Dan Curtis' Dracula on Blu-ray – review

Click to purchase in the CFQ Online Store.
Click to purchase in the CFQ Online Store.

Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire rises again, this time on Blu-ray, a format that – appropriately enough -preserves the youthful veneer of this 1973 production, making it look as good as (if not better than) it did four decades ago. Like Dracula himself, MPI’s new disc will no doubt endure, intact and ageless, for centuries to come, emerging regularly from its box like the Vampire King rising from his coffin at sunset.
DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (also known as BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA or simply DRACULA) is not the greatest adaptation of the classic novel, but it infuses some new blood into an old corpse drained of life by myriad prior film incarnations. This DRACULA features a strong central performance, atmospheric locations, and some enjoyably scary but not too gruesome moments of horror. However, the film’s greatest claim to historical significance is its (for the time) novel take on the titular character, which went on to influence later interpretations.

THE FILM: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

The fourth major adaptation of the classic novel*, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (the on-screen title) begins by acknowledging audience familiarity with the tale, opening with shots of wolves (actually German Shepherds) amassing outside Castle Dracula, while the Count walks through a corridor toward the camera, like Norma Desmond ready for her closeup. “We know you know who this is,” the film seems to be saying, “so we’re not going toy with presenting him as a mysterious figure, and we’re not going to tease you with a long wait for what you obviously expect to see.”
After that Richard Matheson’s script settles into the familiar story, but only up to a point. Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) arrives in Transylvania to arrange a real estate deal with Dracula (Jack Palance). However, the Count has ulterior motives: Harker finds a newspaper photo with a woman’s face circled. The woman is Lucy (Fiona Lewis), whom Dracula believes to be the reincarnation of a woman he loved during his mortal life. She also turns out to be the best friend of Harker’s finace, Mina (Penelope Horner).
After concluding his business with Harker , Dracula leaves the young man to the tender mercies of three vampire women (Virginia Wetherell, Barbar Lindley, Sarah Douglas) and heads to England, where he finds Lucy. Her finance, Arthur Holmwood, consults Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport), who spots the signs of vampirism – though too late to save the victim. After Lucy rises from the grave, Van Helsing and Holmwood stake her in her coffin.
Arriving in her tomb for the expected reunion with his long-lost love, Dracula is enraged to find her undead life snuffed out. He targets Mina next, but the vampire hunters manage to track down the coffins he needs to sleep during the daylight hours; robbed of his refuge, Dracula retreats to Transylvania, with Van Helsing, Holmwood, and Mina in pursuit. The two men stake the Count’s vampire brides in their coffins and confront Dracula himself in a life-or-death battle that ends with Van Helsing tearing down a set of curtains, allowing sunlight to steam inside, incapacitating the monster, who is then dispatched with a spear through the heart.

In flashback, Dracula (Jack Palance) is seen with the woman he loved (Fiona Lewis).
In flashback, Dracula (Jack Palance) is seen with the woman he loved (Fiona Lewis).

Back in 1974, when BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA first aired on American television, portraying the Count with a measure of sympathy was innovative and surprising; something so simple as a flashback or two to his days of mortal life was enough to suggest a whole new perspective on the familiar character. Dracula was no longer simply a monster; he had human emotions!
In this, the film was enormously aided by Palance. If you prefer your vampires in traditional Gothic mode, then Palance’s Dracula is for you: the actor registers such powerful screen presence that you feel he could single-handedly dispatch the entire cast of TWILIGHT’s glittering vampire-wimps. Though hardly Continental (the actor avoids affecting a Lugosi-style Hungarian accent), Palance conveys not only the enormous power of the King Vampire (who seems threatening even when he’s not actually doing anything) but also Dracula’s sense of love and loss. He effectively modulates the shifts from fierce to pained to tortured, and you almost feel for him. Almost.
The problem is that BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA does not have the screen time or the focus to completely humanize the Count. The reincarnation plot is clearly derived from Curtis’ own Gothic soap opera DARK SHADOWS (in which vampire Barnabas Collins sought the reincarnation of his lost Josette), but the TV series had the luxury of months of daily episodes to gradually transform Barnabas from predatory villain to doomed anti-hero. Here, we get only a few minutes of flashbacks, which are at odds with the rest of the story.
In attempting to condense Stoker’s lengthy tale while simultaneously introducing new elements, Matheson set himself a near impossible task. It’s great to see several of Stoker’s previously omitted scenes finally transferred to the screen: wolves escort Dracula’s carriage in Transylvania; Dracula uses a lone wolf, liberated from a zoo, to attack Holmwood in a room protected protected from vampires by crucifixes and garlic; Dracula forces Mina to drink blood from an open wound in his chest, tainting her to become a vampire whether or not see dies by his bite. However, some of the novel’s best moments are reduced to almost nothing (Dracula’s vampire brides – a highlight of the novel- barely register), and some of the familiar action fits awkwardly into the new context, which muddles the character’s behavior.
Dracula reacts to the second death of his lost love.
Dracula reacts to the second death of his lost love.

For example, with Jonathan (literally) out of the picture, Mina’s only connection to the vampire hunters is through her friendship with Lucy, so she has no clear reason to stay involved after Lucy’s death. Nevertheless, she remains, living with Holmwood and Van Helsing in Lucy’s house, apparently (though not expressly) with the permission of Lucy’s mother (who is never told what killed her daughter). One wonders why Mina does not return home or (better yet) lift a finger to figure out what happened to Jonathan. The answer is that the script needs to keep her close by, so that she can become Dracula’s second English victim – a development that now seems like an arbitrary remnant of the novel. (In the revised scenario, Dracula is presumably seeking revenge for Lucy’s destruction, but that would have made more sense had the characters been rewritten so that Mina was Holmwood’s fiance – suggesting that Dracula is taking Holmwood’s woman in exchange for Holmwood’s killing Dracula’s great love.)
Consequently, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA feels like a familiar old puzzle with a few new pieces tossed in – they’re pleasantly surprising, but they don’t quite fit. And speaking of things that do not fit: this film not only tells us that Dracula was once a sensitive, loving human being; it also tells us that the vampire was, in life, Vlad Tsepes, a true-life historical figure known for cruelly impaling his victims on large, painful wooden stakes inserted in the anus – a contradiction the script never attempts to resolve.
Visually, the film belies its made-for-TV origins, with impressive lensing and production values. Dating from an era when most tele-films were point-and-shoot affairs with bland, over-lit photography, this DRACULA looks as good as a theatrical feature from the era. The location shooting enhances the proceedings enormously, lending an authentic European flavor missing from previous versions of the tale (though the interior of Dracula’s abode sometimes looks more like a mansion than a castle).
Dan Curtis knew how to deliver the genre elements a film like this needed, but his strength was more as a producer than a director. At times, he tried too hard to be clever and cinematic, when a more confident director would have let the scene play without the bells and whistles (typical for the era, the zoom lens is used and over-used, like an explanation point dropped by a writer juicing up a line of prose). At other times, Curtis could let a scene fall flat, such as the Mexican Stand-Off during which Van Helsing and Holmwood use crosses to hold Dracula at bay but let him walk out the door for fear of confronting him directly. (You want to yell, “Don’t stand there – do something!”)
When it came to staging action, Curtis could rise to the occasion and deliver effective moments of shock and horror: Dracula’s first encounter with Lucy is emotionally charged – creepy and seductive; the later revelation of her dead body, still beautiful but pale and blue, like a broken doll, is evocative and disturbing. Within the constraints of network television censorship, Curtis spruced up the narrative with bursts of violence that show how overpowering Dracula is compared to mere mortals, emulating but not quite capturing the full-blooded excitement of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958, from which several ideas were clearly borrowed).
Curtis Dracula Palance Ward sunlight
Dracula's attack on Holmwood (Simon Ward) is interrupted by sunlight.

Such borrowings occasionally lend an almost off-the-rack quality to the scenes, though viewers without an encyclopedic knowledge of vampire cinema are not likely to notice or care. For example:

  1. As noted, the vampire romance is borrowed from DARK SHADOWS (there’s even a music box that plays a love them, scored by SHADOWS composer Bob Corbett).
  2. Dracula tosses someone out a window, as vampire Janos Skorzeny did in THE NIGHT STALKER, a previous Curtis production. (This scene became something of a recurring motif for Curtis – check out BURNT OFFERINGS for another example).
  3. Jonathan Harker never makes it out of Dracula’s castle, and Dracula is bound by physical limitations, unable to transform into a bat or mist – both element derived from HORROR OF DRACUULA.
  4. Dracula seeks a woman whose photograph he has seen – an element in NOSFERATU and HORROR OF DRACULA.
  5. Van Helsing defeats Dracula by tearing down curtains to reveal sunlight. This is taken from HORROR OF DRACULA by way of THE NIGHT STALKER.

The supporting cast fares less well than Palance. Lewis comes off best, emerging as one of Dracula’s most beautiful and alluring victims; unfortunately, she is given little screen time to register the transformation from innocent human to wanton vampire. Ward is an appealing screen presence, but his character has no distinguishing characteristics, nor an emotional journey worth following. Davenport turns Van Helsing into a methodical medical practitioner, without the commanding presence of Edward Van Sloan or the zeal of Peter Cushing. This may be a deliberate choice (an exchange of closeups, before Van Helsing delivers the fatal blow to Dracula, suggests we are supposed to relate to the tragic vampire rather than the heartless hunter), but it leaves the film without a strong protagonist. Horner’s Mina is not the surprisingly smart and capable woman of the book; in fact, she is not much of anything.
Seen in the purifying light of day, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA is, like much of the producer-director’s work, an unapologetic horror film, eager to embrace genre conventions and deliver familiar elements that appeal to fans. Though no match for DRACULA (1931) with Bela Lugosi, nor HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) with Christopher Lee, the Curtis production is an interesting variation on the tale, bristling with more energy than COUNT DRACULA (1977), the talky public-television version starring Louis Jordan. And for horror historians, the Dan Curtis DRACULA represents an important evolutionary step in the portrayal of the character on screen, retaining the supernatural menace but adding a layer of humanity and romance that would become a bigger part of the character in later versions.

THE BLU-RAY: DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA

You didn't see this on television in 1974!
You didn't see this on television in 1974!

MPI’s Blu-ray disc (featuring the title DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA on the box art) presents the film’s theatrical cut in widescreen format, with options for English, Spanish, and French 2.0 soundtracks, along with optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. The theatrical version is slightly gorier than the original broadcast version (all the vampires cough up blood when they die). Also, the tell-tale signs of the film’s television origin (e.g., blackouts for commercial interruptions) are missing, creating a more theatrical viewing experience.
The picture looks great on modern high-def televisions. There is a slight trace of grain (this was shot on film, after all), but the muted colors are lovely (lots of red backgrounds and that peculiar orange that passed for blood in those days). Though the film dates from the era of television screens with a 1.33 aspect ratio, the image looks perfect when cropped to today’s 1.78 aspect ratio (perhaps because the action was framed to work on wider theatre screens).
Bonus features include interviews with Palance and Curtis, Outtakes, Television Cuts, and a British theatrical trailer.
Outtakes offers raw camera footage, minus the on-set set sound, accompanied by music. These are mostly different takes, or slightly longer versions, of footage seen in the film, sometimes withe the crew and slates visible. Though not a blooper reel, there are one or two moments when an actor cracks a smile, as Lewis does after her gasping reaction to being staked.
Television Cuts presents alternate, blood-free takes from the broadcast version. These are limited to a few closeups the death throes of the vampires, who merely gasp when staked, instead of coughing up blood as in the theatrical version.
The Theatrical Trailer is a bit scratched and grainy (which perhaps helps us better appreciate the preserved picture quality of the film itself). EMI, the British distributor, sold the film (under the title BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) as a bold horror movie, a la Hammer Films Dracula efforts, but also noted the romantic aspect.
The most interesting bonus features are the Interviews. Jack Palance discusses his approach to the character, saying that he did not play Dracula as a villain because that’s not how the character would see himself. Curtis talks about adapting the book, which he says “makes no sense” because Stoker never explains why Dracula leaves Transylvania for England; hence, Curtis decided to “rip-off” the reincarnation story line from DARK SHADOWS, in order to provide the missing motivation. (This explanation was apparently the approved party-line on the subject: Richard Matheson used almost the exact same words when I asked him about his script decades ago.)
[rating=3]
Worth a sanguinary midnight sip.

TRIVIA

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA was scheduled to make its debut on American television in October 1973; however, the broadcast was preempted by President Richard Nixon’s address regarding the resignation of Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew. The film eventually premiered in Feburary 1974.

British poster for the Dan Curtis production of (Bram Stoker's) DRACULA.
British poster for the Dan Curtis production of (Bram Stoker's) DRACULA.

Originally billed and advertised simply as DRACULA, the film later came to be known as BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, to distinguish it from previous versions. The posters and on-screen title cards confused the issue with graphics that conflated the star’s credit with the title and emphasized the character’s name at the expense of the author’s:

JACK PALANCE
as
BRAM STOKER’S
DRACULA
The word “Dracula” is in larger, bolder letters, suggesting that is the true title; Stoker’s name appears to have been included as a way of acknowledging the film’s literary debt to his novel, which is not otherwise credited as the source material for Matheson’s screenplay. The trailer for the subsequent overseas theatrical release adopted the full title, although the British poster, like the on-screen credit, emphasized “DRACULA,” with “Bram Stoker” in smaller type and lower-case letters.

Years later, home video releases also used the BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA moniker. However, since Francis Ford Coppola’s film of the same name, the 1973 production has been sold as “Dan Curtis’ DRACULA” on DVD and Blu-ray (though the on-screen title-credit remains the same).

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Coppola version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) contains two notable similarities to the Dan Curtis production. First, like Matheson before him, James V. Hart’s screenplay identifies the fictional Count Dracula with his historical namesake, Vlad Tsepes, also known as Dracula (i.e., the Son of the Dragon, thanks to his father’s membership in the Order of the Dragon). Second, Dracula (played by Gary Oldman in the Coppola film) is also seeking the reincarnation of his lost love.

The reincarnation plot line, previously used by Curtis in DARK SHADOWS, has no precedent in Stoker’s novel. However, it can be traced to Universal Pictures’ THE MUMMY (1932), which deliberately recycles many elements from the studio’s earlier hit, DRACULA. Curiously, the Dan Curtis DRACULA is a bit vague about whether Lucy really is Dracula’s lover reborn. She looks the same but never expresses any recognition, even when she is falling under the vampire’s spell; also, when she rises as a vampire, she heads not to the Count but to her fiance, suggesting she does not reciprocate Dracula’s centuries-old passion.

FOOTNOTE:

  • After NOSFERATU (1922), DRACULA (1931), and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (Blu-ray title, released May 27, 2014 by MPI). Also known as: DRACULA and BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (copyright date, 1973; original air date: February 8, 1974). 100 mins. Made for Television. Produced and directed by Dan Curtis. Written by Richard Matheson, based on the novel by Bram Stoker (uncredited). Cast: Jack Palance, Simon Ward, Nigel Davenport, Pamela Brown, Fiona Lewis, Penelope Horner, Murray Brown. Virginia Wetherell, Barbara Lindley, Sarah Douglas.

Here Comes the Devil, Argento's Dracula, Comedy of Terrors: Podcast 5-4.2

drac-devil-comedy-composit copy
It’s another week’s worth of horror, fantasy, and science fiction film reviews at Cinefantastique’s Black Hole Ultra-Lounge Podcast. In episode 5:4.2, Steve Biodrowski exorcises HERE COMES THE DEVIL, a Video on Demand opus from writer-director Adrián García Bogliano; Dan Persons stakes Dario Argento’s DRACULA, the Italian filmmaker’s eccentric variation on Bram Stokers immortal vampire; and Lawrence French recalls THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, the Gothic-themed spoof starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff.
Also included is the usual rundown of the week’s home video reviews, including FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) and DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1922). And don’t forget: after all the reviews are done, stick around for the “after-show” – in which the recording software continues to capture the musings of the three podcasters as they try to figure out whether the giant praying mantis in Argento’s DRACULA is related to the bee in Universal Pictures’ classic black-and-white version of DRACULA (1931).


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Cybersurfing: THR's Iconic Horror Movie Gallery includes non-movie image

95d51/huch/2771/01While perusing a brief news bit at The Hollywood Reporter (the announcement of a sequel to the profitable THE PURGE), I happened upon their Iconic Horror Movie Gallery, a post from 2010, featuring images from 16 films. The selection is dubious despite a handful of genuinely iconic titles: there is no ALIEN, for example; but PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 make the list, along with HOSTEL, SAW II, THE RING, and BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. However, what really caught my eye was that, in a post specifically devoted to horror movies, the image of Bela Lugosi as Dracula was clearly from his appearance on stage.
Lugosi’s makeup – the white face, dark lips, and exaggerated brow – is different from his rather more normal appearance in the film. Not only that: although we cannot see the woman’s face clearly, she does not resemble either of the blond victims from the 1931 Universal picture.
Still, it’s a nice image.
Now, if THR could just find a way to get ALIEN, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and THE SHINING into their iconic list.

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.

Horror of Dracula – the Restored Ending


At last, fright fans – here it: the restored ending of HORROR OF DRACULA! The sequence was eviscerated by the British film censor back in 1958, when the film came out, but the recent Region 2 Blu-ray disc has finally restored the missing footage. No word yet on when a Region 1 Blu-ray will come out in America (hey, Warner Brothers – get on the ball!), but you can see the scene courtesy of this YouTube post.
The footage looks a bit blue-ish (a complaint among some who have seen the disc) and also a bit dark (which I assume is a matter of YouTube compression and/or whatever process was used to rip the footage from the Blu-ray disc). I’m sure the photography will look much better when (if?) WB gets around to release a disc for U.S. consumption.
Tim Lucas discusses the Region 2 Blu-ray disc in the CFQ Laserblast podcast here. You can read about the history of the censored footage and its rediscovery here. And check out a sequence of frame grabs here.

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.
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Restored Horror of Dracula to hit UK next March

horror of dracula disintegration publicity still
Dracula (Christopher Lee) disintegrates in sunlight. (This is a publicity photo, not the actual restored footage, which is said to look quite different.)

The Hammer Films Facebook page made an announcement this morning that should excite fans of of the studios’ classic Gothic horror films: the restored version of HORROR OF DRACULA (known simply as DRACULA in its native England) has been scheduled for U.K. release on March 13, 2013. The restoration includes snippets of footage that were removed by censors when the film was originally released, way back in 1958 – in particular, a shot from the climactic disintegration scene, long known to fans only through a publicity still.
The full story behind the restoration is much longer than the actual footage, which lasts only a few seconds. When HORROR OF DRACULA came out, film censorship was prevalent around the globe, particularly in England, where films had to submitted before being approved for release. Hammer Films was pushing the envelope with their new color horror films, first CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957, then HORROR OF DRACULA a year later. The company typically submitted scripts for prior approval but then would test the limits, shooting unapproved shots in the hope that the censorship board could be persuaded to change its mind.
This occasionally resulted in footage being shot that was scrapped for U.K. release, although it might sometimes survive in prints intended for export. This is what happened in the case of HORROR OF DRACULA: a complete print was sent to Japan, containing footage never seen in English-speaking countries (or most of the rest of the world). However, publicity stills of the missing footage were available, making appearances in fan magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Horror of Dracula 1958 Jonathan Harker decomposed in coffinHowever, these stills did not necessarily prove the existence of a complete version of the film, nor even that the footage in question had actually been shot; there was always the chance that these were posed publicity stills or images of scenes that had been tested or shot and deleted by the filmmakers without interference from the censor. This seems to be the case regarding another “missing scene” from HORROR OF DRACULA, the decomposed body of Jonathan Harker after being staked by Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). The problem here is that, in the film’s storyline, Harker has only very recently become a vampire, so that advanced state of decay seems inappropriate. The shot never made it into the final cut.
Whether any additional footage did indeed make it into a surviving print of HORROR OF DRACULA was long a subject of debate among fans and scholars. The issue was not much helped by Hammer Films themselves, which drummed up publicity by suggesting that they frequently shot multiple versions of their horror films: a tame one for the U.K., a slightly stronger one for Europe and possibly the U.S., and a really bloody one for Asian territories. In reality, alternate footage was shot in only a few cases for so-called “Continental” versions; most often, alternate version were the de facto result of the different censorship standards in territories around the world.
Was Dracula’s disintegration another piece of ephemera – simply a publicity still or an abandoned makeup test? Film editor and former Cinefantastique writer Ted Newsom pursued the missing footage like Van Helsing tracking down the Count’s hidden coffins, finding compelling evidence that the footage did exist, even while being ultimately unable to lay his hands on it:

“I’ve never seen the destruction scene in the climax, but it did clearly exist. Over on Latarnia, on the Hammer thread, I posted a frame blow-up of the scene, showing the same make-up from the standard 8×10 still, but from a camera angle which matches the rest of the shots [in the film]. It was published in some Japanese magazine in the ’90s, reprinted in a Hammer book in 1995 or 96. Seeing the proof of the existence of the scene in the Asian version sent me off on a 2 year back and forth thing with the Tokyo Archive. On the verge of getting the material telecine’d for posterity, they hired a new archivist, who went back to the party line and said ‘We don;t have it.’ It was bullshit, but I’d had enough.”

Fortunately, the story did not end there. Simon Rowson, a Hammer horror fan, discovered the footage early in 2011, as he described in this thread on the Christopher Lee Official Website:

My wife and I live permanently in Japan and, following a year long process of painstaking negotiation, we were actually able to view the final two reels of the sole remaining Japanese copy of DRACULA at the Japanese National Film Center on March the 9th – only two days before the earthquake that destroyed most of the North East coast of Japan.
In a nutshell, the long debated extra footage DOES exist – including the extended disintegration scene at the film’s climax – and I am liasing with Hammer about how to proceed at the moment.

Posting under the pseudonym Richard LeStrange, Rowson gave a fuller account of the discovery process on a thread in the Classic Horror Film Board, in which he noted that any attempt to use the Japanese print as a basis for a restoration project would have to take a back seat in the wake of the devastating earthquake that rocked Japan shortly after his discovery. He also provided more details regarding what he had seen while watching the final two reels of the Japanese print:

Not only is the much-debated complete facial disintegration – where Dracula claws at his face with his left hand, pulling away lumps of facial skin – present (complete with extra groaning from him and extra grimacing by Van Helsing) but Dracula’s attack on Mina – while Van Helsing and Holmwood stand guard outside – is also longer and more explicit than any other extant version. When Dracula enters the bedroom we see an additional close-up of Mina where she appears to be mouthing something to Dracula (I couldn’t hear exactly what on the small monitor) and, after he virtually kisses her full on the lips, the scene ends on a completely new, open-mouthed/ bared fang shot as he closes in on the left side of Mina’s neck before cutting to the screeching owl.

From there, Rowson goes on to speculate that even more missing footage may be available in some of the other surviving reels,* including a scene of Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) throwing up while seeing his sister staked by Van Helsing. However, this scene appears not to have survived (we have only the actor’s account to suggest that it ever existed).
Since Hammer Films was still the official copyright holder, Rowson got the company interested in his discovery, which was acknowledged on the official website back in September, in an article penned by Marcus Hearn (author of several fine books on the Hammer horror legacy). Eventually, a restoration was completed, and a world premiere took place earlier this year at the Vault Cinema underneath London’s Waterloo Station. Not all of the footage described by Rowson made it into the final cut; only two additions were described by one fan lucky enough to see the result:

Horror of Dracula 1958 Christopher Lee and Melissa Stribling in bed
Dracula seduces Mina - a scene augmented in the restored version.

  1. When Dracula attacks Mina Holmwood, there is an alternate take of the vampire nuzzling her face and kissing her lip. This is not the shot of Dracula exposing his fangs that Rowson had described, and there is no extra close-up of Mina at the beginning of the scene mouthing something to the Count.
  2. When Van Helsing forces Dracula into the sunlight, you now see the shot of actor Christopher Lee in disintegration makeup, his face peeling away. (The censored version showed only shots of a prop skull with glass eyes, covered in dust to represent flesh that had dried and flaked away.)

No official reason has been given for the discrepancy between Rowson’s description and the restoration that eventually emerged, although Rowson has since noted that he was mistaken about the shot of Mina mouthing something to Dracula. Presumably, the footage from the Japanese print of Dracula baring his fangs was too far deteriorated to be restored. Also, it appears that the restored footage was substituted, rather than added, in order to maintain the running time and synchronization with the existing English-language soundtrack; in other words, for every new frame that was included, an old frame had to be deleted. Holding on the shot of Dracula nuzzling Mina until he bared his fangs might have over-extended the shot and required the deletion of the subsequent shot, a screeching owl, which has already been shorted in the current restoration. Advance word is that the U.K. Blu-ray release will include the final four surviving reels of the Japanese print of HORROR OF DRACULA, so that fans may compare and contrast with the restoration.

All that remained of Dracula's facial disintegration in the censored prints.
All that remained of Dracula's facial disintegration in the censored prints.

In any case, the essential bit is the famous disintegration scene, which always felt a bet truncated in existing prints. The transition – from Dracula screaming in pain while being pushed in the sunlight, to a reaction shot of Van Helsing, to the lifeless skull covered in dust – clearly omitted a transitional state of some sort, which has now been reinstated. Hopefully, this addition enhances one of the great moments in the history of horror films. As nice as it would be to have a fully restored HORROR OF DRACULA, this one moment makes the current restoration worthwhile.
No word yet on when or whether this version may be available on U.S. shores. Warner Bothers, which holds U.S. home video rights for the title, had only this to say when informed of the discovery of the missing footage over a year ago:

“There have been plans for some time to revisit the key Hammer titles for Blu-ray, especially DRACULA. It is likely our archivists will be investigating the issue of extended scenes for that purpose.”

HORROR OF DRACULA remains one of the high-water marks in the horror genre. It deserves at least a restored Blu-ray release in America – or, better year, an art house re-release. Time to get on the case, WB.
FOOTNOTE:

  • Unfortunately, reels 1-5 of the Japanese print were damaged beyond repair.

Sense of Wonder: Counting Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi Franchises on One Hand?

franchise combo copy

In this post about SAW 3-D, being touted as the finale installment in the Jigsaw saga, Lionsgate president Jason Constantine makes the following statement about the longevity of the SAW franchise:

“You can count on one hand the franchises that lasted seven years — and every year, no less,” says Jason Constantine, Lionsgate’s president of acquisitions and co-productions. “It became part of pop-culture discourse.”

This strikes my as slightly myopic in terms of the history of horror, fantasy and science fiction film franchise. Off the top of my head, here are several more than you can count on one hand – unless you are a polydactyl alien from a galaxy far, far away:

  • The Universal Pictures Frankenstein series began in 1931 with FRANKENSTEIN and continued through 1948 with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, totaling eight films.
  • Toho Studio’s original Godzilla franchise began in 1954 with GODZILLA (a.k.a. GOJIRA) and took a breather after TERROR OF MECHA-GODZILLA in 1974. The franchise revived in 1985 and lasted until GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER in 1996, then resumed again in 1999, wrapping up with GODZILLA: FINAL WARS in 2004, with 26 films on its resume.
  • The Hammer Films Frankenstein series began in 1957 with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and ended in 1974 with FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, totalling six films (not counting the aberration known as HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN)
  • Hammer’s Dracula series began in 1958 with HORROR OF DRACULA and ended in 1974 with LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (a.k.a. THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA), totaling eight films (nine if you count BRIDES OF DRACULA, in which the Count does not appear).
  • The James Bond franchise launched in 1962 with DR. NO and continued until QUANTUM OF SOLACE in 2008, totaling over 20 films. (There was a haitus in the 1990s, but still this is a long-lived franchise).
  • HALLOWEEN started its reign of terror in 1978, which lasted through HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION in 2002. The franchise started up again in 2008 with a remake.
  • FRIDAY THE 13TH began in 1980 and lasted through 2003’s FREDDY VS. JASON, before launching a remake last year.
  • A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET arrived in 1984 and officially ended with FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE in 1991 – barely six years. But then the franchise started up again in 1996 with WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, followed by FREDDY VS. JASON in 2003, and then a remake this year.

Well, that makes eight. I guess we’re not supposed to count the ALIEN franchise and George A. Romero’s sequels to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), because the films were spaced out at long intervals: the ALIEN films extend from 1979 through ALIENS VS. PREDATOR in 2007; Romero’s latest, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, arrived earlier this year.
If we include non-sequel franchise, we get the Vincent Price Poe movies from HOUSE OF USHER in 1960 through THE OBLONG BOX in 1969. Extending past the real of cinefantastique, we get lengthy franchises devoted to Sherlock Holmes and other screen detectives, not to mention such low-brow fare as Ma and Pa Kettle and Francis the Talking Mule.
Let me know if there are any I missed.
[serialposts]

Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Borderland Review

forgetting-sarah-marshall-movie-poster.jpgDracula in a Comedy about Recovering from Lost Love?

Jason Segel (KNOCKED UP, BYE BYE BENJAMIN), the scripter and star of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, is definitely a fan of risqué comedies and somewhat of a raconteur, as his association with the Judd Apatow school of filmmaking demonstrates. However, he is also a fan of science fiction and fantasy, if his little homages are any indication. In MARSHALL he mildly references a few of our favorites from that realm. Some may not be readily obvious, so you’ll need to keep your eyes & ears open. Being a member of the geek-boy club though, I gotta admit to smiling when they popped up. There is even a clever and funny commercial for a science fictiony type of TV show called ANIMAL INSTINCTS starring one of the main characters of the film that runs during the end credits.
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Top 20 Chick Flick Horror Movies

So, you’re a horror movie maniac. You just can’t get enough of ’em. You love the thrill of fear, the scream of terror, the sight of blood. But you have a problem: Your boxed set of BLIND DEAD movies does not enamor your girlfriend. Your Lucio Fulci collection does not send your paramour swooning with rapture. Your unrated torture porn DVDs do not arouse interest. The midnight movie screening of GRINDHOUSE does not inspire romantic fantasies. The latest French gore-fest does not excite erotic intrigue. If anything, the woman in your life is wondering whether you’re a latent serial killer whose interest in the female body does not extend beyond seeing it torn to pieces. You are faced with a dreadful dilemma: either continue to alienate your significant other or stuff those video nasties in the back of the closet along with the real pornography and suffer through endless nights of watching mind-numbingly boring chick flicks like BED OF ROSES (a fate that frightens you far more than anything in your horror collection). Well, lucky for you, we’re here to save the day. You see, there is a way to share your love of the horror genre with a psychologically stable female partner who is not interested in watching an endless stream of blood gushing across the screen. Believe it or not, there are “chick flick” horror movies. They may not be as intense and hardcore as some of your favorite splatter flicks, but they are quite good in their own right, with plenty of appeal to both men and women. Below, we will provide our list of the Top 20 Best Chick Flick Horror Movies.
NOTE:  We have more or less listed the films in order of their female appeal, which means that the top-ranked films may not be the most frightening. The first ten tend to emphasize romantic elements of the sort that might be found in a mainstream “chick flick.” The remaining ten simply feature strong female leads.
1. TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). This adaptation of Edgar Alan Poe’s “Ligeia,” features Vincent Price as a man obsessed with the fear that his late wife will return from the grave to haunt him.  Although technically too old for role, which was written as a young romantic lead, Price is wonderful as the doomed widower; with a little assist from the makeup department, he conveys the necessary mystique. Lady Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) meets and falls in love with him, inspiring him to overcome his fear and marry her. The story is told from Rowena’s point of view, as she is intrigued and enamored by this brooding, mysterious man, only to learn that the dark secret hanging over him will not easily be dispelled. Thanks to a strong performance by Shepherd, working from a great script by Robert Towne, Rowena emerges as one of cinema’s strongest leading ladies – willful and intelligent, she risks her life to drag her husband from the grip of the late Lady Ligeia. The horror element is very muted; the emphasis is on the doomed romance between the two lovers. A moody masterpiece, the film’s fear factor is mostly implied; director Roger Corman includes a few jump scares (the sudden snarl of a cat) and some hypnotic dream sequences, creating an almost surreal sense of dread the relies on Gothic atmopshere more than on-screen violence. In short, this Gothic Romance is the perfect date night rental: you can enjoy the “Gothic,” and she will enjoy the “Romance.”
2. I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). Producer Val Lewton famously called this movie “Jane Eyre in the West Indies.” He may have been joking, but the statement was accurate enough in its way. The story follows a nurse named Betsy (Frances Dee) who gets a job on a plantation tending the brain-dead wife of her employer Paul (Tom Conway). The wife may or may not be a zombie (the film is deliberately ambiguous on this point); either way, her presence is a living a reminder of ugly family secrets that Paul would rather forget. Betsy falls in love with him, of course, but she sublimates her desire by trying to cure Paul’s wife, taking her to a voodoo ceremony. The attempt backfires: the locals are terrified of the zombie woman and want to destroy her. Atypically for the horror genre, the characterization and performances outweigh the horror; Director Jacques Tourner presents the horror almost entirely in terms of atmosphere, creating a dream-like world in which science and the supernatural vie for acceptance, but ultimately, the voodoo element is a backdrop for the love story between Betsy and Paul, with her in the Jane Ayre role and him as the Byronic Rochester substitute. Best of all, the lovers actually get together and (presumably) live happily ever after.
3. THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947). This classic is much more romantic-comedy than horror, but the early scenes – when Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) moves into the old house and realizes it is haunted by the ghost of an old sea captain (Rex Harrison) are as effective as any genuine haunted-house movie. The ghost’s first appearance – a shadowy, out-of-focus silhouette – sends a shiver or two down the spine, and his later full-blown revelation -when Mrs. Muir lights and candle, revealing him standing next to her – is a genuine shock. After this, the film segues into a love story levened with humor, but Tierney and Harrison are absolutely wonderful, and the film will charm the woman in your life – and entertain you as well.
4. DRAGONWYCK (1946). This Gothic-Mystery-Romance features both Gene Tierney and Vincent Price; in many ways, it predates Price’s later TOMB OF LIGEIA, and it was filmed when he was still young enough to play a leading man. More important, this was before he had earned a reputation for screen villainy, so the horrible revelations about his character come as a complete surprise, instead of being telegraphed (as they are in LIGEIA). Price plays the wealthy Nicholas Van Ryn, who sweeps the lovely Miranda Wells (Tierney) off her feet and takes her as his bride to his ancestral estate of Dragonwyck. Miranda’s happiness is soon marred by strange noises in the night and other dark forebodings. Eventually we realize that Nicholas is interested in her only as a means of producing an heir to continue the family line, and if she fails in that duty, he may have to do away with her (as he did his previous wife) and find a replacement. It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a “horror” film, but it is steeped in Gothic atmosphere. Tierney, as always, is a captivating presence, and the romantic chemistry between her and Price is engaging, even if it eventually turns sour. If you like this film, you might also try REBECCA, the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, with Judith Anderson as the wonderfully wicked servant Mrs. Danvers. It’s another Gothic Melodrama – not an outright horror film, but filled with mystery and romance that plays well with both male and female viewers.
5. UGETSU (1953). Director Kenji Mizoguchi’s period piece, detailing the impact of civil war on two married couples, flirts with the horror genre in several scenes, ultimately turning into a ghost story. There are no overt shocks, but there are some wonderfully eerie moments when a husband realizes he is consorting with a ghost. The overall feeling is one of sorrow more than scares. The movie is ultimately about the price that women pay while their men try to achieve glory and honor during wartime. The result is a real tear-jerker that will have your girlfriend reaching for the tissue box and marveling at what a sensitive soul you are, while you enjoy the ghostly apparitions.
6. THE GORGON (1964). This is not the most effective Hammer horror film in terms of providing scares, but that is only because the emphasis is on romance. The film is a doomed love story about a young student named (Richard Pasco) who comes to a village where a monster is petrifying its victims. After a close encounter with the Gorgon, Paul is nursed back to health by Carla (Barbara Shelley) and falls in love with her. Carla, although she returns his affection, is bound by some dark power over her; eventually, we realize that during the full moon, she becomes the Gorgon. The dynamic acting duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are on hand as a doctor and a professor, each separately trying to solve the problem, but ultimately there is no hope for Carla or Paul. The film’s greatest achievement is that its horror effects are orchestrated for their emotional impact: this isn’t a movie that has you screaming in terror but weeping in sadness over the plight of the young lovers. The finale will have you and your lady-friend exchanging bodily fluids, but they will be tears of sadness.
7. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). This famous tale of the deformed mystery man lurking beneath the Paris Opera House is now considered a horror film, but in its day it was more of a mystery-thriller-romance. Erik the Phantom (Lon Chaney) delivers a series of frights (including the famous unmasking of his horrifying visage), but the story is really about his hopeless love for the young and beautiful opera singer Christine (Mary Philbin). The style of this old silent film is dated and stagy, but Chaney keeps it interesting; also, the sets and photography capture the right atmosphere – part horror and part fairy tale – creating the perfect setting for the this variation on “Beauty and the Beast,” with the monster evoking sympathy because of the tender emotions hiding behind his ugly countenance. There have been several remakes. The 1962 version is perhaps even more of a chick flick in that it de-emphasizes the horror element and purifies the Phantom (Herbert Lom)’s motives: he’s no longer interested in Christine sexually, only spiritually. The result yields few frights, but the film possesses a tender quality rare in the horror genre – which should increase its appeal to the distaff side of the audience.
8. DRACULA (1979). There has always been a certain sexual innuendo underlying the Dracula myth, with the mysterious, dark, foreign stranger sneaking into the bedrooms of virginal British ladies. Bela Lugosi played up the foreign mystique, and Christopher Lee emphasized the sexual aggression, but Frank Langella turned the Count into a romantic anti-hero, dashing and seductive, who not only lusts for women (their bodies and their blood) but loves Lucy(Kate Nelligan) for her spirit and intelligence. In 1992, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, tries to emphasize the romance even more, but director Francis Ford Coppola fumbles, turning the story into an overwrought teen romance better suited to an episode of JERRY SPRINGER (vampires – and the women who love them).
9. CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964). Allegedly based on the work of Edgar Alan Poe, this Italian Gothic horror story tells of Alan, a reporter who wagers he can spend a night alone in a haunted castle. He meets a variety of spooks, including a very alluring one named Elizabeth (played by Barbara Steele, the Queen of Horror). They fall in love, but being – literally – from two different worlds, they cannot stay together, or so it seems. As daylight draws near, the other ghosts come seeking the young man’s blood; Elizabeth tries to lead him to safety, but he dies on the verge of escape. The seemingly downbeat ending is actually a triumph of love over death. As the camera pans up to the sunlight, we hear the disembodied spirits of Alan and Elizabeth conversing, and we know that they are now together for eternity – the ultimate romantic fantasy. Steele also starred in a dual role as an innocent princess and a vampire-witch in the 1960 classic BLACK SUNDAY – a much more effective horror film that also has a strong romantic element, thanks to the chemistry between the princess and a young doctor (John Richardson) who seeks to save her from the vampire.
10. THE GIRL IN A SWING (1989). This small independent film, based on the novel by Richard Adams, is essentially a love story about a repressed British man (Rupert Frazer), who meets and marries a mysterious German girl named (Meg Tilly). In the great tradition of tragic romances, the marraige is doomed, but only gradually do hints of a haunting arise, related to some guilty secret of Karin’s. The relentless ghost is seldom seen, keeping the horror content to a minimum; instead, the film focuses on the tragedy of the relationship. Though far from a masterpiece, the film works in its own way, achieving its emotional effects with far less cheesy manipulation than LOVE STORY – and it has a ghost, too, so what more do you want?
11. BEDLAM (1946). Another Val Lewton production, this period piece tells of an arrogant woman (Anna Lee) who is unfairly confined to the infamous English asylum. Although the official star is Boris Karloff (FRANKENSTEIN) as the asylum’s evil overlord, Lee gives a great performance in what is truly the lead role: charting her character’s arc from selfishness to concern for the other patients, she emerges as one of the great female characters in the history of horror cinema.
12. THE INNOCENTS (1960). This excellent English ghost story, based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, stars Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, a governess put in charge of two children living in a secluded mansion. She gradually comes to believe that the house is haunted and that the children are in league with the ghosts. The film is deliberately ambiguous: are the ghosts real or is Miss Giddens imagining them? Either way, it is a wonderful portrait of a woman desperately dealing with a horrible situation without a hero to ride in and rescue her.
13. THE HAUNTING (1963). Another great ghost story, this one portrays an attempt to investigate the “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” Based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the story is told from the point of view of Nell (Julie Harris), a fragile young woman whose desperate need for love and acceptance lures her to succumb to Hill House. An effective scare-fest, this film is also a great character study that should appeal to female viewers. Men can enjoy the scares and the presence of Claire Bloom as Theo, whom the film none too subtly insinuates is a lesbian. The 1974 film THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE deals with a similar situation: a team of two men and two women attempt a sceintific investigation of a haunted house. The scares are a bit more overt, and the psychology less in depth, but the film retains some “chick flick” interest thanks to the performances of Pamela Franklyn and Gayle Hunnicutt, who help create characters that the women in the audience can identify with.
14. THE OTHERS (2001). Intentionally molded in the tradition of THE INNOCENTS, this ghost story features another strong female lead, in this case played by the talented Nicole Kidman. The scares are extremely effective, but what holds interest from beginning to end is the focus on Kidman’s Grace Stewart as she desperately tries to protect her children from the mysterious forces at work in their isolated house.
15. THE ORPHANAGE (2007). Belen Rueda stars as Laura, a woman whose son goes missing in their new house, possibly abducted by ghosts. As with the three previous entries on our list, this film orchestrates a series of unnerving spooky encounters while focusing on the drama of the woman trying to deal with them. There is also a strong maternal element that plays well with women. Although vulnerable, Laura is not a Scream Queen or a victim; she’s not even the traditional “Final Girl” who survives and triumphs. She’s a complex, damaged woman who keeps going even when pushed to extremes. The film was executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro, whose PAN’S LABYRINTH and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE may also appeal to women, because of their portrait of childhood innocence menaced by adult horrors, with empahsis on emotional content.
16. CARRIE (1976). Despite director Brian DePalma’s reputation as a cinematic misogynist, this hit horror film features two actresses (Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie) in strong roles, giving Oscar-nominated performances. This is more a high-school horror film than a chick flick, but it captures a sense of ordinary people living in a world we all recognize, and despite the horrible vengeance she ultimately unleashes on her tormentors, Carrie remains a sympathetic character that women – and men – can relate to.
17 RING 0: BIRTHDAY (2000). This prequel to 1998’s RING (the film that launches the recent J-Horror wave) covers some of the same territory as CARRIE. Set in a small acting troup, it tells the story of Sadako (Yukie Nakama), a young misfit with strange powers, who is tormented by her fellow thespians until she turns the tables. Presenting a far more sympathetic portrait of Sadako than seen in the other RING films, this is pretty much a bust as a horror film, but it is an interesting portrait of a sad, lonely, mixed up girl trying to fit in. In general, ghost movies from Japan and other Asian nations should find favor with female viewers: they tend to feature female characters as the protagonists, and the restless spirits are almost always women, their power in death redressing the imbalance they suffered during their lives under a patriarchal culture. Besides RING, check out PHONE, THE EYE, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, and SHUTTER.
18. ONIBABA (1964). This black-and-white Japanese horror classic has few traditional chick flick elements, but it focuses on two women in the lead roles. Like UGETSU, it portrays the suffering of women while their men are away at war; in this case a young woman and her mother-in-law make ends meet me murdering lone samurai and selling their armour. Toward the end there is a demonic appartion and possibly a curse, but much of the film’s appeal lies in watching the women dish out death to the men who fall into their trap.
19. ALIEN (1979). There is not much about this film that labels it as a chick flick, but it does feature Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ripley, the character who once and for all over-turned the cliche of women as helpless screaming victims in monster movies. That should be enough to get your girlfriend to sit through the chest-burster and other horrors on display.
20. DAY OF THE DEAD(1985). This last title is really pushing it, but we think you deserve something in return for making the effort to find common ground with your squeamish main squeeze. After sitting through all those Gothic Romances, subtle ghost stories, and psychological terror tales, you want some gruesome gore, right? Well, this film from writer-director George Romero is just the thing: it’s brimming with blood, but it also has a strong female character in the lead, Lori Cardilel as Sarah. Inverting the formula of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which Barbra (Judith O’Dea) was pretty much a useless space case, Romero makes Sarah the only one who can keep her shit together while humanity totters on the brink of extinction. That may not make it a chick flick, but it should offer at least a little redeeming value for making the love your life watch a man ripped in half by cannibalistic zombies.
If you are interested in the films on this list, most of them are reviewed more fully elsehwere on the website. You can access the reviews by clicking on the titles that contain hyperlinks.
NOTE: Yes, this article makes sexist assumptions about what constitutes a “chick flick,” and we know that some women do not like the term – an issue we addressed in this previous editorial.
UPDATE (04/27/08): We have received some suggestions for titles we overlooked:

  • Lucius Gore of Eplatter recommends SCREAM. I suppose the combination of humor and a strong “Final Girl” character would appeal to women more than a standard slasher movie.
  • Brian Collins of Horror Movie a Day recommends GINGER SNAPS.
  • Jeff Allard of  Dinner with Max Jenke believes that ALIENS has a greater female appeal than ALIEN, which makes sense, considering the maternal themes in the film. He also recommends ROSEMARY’S BABY – which is such an obvious choice that I am embarrassed to have overlooked it. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Ira Levin novel is considered to be one of the greatest horror movies ever made (EXORCIST director William Friedkin puts it on his very short list here), and it’s all about a young married woman (Mia Farrow)undergoing her first pregnancy. Yes, we all know she is going to give birth to the spawn of Satan – or is she? The film actually delivers little-to-no evidence on this score except the professed belief of the Satanic cult (we’re supposed to trust them?). In a way, the movie plays out as a drama about a woman undergoing a trouble pregnancy, who is betrayed by her husband, and bedeviled by some kooky neighbors. In othe words, it is very much set in the real world, and features a situation that is completely relatable; even if the details are extreme, almost any woman could watch this movie and identify with what poor Rosemary is suffering.

UPDATE (01/28/09): Someone on an IMDB message board thread, linking to this article, suggested that THE DESCENT should have made the list.