novel. Some of the character names are the same, but their roles and fates differ from the book. The differences keep the plot moving and readers of Stoker guessing. I love the brilliant 1958 color, and Cushing and Lee attack their roles—and each other—with gusto and seriousness. Although tame by today's standards, Hammer pushed the boundaries for bloodletting, especially Technicolor red blood instead of dark black & white blood. Of course, Van Helsing wins in the end, and Dracula is rendered to dust by sunlight.

Next up is the named-by-the-marketing-department Brides of Dracula, released in 1960. Not only is Dracula not in this movie, still being dead from the first, but the female vampires were not even bitten by Dracula. Baron Meinster is the vampire of this film, and Van Helsing is called in to stamp out a growing pocket of the undead. Although the "brides" are underutilized, it's an enjoyable film, with hints of Hammer's growing use of sexuality. It also has some truly creepy and sad scenes with Meinster's mother and his nanny, each in their own way deeply affected by his vampirism.

Finally, in 1966, we have the return of Christopher Lee in Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Some odd choices made it less of a triumphant return than it might have been; first off, it's just over forty-five minutes into the film before Dracula is resurrected. The scene itself is great. It turns out Klove, Dracula's faithful servant, had gathered up the ashes of his master after the events of the first film, to which he now adds the blood of an unfortunate guest of the castle. After a creepy effects sequence reconstitutes his body, Dracula is back. But now we run up against the other odd thing about Lee's role: Dracula speaks not a single word throughout the film. Lee does as much as he can, and is surprisingly effective, but it's still strange. Dracula isn't just a monster, he's a count, cultured and intelligent, which makes him all the more evil. Still, this animalistic version is certainly menacing. The film establishes that running water will kill a vampire, and Dracula meets his newest end falling through some ice after it is shot by the good guys. The scene is stretched out just a little too long, almost becoming slapstick, but the shot of his cape disappearing into the water, followed by his face sinking into the darkness, is well done.

Next up, when I get time to watch it, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.
 
 
 
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 05:49 am (UTC)
Sure, those are great ...
... but have you seen Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter?

Kevin
scottpearson: scientistsscottpearson on August 9th, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Sure, those are great ...
Sadly, no! I have to pick that one up for the Hammer collection.