Dracula Cries – Japanese Ending of Horror of Dracula

Dracula Cris from Horror of DraculaIt was only yesterday that I was waxing enthusiastic about the restored conclusion of HORROR OF DRACULA, available on a Region 2 Blu-ray disc that incorporates previously missing footage rediscovered on an old Japanese print in an archival vault in Tokyo. Now, I am starting to have reservations, thanks to a YouTube post showing the last reel of the film as it appears in the Japanese print – revealing that the Blu-ray restoration is not complete. One or two of the effects shots seems slightly longer, but that is not the tragic omission. That would be the alternate take of Christopher Lee (as the Count) with tears of defeat welling in his eyes as Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) forces him inexorably into the sunlight that will disintegrate him.
Why was this shot omitted? I cannot say. It was certainly well known that the restoration would not use the complete reels from the Japanese print, which was heavily damaged (as you can see from the video). Instead, the restoration used a previously available print and inserted only a few seconds of missing footage from the Japanese version, the image of which had to be carefully tweaked. This led to timing issues: the sequence had to remain the exact same length so that the picture would stay in synch with the musical cue on the soundtrack.
Still, this hardly explains the omission. The sequence of cuts remains the same; there is a reaction shot of Lee in the place where the missing footage could have been inserted as a replacement. Something similar happened with Cushing: one of his reaction shots from the censored version (which, strangely, was a repeat of a shot seen a few seconds before) was replaced with a restored reaction shot that better displayed Van Helsing’s revulsion at the sight of Dracula’s destruction. Why a similar service was not performed to restore Lee’s performance is a mystery.
And a sad one, too. Lee has always been vocal about trying to retain a faithful concept of the character as written by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel, which ends with Dracula displaying an expression of peace on his face just before his body dissolves into dust. The condensed story-telling of HORROR OF DRACULA allows little leeway for subtle characterization, but in this one shot we see Lee inject a startling moment of humanity into the Count. The grizzly special effects lose their “ain’t-it-cool” visual abstraction as Lee turns the scene into a credible depiction of a sentient being’s horrifying death.
And it hurts! Not just Dracula – it hurts the viewer as well. For a brief moment, Lee (an actor too often dismissed one-dimensional) engenders a little sympathy for the devil.
Update: The YouTube video referenced in this article appears to have been deleted, presumably for copyright reasons.

Dracula Dies! The restored disintegration of HORROR OF DRACULA

Horror of Dracula (1958) the restored destruction as seen in film
The restored destruction of the Count (Christopher Lee) in HORROR OF DRACULA

The Holy Grail of horror cinema – the censored shot of the Count’s destruction from HORROR OF DRACULA – will soon be in the hands of faithful fans when the British Blu-ray of the restored version arrives on March 13. U.S. fans without a region-free player are not so lucky (no mention of a Region 1 release yet), but at least you can enjoy this glimpse of the previously missing footage, thanks to a still posted by David J. Skal on his Facebook page.
horror of dracula disintegration publicity still
Dracula's disintegration as seen in a publicity still - possibly an early makeup test

The censored shot is similar to but nonetheless radically different from the publicity still of the missing scene, which has been reproduced endlessly since HORROR OF DRACULA was released back in 1958. The version in the publicity still – possibly an early makeup test – suggests burns or scars, and although it is difficult to see clearly, I get the impression that you can see Christopher Lee’s unblemished skin showing through around the edges. The version as seen in the newly reinstated footage suggests melting flesh, which completely covers Lee’s face.*
I gave a rundown of the history of the missing footage and its rediscovery last November, so I will not reopen that coffin. Instead, I will provide a sequence of images portraying the disintegration of Dracula (Christopher Lee), as he is forced back into the sunlight by Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). The sequence ranks as one of the great climaxes in horror cinema, and it’s exciting to think that the scene will soon be augmented, making it even more gruesomely delightful than ever before.
HORROR OF DRACULA: the Count screams as daylight pierces the shadows of his castle HORROR OF DRACULA: the Count's foot disintegrates in a beam of sunlight HORROR OF DRACULA: the Count struggles to avoid the sun HORROR OF DRACULA: Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) fashions a pair of candlesticks into a cross HORROR OF DRACULA: The makeshift cross forces Dracula (Christopher Lee) toward the sunlight. HORROR OF DRACULA: the Count's hand disintegrates into dust HORROR OF DRACULA: the defeated vampire king edges closer to the sun Horror of Dracula (1958) the restored destruction as seen in film HORROR OF DRACULA: the implacable Van Helsing watches Dracula's destruction HORROR OF DRACULA: the final stage of Dracula's disintegration (1958) HORROR OF DRACULA: all that remains of the Count is a pile of dust, blown away in a cleansing breeze.
FOOTNOTE:

  • Roy Ahston's makeup for Herbert Lom as the Phantom of the Opera (1962)
    Roy Ahston's makeup for Herbert Lom as the Phantom of the Opera (1962)

    In fact, the restored makeup reminds me of Herbert Lom’s visage in Hammer Films’ version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962). At first, this seems to make sense, since both HORROR OF DRACULA and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA were produced at Hammer Films. However, they featured the work of different makeup men: Phil Leaky provided Dracula’s destruction; Roy Ashton had taken over the department by the time that Herbert Lom played the Phantom. (UPDATE: Ted Newsom suggests that Roy Ashton may have provided uncredited assistance to Phil Leaky on HORROR OF DRACULA before becoming head of the makeup department around the time of THE MUMMY in 1959.)

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself: I am … Dracula

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Movie monsters know that more than anybody. Much of the genre is built upon the suspenseful build-up to the first full revelation of exactly what it is that we the viewers have paid to see and shiver over. Often, that revelation takes the form of a shock-cut and a scream – a shark with a mouthful of teeth lurching from beneath the waters, a masked killer with a knife lurching out of the shadows – but there are other, more subtle introductions as well, times when the monster ingratiates himself into our presence and even our good graces, maintaining the outward forms of civility, much as the satanic narrator of the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil,” who sings:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a mans soul and faith
[…]
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste

The shock-form of introduction has its benefits (jump-scares are one of the reasons we go to horror movies), but the more subtle introduction has its place as well, allowing the villain to get into our head and under our skin. Consider, for example, the courtly self-introduction made by the Count in DRACULA (1931).
Dracula1931There have been quite a few memorable introductions in the history of horror movies, none more so than this marvelous entrance by Bela Lugosi in his most famous role, as the regal Transylvanian vampire. The early sound film has a slightly static quality that (perhaps inadvertently) captures the tempo of an ageless immortal who has learned to move at his own pace over the centuries of his undead existence – a facet of his personality that shines like a dark gem in the moonlight as he advances down the stairs, past cobwebs and spiders, and greets his guest Renfield (Dwight Frye) with three simple words, enunciating each individual syllable and pausing dramatically before delivering up his name:

I am … Dra-cu-la.”

You can see the line reading in the embedded video (a clever, fan-made montage) or see the intact sequence by clicking here (embedding disabled, unfortunately). I think you will agree that there is something eerie and unnerving about the way that Dracula refuses to fall into a natural conversational rhythm with Renfield, while simultaneously exuding such formal charm that Renfield is forced to act as if the situation were normal. It is the first hint of the vampire’s ability to dominate mere mortals, even without a display of overt supernatural power – and also the first sign of the vampire seductive nature, presenting an attractive persona that hides the evil nature lurking beneath the skin.
There have been many other great movie monster introductions. I won’t say that none have surpassed Lugosi’s opening salvo, but as someone who saw the film on television at an impressionable age, this is the scene that set the standard by which all others must be judged.
Let’s consider this the first salvo in an on-going, on-again off-again series of memorable opening remarks from movie madmen and monsters. Shall we call it … Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself: Movie Monsters Making a First Impression.
[serialposts]

Hotel Transylvania Trailer 2

Second trailer from Sony Pictures Animation’s fantasy-horror-comedy about a monstrous hotel run by Count Dracula.

Hotel Transylvania opens September 28

Columbia Pictures releases this 3-D effort from Sony Pictures Animation. Welcome to the Hotel Transylvania, Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) lavish five-stake resort, where monsters and their families can live it up, free to be the monsters they are without humans to bother them. On one special weekend, Dracula has invited some of the world’s most famous monsters – Frankenstein and his bride, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, a family of werewolves, and more – to celebrate his daughter Mavis’s 118th birthday. For Drac, catering to all of these legendary monsters is no problem – but his world could come crashing down when one ordinary guy stumbles on the hotel and takes a shine to Mavis.
Director: Genndy Tartokovsky. Written by Robert Smigel, David I. Stern; story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman. Voices: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, David Spade, Fran Drescher, Jon Lovitz, Molly Shannon.
Release Date: September 28, 2012

Dario does Dracula in 3D

click to purchase
click to purchase

Alan Jones – one time London correspondent for Cinefantastique – revealed on his Twitter account today that Italian filmmaker Dario Argento is planning to remake DRACULA in 3D. Filming, which will retain the original novel’s period setting, is supposed to start in January.
So, is this good news or bad news? After a dull patch in the ’90s, Argento has been doing reasonably good work in the new millennium, even if it’s not up to his glory days of the ’70s and early ’80s. Personally, I found SLEEPLESS, THE CARD PLAYER, DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK, and MOTHER OF TEARS all to be entertaining, especially the latter (which was vilified by Argento’s fan-base for not hewing close enough to its predecessors, SUSPIRIA and INFERNO).
However, I am leery of seeing Argento take on Bram Stoker’s immortal Count Dracula. The last time Argento got his hands on a classic movie monster, he made what could arguably be the worst movie of his career, 1998’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which is a poorly considered mish-mash of Goth, gore, and goofy ideas (including a handsome Phantom played by Julian Sands and a ridiculous rat-catching vehicle that looks like a 50-cent ride you’d see in front of a supermarket).
Argento has done wonderful work in his chosen field, the violent Italian mystery-horror films known as giallos. And he managed the supernatural elements in the Three Mothers trilogy with style. But traditional Gothic Horror -and in 3D, no less? I imagine he will have some over-the-top fun with the visuals, but it will take more bloody stakes and vampire fangs comin’ at ya from the screen to justify another remake of this oft told story.

Dracula's "Demeter" may be helmed by Oscar-winner Ruzowitzky

The Hollywood Reporter tells us that Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky (who helmed The Counterfeiters, which took home an Oscar in the foreign language category), is interested making his English-language debut with period horror The Last Voyage of the Demeter for Phoenix Pictures. In the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, the Demeter is the fill-fated ship that transports the Count across the sea to England, where it washes up on the shore, an empty vessel, with only a dead captain tied to the wheel. All we learn of what transpired on board comes from the captain’s log, which recounts the mysterious disappearance, one by one, of the entire crew. Written by Bragi Schut (who penned SEASON OF THE WITCH, with Nicolas Cage), The Last Voyage of the Demeter expands this brief episode into an ALIEN-like movie about a helpless crew menaced by an unstoppable monster.
According to H.R., two big hurdles have kept the project in development hell: the period setting and concerns about filming an entire film set on the ocean. Fortunately, Phoenix’s recent hit Shutter Island has proved that audiences are not averse to attending films set in the past.
An even bigger hurdle might be the very nature of the story, which ends badly for all on board (except Count Dracula). Let’s just hope Ruzowitzky and company do not go for a revisionist take, a la Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, which tells us that the ancient vampire is just an innocent bystander while a mad crewman is the one actually killing his comrades.

Hammer Horror Series – Retrospective DVD Review

Yesterday, in a review of THE RAVEN (1935), I mentioned that, although the number of my DVD purchases is rapidly declining, thanks to the availability of movies through services like Netflix Instant Viewing and Amazon.com’s Video on Demand, I still appreciate the opportunity to own a boxful of favorite titles at a discount price, even if there is a diminished bit-rate that results from compressing two films onto one side of the same disc. After recently obtaining a 50-inch widescreen plasma television, I hauled out my Hammer Horror Series box set and tried out a few films, just to see how they looked, and the results were fantastic – not Blu-ray quality to be sure, but nevertheless bold and beautiful, as Hammer Horror should be. BRIDES OF DRACULA, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN – all of them looked great. Perhaps a more perceptive eye than mine could have detected some flaws such as artifacting, but I found the viewing experience to be perfectly satisfying.
For those of you who do not know, Hammer was an English movie production company that began remaking Universal’s horror classics in the 1950s, except that Hammer’s films were in Technicolor instead of black-and-white, and for the filmmakers were not afraid to actually show things like vampire fangs and a stake going through the heart. Many of the best films were produced by Anthony Hinds, directed by Terence Fisher, and written by Jimmy Sangster, with Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS) and/or Christopher Lee (Count Dooku REVENGE OF THE SITH) in the starring roles.
The initial spate of Hammer films (CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA) were not really remakes, strictly speaking; rather, they were new films based on the same literary source material. After the first few, Universal Pictures struck a deal with Hammer, which did result in some literal remakes (such as the Hammer version of THE MUMMY, which draws from several elements in the Universal series of films from the ’30s and ’40s).
The two-disc “Hammer Horror Series” contains eight films from the British studio that reshaped the horror genre in its own bloody image. The titles all came out in the early 1960s, when the company was simultaneously sequelizing their earlier hits and also poking around the in the graveyard for new spirits to evoke. Thus we get not only sequels like BRIDES OF DRACULA and EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN but also new versions of old monsters (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF), interesting variations on familiar themes (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE), and a couple of black-and-white psychological thrillers (NIGHTMARE, PARAONOIAC).
What is especially nice about this collectionis that, although most of the more famous horror titles were already gathered together in the previous “Hammer Horror Collection” DVD box set, the films on the Hammer Horror Series DVDs are amost equally deserving of attention: all are entertaining; most are quite good, and a couple are classic in their own right; combined together, they make a must-have collector’s item for fans:
BRIDES OF DRACULA is the second in the company’s Dracula series. Although it suffers from the absence of Christopher Lee’s Count, Peter Cushing is back as Van Helsing, fighting off a handsome blond vampire (the obvious inspiration for Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat). The production values are excellent and the story packs a few surprises.

Oliver Reeds Leon takes a turn for the worse
Oliver Reed's Leon takes a turn for the worse

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF remains probably the best werewolf movie ever made. You don’t see the wolf much; the story is more like a tragic history of a hapless human, cursed from birth with the taint of lycanthropy, which emerges briefly in his younger years, then sprouts full-blown as as adult. The late Oliver Reed plays the werewolf; the film is very good but very depressing (it ends tragically, as most werewolf movies do).
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was an attempt to do a different kind of “horror film,” with an emphasis on bigger production values and the tragic romance at the core of the story. (Supposedly, Cary Grant was slated to play the title character, so the script was written to de-emphasize the horror.) It’s an admirable effort but not quite the masterpiece it was intended to be; still, it’s much better than the interminable Claude Rains version from the 1940s.
PARANOIAC and NIGHTMARE are two psycho-thrillers, of which Hammer made several in the 1960s, following Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. The Hammer efforts are not match for Hitchcock, but they are good-looking productions, and director Freddie Francis (an Oscar-winning cinematographer) knew how to use the camera to good effect, even if the scritpts are a bit mechanical in their attempts to yield unguessable surprise endings.
KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, for some reason, is the Hammer film for people who don’t like Hammer films. Although I’m not quite sure why, I think it has something to do with the plot, which is structured a bit like a Hitchcock thriller: a honeymooning couple comes to town; the bride disappears; and when the husband searches for her, the locals claim never to have seen her. Of course, everyone is silent because they are in a thrall to the vampires in the castle. The film has a fairly remarkable ending: instead of stakes and crosses, a magic incantation sends a swarm of vampire bats that bleed the living dead dry. Unfortunately, the special effects are not as good as the concept, so the execution falls flat.
Also noteworthy: If you saw KISS OF THE VAMPIRE on late night television in the U.S.A., you saw a bastardized version. Not only were things cut out, but also new scenes were added to pad out the running time. And we do mean pad: absolutely interminable dialogue with periphieral characters who never interact with the main cast, but just stand off in the sidelines talking about stuff we already know.
NIGHT CREATURES is a bit of a fake-out. It’s actually a thriller about smugglers who disguise themselves as ghosts and/or monsters to scare everyone away and thus insure the secrecy of their operation.
EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN is actually one of Hammer’s lesser Frankenstein films, but Peter Cushing is, as always, interesting to watch in the role. The problem seems to have been that the film was designed to be more like the old Universal horror films, so the fresh and bold Hammer approach of the previous Frankenstein installments was abandoned in favor of embracing old-fashioned cliches like torch-wielding villagers. Like KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, this film had pointless new scenes added for American television.
The set is disappointing in only a couple of ways. First, there are no bonus features, not even a trailer. Second, the films included date from the period when Christopher Lee (who had co-starred with Peter Cushing in the first round of Hammer horror classics), was away in Italy, working on films like HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD; it seems a shame to have a Hammer box set in which one half of the greatest horror double team of all time is not represented by even a single title.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski. This version has been slightly updated.

Can Dracula save the Senator?

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) is among the classic films screening as part of an effort ot raise money and forestall forclosure of the 70-year-old Senator Theatre in North Baltimore. Being a resurrection figure himself, maybe the Count can revive the fortunes of the venerable landmark. In a move that Hammer Films – the company that produced HOROR OF DRACULA – probably never imagined, the vampire flick will be screening alongside the Oscar-winning films CABARET and THE GODFATHER. As the article notes:

Horror of Dracula, an early entry in the horror canon perfected by Britain’s Hammer Films, stars Lee as the world’s pre-eminent bloodsucker. Says Baltimore Sun movie critic Michael Sragow, "The blood dripping from a vampire’s lips was never more erotic than in Christopher Lee’s virile impersonation of Count Dracula."

Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979) – Retrospective Review

Werner Herzog’s remake of the 1922 silent film (directed by F. W. Murnau) has sometimes been dismissed for being too slowly paced and too slavish to its source, but in fact it is superior to the original film. Although occasionally marred by Herzog’s heavy-handed, trademark stylistic tics, NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE stands on its own as an interesting addition to the filmmaker’s oeuvres.
The story line parallels that of Murnau’s film while reinserting material from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula – most obviously the character names (which were changed in the original in a failed dodge to avoid copyright infringement claims). The movie begins with an extended prologue of Jonathan Harker (Ganz) taking leave of his wife Lucy (Adjani) at the orders of his employer Renfield (Topor). Harker travels to Transylvania to complete the sale of a property to Count Dracula (Kinski), who turns out to be a vampire. After biting Harker, the Count proceeds to Germany, bring rats and a deathly plague with him. Harker eventually finds his way home, but he has lost his memory of Lucy. Lucy deduces the truth about Dracula and sets about destroying his hiding places by placing sacred communion wafer in his coffins. Finally, she destroys the vampire by luring him to her side during the night; seduced by her charm, Dracula remains at her side, sucking her blood, until morning, when the sunlight destroys him. Professor Van Helsing (Ladengast) shows up and puts the icing on the cake by driving a stake through the Count’s heart, after which he is arrested by the police for murder. Lucy expires from loss of blood, but Harker revives from his lethargy, mumbles something about having “much to do,” and rides off into the sunrise, apparently taking on the mantle of the vampire.
Herzog’s film frequently flirts with the ridiculous. When Harker tries to escape Castle Dracula, there is an anonymous peasant playing a violin in the courtyard: who he is and what he is doing there is never given so much as lip-service explanation; his unexplained appearance feels like a parody of bad art house filmmaking. Van Helsing’s arrival to finish off the vampire – who is clearly already dead from exposure to sunlight – feels a day late and a dollar short. Worse, after staking the Count (off-screen) he appears with the bloody stake in his hand, implying he drove it through the Count’s chest and withdrew it immediately afterwards; this was clearly a lazy way of putting the incriminating evidence in his hands, to justify his arrest by the police. Harker, instead of being cured by the death of Dracula, transforms into a vampire himself and immediately rides into the sunrise – the very same sun that just killed the Count!
In spite of these missteps, NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE maintains a curiously hypnotic hold on the audience. Herzog’s camera captures impressive location footage of craggy mountains, cloudy skies, and cascading waterfalls for Harker’s trip to Transylvania, suggesting awesome and mysterious forces of nature as the young man leaves civilization behind and heads into the unknown (a facet of the novel seldom fully realized on screen). The cool colors of the photography seem drained of blood, drained of life, suggesting the Count’s eternal, lonely existence. Kinski delivers a strangely moving performance, both threatening and sad; he truly conveys a sense of an immortal monster moving agelessly through the ages of a dull existence, grasping for life that will revive him.
Adjani is perhaps the Count’s most memorable on-screen “victim” – she, not Van Helsing or Harker, is the true hero of the film. Unlike her equivalent in the silent version, Lucy does not simply sacrifice herself; she tracks down the vampire and destroys his lairs with the Eucharist, restoring the novel’s clash of the Sacred and the Satanic. This element was completely missing from Murnau’s version, which traded in a simpler anti-Semitic metaphor that cast the vampire as a Jewish sterotype who was destroyed by the sacrifice of a pure Rhine maiden.
In the end, NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE is far from completely satisfying as a horror film or as an adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula. Its strengths are as an auteur piece, with Herzog once again working his magic, as he takes on a subject that showcases a clash between the civilized and the wild. Harker’s trip takes him from civilization into the heart of darkness, where dreams become reality. The Transylvanian populace resembles the superstitious natives of AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD. Kinski’s Dracula is another obsessed, driven character, like the ones he played for Herzog in AGUIRRE and FITZCARALDO.
The narrative lapses are indicative of thematic ambitions: whereas the original NOSFERATU was an allegory for the rebirth of Germany after the First World War, the remake’s more cynical ending suggests the horrors yet to come in World War II. Though it may not be what the average horror fan is seeking, NOSFERATU survives its flaws to emerge as a haunting, memorable film that eschews crude shocks in the quest to achieve something finer – a dreamlike disquiet meant to disturb the soul.

PRICELESS MOMENT

Count Dracula and Renfield share only one moment on screen together, in which the vampire-slave relationship plays out like a rock star dismissing a fawning fan. As the Count stands quietly in the twilight, the groveling madman tugs at his coat, begging to be of assistance. A clearly annoyed Dracula shrugs him off and tells him to travel to another city, and the plague will travel with him. As a thankful Renfield capers off, the Count rolls his eyes as if to say, “I thought he’d never leave.”

TRIVIA

NOSFERAU THE VAMPYRE was part of a vampire renaissance in the 1970s that saw no less than three Dracula films released in 1979. The other two were the remake of DRACULA starring Frank Langella and LOVE AT FIRST BITE, starring George Hamilton.