Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) – Horror Film Review

This, the fourth Hammer horror film starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, is the last solid effort in the franchise. The film charts some interesting thematic territory and features a number of interesting ideas. Unfortunately, the script by John Elder (the pen name of Anthony Hinds) does not weave all of these ideas together into a satisfying whole, and the direction by Peter Sasdy, while competent, lacks the solid sophistication of Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula) and/or the visual flair of Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave). The result is fascinating but frustrating — probably the most ambitious of Hammer’s Dracula sequels, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA unravels when its ambitions are torn apart by the obligatory genre conventions.
The film begins with Weller (Roy Kinnear), an English merchant who is tossed out of a coach while traveling through Europe. He stumbles through a forest just in time to see the demise of Dracula (including footage reprised from Dracula Has Risen from the Grave). The story shifts to England, where a trio of hypocritical English gentlemen maintain respectable facades in their community while periodically enjoying a trip to the brothels in a seedy quarter of London. Eager for new thrills, they hook up with Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), a young, disinherited Satanist who offers to perform a ceremony for them if they will purchase the necessary ingredients — namely, the cloak, clasp and dried blood of Dracula, which Weller brought back with him. During the ceremony, which takes place in an abandoned church, the three thrill-seekers kill Courtley in a panic after he mixes his blood with Dracula’s and drinks the concoction. Later, Courtley’s dead body mutates into Dracula, who vows to kill the men who destroyed his servant. Meanwhile, the various children of the three Englishmen have been interacting and falling in love, much to their fathers’ disapproval. One by one, the Count puts the young adults under his spell and turns them against their fathers, who die gruesome deaths at the hands of their sons or daughters. After all three are dead, young Paul (Anthony Corlan) manages to rescue his girlfriend Alice (Linda Hayden), who had been Dracula’s chief accomplice: Paul restores a handful of sacred objects to the abandoned church, which Dracula is using as his lair, and the Count seems to go insane, imagining the church fully restored, the power of Good overwhelming him until he falls onto the alter and shrivels away.

Alice (Linda Hayden) sleeps over the Count, as if longing for her lover.
Alice (Linda Hayden) sleeps over the Count, as if longing for her lover.

Thematically, TASTE OF THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is intriguing — a sort of broadside attack on Victorian hypocrisy. The film evinces an almost radical agenda, in which we are openly invited to identify with the children as they turn the tables and slaughter their fathers, who have unreasonably repressed them. Dracula is barely a character in the film; rather, he is a catalyst — the missing ingredient that inspires the spineless, almost bloodless youngsters to rise up against their oppressors. One could easily read the result as a sort of Freudian-Marxist manifesto about overthrowing both sexual and social repression.
The film fares less well on a purely narrative level. For example, one of the three thrill-seekers conveniently knows how to kill vampires — because somebody has to, and there is no Van Helsing character around. The script also expects us to sympathize with this character, even though he was willing to sell his soul the Devil in Courtley’s ceremony and also got away with murder.
Even more important: From the external evidence, it is rather obvious that the script was originally written with Lord Courtley as the central character, who is killed and then returns from the dead to extract vengeance. Adding Dracula into the mix was an awkward afterthought — a reluctant bow to the obvious commercial consideration that far fewer ticket buyers would flock to see TASTE THE BLOOD OF COURTLEY. Consequently, the Count has little to do but lurk in the shadows while his young minions do most of the dirty work, and Christopher Lee’s few lines of dialogue are rather bald-faced efforts to explain the Count’s motivations (“They have destroyed my servant. They will be destroyed,” he announces to the camera immediately after coming back to life.)
The result is one of Lee’s weaker performances in the role of Dracula. He performs the obligatory actions, hypnotizing and biting his victims, with his usual overpowering screen presence, but he cannot make the character anything more than a spook in a graveyard. The film probably gives him the least screen time of any in the Hammer series, sometimes even relying on a stunt double or a glimpse of a cloak to suggest his presence, instead of giving the actor a real scene to play.
Instead, the emphasis is on the young leads. The film is clearly designed to appeal to younger viewers. All of the adults are either hypocrite or pathetic or (in the case of the police) willfully negligent. The burden of solving the situation falls upon Paul, whose boyish good looks and curly brown hair seem consciously devised to suggest Paul McCartney to the target audience of teenagers. Corlan does a good job in the role, but in general the film succumbs to the pitfall inherent in the gambit the script plays: by making the long-repressed youths so helpless in the early scenes, it renders them uninteresting and unlikable; the only kick we get out of them is seeing them finally turn the tables against the oldsters.
In fact, the film does such a good job of making us hate the fathers and root for their downfall, that the ultimate Good-triumphing-over-Evil conclusion seems tacked on from another movie. The script overturns traditional definitions of Good and Evil by making the apparently respectable Englishmen into hypocrites and murderers. The movie more or less endorses their destruction at the hands of their children. Yet Alice, the most complicit in the retribution, is let off the hook in favor of placing all the blame on Dracula — who, in a sense, merely liberated her from an unpleasant situation by giving her the nerve to do what she wanted — but dared not — do on her own.
Despite the erratic storytelling, the usual Hammer virtues are on display. The sets are atmospheric. James Bernard provides one of his best scores, balancing his traditional, ominous Dracula themes with a lyrical melody for the love story between Paul and Alice. Linda Hayden and Isla Blair are lovely as the female victims, and Hayden does a fine job using her innocent face to ironic effect as she carries out Dracula’s evil orders (her wicked smile before she strikes the death blow is almost worth the price of admission). Ralph Bates does a nice arrogant turn as Courtley. Geoffrey Keen and John Carson are solid as two of the three “respectable” gentlemen, but Peter Sallis is the real standout as Samuel Paxton, obviously the junior member of the group, whom the other two browbeat mercilessly; his is perhaps he definitive screen embodiment of pathetic little man, and when he finally — if briefly and ultimately fatally — stands up for himself, the scene strikes with genuine dramatic force. Only Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper fails to impress: usually cast as a landlord, here he plays an unsympathetic police officer who makes Inspector Lestrade look like a genius by comparison.
Despite the narrative lapses and the awkward interpolation of Dracula into the story, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA remains a powerful, albeit flawed, work that sustains interest on the basis of its thematic ambitions. Of all the Hammer Dracula sequels, this is the one with the most interesting idea at its core. If only it had done more justice to its title character, it might have emerged as a mini-masterpiece in its own right.


Besides emphasizing the young characters, including a male lead apparently intended to suggest Paul McCartney, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA shows other signs of attempting to leaven its Gothic horror with a more contemporary sensibility designed to appeal to younger viewers. After Courtley’s death, there is a rather goofy high-angle shot that zooms in and out in time with a heartbeat sound effect; the scene has a vaguely psychedelic feel, like something out of a rock-n-roll movie. Later, when Paul is refurbishing the church, his ears are assaulted with inexplicable noises of unknown origin. The distorted sounds, heavy on the reverb, are more suggestive of a bad drug trip than the forces of evil.
A rumor on the Internet Movie Database suggests that Ralph Bates was originally scheduled to play Dracula in this movie, but this is incorrect. Bates was being groomed as a horror star to replace the aging Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; in fact, Bates was cast in place of Cushing in HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, a sort of black comedy remake of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. However, Bates was always scheduled to play Lord Courtley in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA: he was supposed to drink Dracula’s blood and return from the dead as a vampire, who presumably would go on to star in his own series of films. In effect, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, like BRIDES OF DRACULA before it, was designed as a Dracula film in name only; however, the character of Dracula was added later, at the behest of American distributor Warner Brothers, who insisted that the title character actually appear in the film. If Bates was ever intended for the actual role of Dracula, the subsequent sequel SCARS OF DRACULA would have been a far more likely candidate. That film abandons any continuity with its predecessors, suggesting that it was intended to jump-start the franchise, possibly with a new actor in the lead.
Another rumor is that TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA was planned as a teaming of Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. According to this story (perpetuated in a book about Price), the American horror star was to play a fourth member of the English thrill-seekers, but the budget was not large enough to accommodate both stars, so Price’s dialogue was divided up between the remaining three characters. No evidence exists to support this theory, which seem unlikely for the following reason: Hammer Films was reluctant to re-cast Lee as Dracula, because his salary was rising. Would they even have considered hiring Price, who was earning much more per film than Lee?
Peter Sallis, who plays the mousy little man Saxton, later became the voice of Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit stop-motion films.

Linda Hayden, Christopher Lee, Isla Blair
Linda Hayden, Christopher Lee, Isla Blair


TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA was cut by Warner Brothers to receive a GP-rating for its U.S. release in 1970. The DVD restores the missing footage:

  • The brothel sequence is considerably longer, including a suggestive dance performed by one of the girls with a snake. There are also brief flashes of nudity as Lord Courtley makes his way through the brothel, glancing behind curtains into cubicles where girls are entertaining clients.
  • Courtley’s death was nearly incomprehensible in the GP version: one minute he was crawling on the floor, begging for help; then after a few kicks from his repulsed companions, there was a jarring cut to a high-angle shot looking down on the men, who were holding canes or swords above Courtley’s dead body. The DVD version shows the men react in disgust, begin kicking Courtley to keep him away, and then beat him with their canes, leading to his death.
  • The death of each of the British thrill-seekers is capped with an additional sequence of three shots: a close-up of the dying man looking up in horror; a shot from their POV of Count Dracula looming triumphantly nearby; a final shot of the victim expiring. (One of these shots is in the trailer for the film, which is included on the DVD.)

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970). Directed by Peter Sasdy. Written by Anthony Hinds (as “John Elder”), inspired by the character created by Bram Stoker. Cast: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Peter Sallis, Anthony Higgins, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear, Michael Ripper, Anthony Corlan.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965) – Retrospective Review

This is Hammer Films’ first sequel to 1958’s HORROR OF DRACULA to feature the return of Christopher Lee as the Count (who was notably absent from 1960’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA). It is also the last Dracula film helmed by their top in-house director, Terence Fisher, who was the man behind the camera for most of their classic films in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Made at a time when Hammer was searching for new ideas to keep their horror franchise alive, it is part of a second wave that briefly reinvigorated the studio before it gradually descended into rehashing its familiar fiends. The productions values and the performances are as strong as ever, and the script does an imaginative job of resurrecting Dracula, but the film is not quite up to the level of its predecessor, the latter half turning into a bit of a mechanical thriller (albeit still an exciting one).
After a prologue that features the Count’s demise from HORROR OF DRACULA (reflected in the misty surface of a mirror, to help cover the fact that the old footage is in standard format while the new footage is widescreen), the story picks up with a pair of English couples vacationing in Transylvania. Mishaps lead them to Castle Dracula, where the Count’s servant Klove (a deadpan ghoulish Philip Latham) kills one of the men to use his blood to revive the vampire. Dracula then vampirizes the dead man’s wife, while the other couple manages to escape to a monastery presided over by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who helps them defeat Dracula, fending him off when he invades the monastery and tracking him back to his castle, where he sinks into the running waters of his moat.
The new film makes excellent use of widescreen photography to show off the beautiful sets. The format seems perfect for director Terence Fisher, who often avoided fancy camera moves and montage in favor of letting his actors move about the frame, performing separate actions in the foreground, background, left, or right. In one of the film’s moody highlights, Fisher even manages to suggest the unseen spirit of the departed Dracula with a few simple tracking shots down empty hallways, brilliantly foreshadowing the Count’s eventual return.
The first half of the story has a built-in hook: how will the film bring back Dracula (who was turned to dust at the end of HORROR OF DRACULA). The answer is fairly ingenious, with Klove killing one innocent victim and stringing up his body over the Count’s coffin with all the solemnity of a religious sacrifice. The scene of blood dripping onto the ashes turned a few stomachs in its day, and the special effects that follow are nicely done in a subtle way (a layer of mist obscures details of the body’s reformation). In a nice touch of — shall we call it realism? — Dracula is not reborn fully clothed; instead, his servant has a new suit waiting for him (this also explains any change in the Count’s attire from the first film to this one).
There are some nice thematic ideas underlining the action. The sacrificial victim and his wife are an uptight, repressed couple, which apparently makes them more vulnerable to Dracula’s allure. In a sense (as David Pirie points out in A Heritage of Horror), they are reborn as Dracula and his vampire bride — their bloodlust a dark inversion of their former prudery.
Unfortunately, once the resurrection of Dracula has been achieved, the film does not know what to do with him, except have him pursue the film’s other female lead back to the monastery. Despite the “Prince of Darkness” phrase used in the film’s title, the Count is never seen engaged in any major metaphysical evil; he acts mostly like a snarling if seductive animal. In fact, Dracula speaks not a word of dialogue, leaving all the talking to his servant and to Barbara Shelley as the victim-turned-vampire. Even without words, Christopher Lee manages to give a powerful performance, commanding and imposing. Andrew Keir as Father Sandor is a strong substitute for Doctor Van Helsing. Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer are appealing as the young couple. But the real standouts are Latham and Shelly.
Despite the weaknesses in the story, the second half of the film includes numerous memorable scenes. In one lifted from the book, Dracula opens a vein in his chest and tries to force Farmer’s young ingénue to drink his bodily fluids. Filmed in close-ups that hide the relative position of her head to Lee’s body, the scene is loaded with suggestions or forced oral sex (which is quite amusing when seen on afternoon television).
Even better is the staking of Shelley’s she-vampire, which takes place in the monastery, presided over by Sandor. The remarkable element of the action is that it takes place at night, with the vampire fully conscious and struggling on a table, while four monks hold her limbs down. Although the dialogue tells us that Sandor and his monks are performing a service to save the woman from the vampire’s curse and set her spirit free, the action plays out like a gang rape, with the helpless woman brutalized by a group of heartless men.
The ending is slightly less spectacular than that of HORROR OF DRACULA, with the Count slipping through broken ice to be swallowed up by the running waters of the moat around his castle, but the idea is at least loosely derived from Stoker’s novel (in which vampires can cross running water only at high and low tide). The imagery is actually fairly powerful, and it is one of the few moments that live up to the satanic implications of the film’s title. As Dracula tries to save himself, his fingers grasp the edge of the ice harder, which dooms him to sink faster as the ice melts beneath his grip. The scene seems intentionally reminiscent of the ending of Dante’s Inferno, which shows Satan trapped in the ice in the lower pit of hell, his wings flapping in a vain effort to pull him free, their icy breeze only freezing the ice that holds him more firmly, ensuring that he will never escape.
Whatever the flaws that prevent it from fully achieving classic status, DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS is probably Hammer’s last great Dracula film — a solid, sometimes imaginative effort that remains exciting and entertaining even after its best ideas have run out. Although it is easy to imagine a better film (one that gives Dracula more opportunity to live up to the sobriquet “Prince of Darkness”), the film as it exists now is one of the best cinematic vampire efforts and probably deserves to rank above BRIDES OF DRACULA (in spite of critical consensus to the contrary).


In a belated nod to Bram Stoker’s novel, the film introduces us to Ludwig, a lunatic loosely inspired by Renfield. Although well played by Thorley Walters, the character fails to live up to his inspiration. Mostly he serves as a plot device: as in the book, vampires cannot cross a threshold unless invited inside; Ludwig is the one responsible for inviting Dracula into the monastery.
The screenplay is credited to “John Samson,” a pseudonym for Jimmy Sangster (who previously scripted HORROR OF DRACULA). Sangster was reportedly unhappy with changes made to his script and therefore removed his name from the final credits.
Christopher Lee has said that Dracula remains mute because the actor refused to speak the dialogue in the script. Some people have theorized that this may be the reason for Sangster’s objection to the finished film. However, no one has ever found a draft of the screenplay with dialogue for Dracula; today, the consensus is that the Count was always intended to remain mute, as he did throughout the later portions of HORROR OF DRACULA.
Although the interior of Dracula’s castle looks similar in its decor to that seen in HORORR OF DRACULA, the layout is clearly different.
DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS was shot back-to-back with RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK. Much of the cast reappears (including Christopher Lee in the title role), and many of the sets were re-used. In fact, RASPUTING plays fairly fast and loose with historical authenticity, portraying the monk as someone with hypnotic powers similar to Dracula’s.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965). Directed by Terence Fisher. Screenplay by “John Samson” (Jimmy Sangster), from a story by John Elder (Anthony Hinds). Cast:  Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Charles Tingwell, Thorley Walters, Philip Latham

Horror of Dracula (1958) – Retrospective Review

This full-blooded vampire film (you should pardon the expression) reinvented the image of Count Dracula for a generation of filmgoers, eschewing cobwebby castles and black-and-white atmosphere in favor of a bold, colorful approach, filled with lovely cinematography and lavish sets that belie the modest budget. The screenplay by Jimmy Sangster jettisons the creepy clichés and gets down to basics, jumping directly into the action while wasting little time on superfluous exposition; it is a model for how to write a remake of a well-known subject. Director Terence Fisher stages the action with all the gusto you could bleed for: the film feels almost like an action-adventure movie, exciting and lively. Composer James Bernard provides a memorably exciting score, dominated by the famous three-note title theme (just imagine the orchestra saying “DRA-cu-la,” and you get the idea). Peter Cushing turns Professor Van Helsing into a variation on his Frankenstein characterization: a vampire hunter as obsessive in his quest to destroy vampires as the Baron was in his quest to create life. Perhaps most important, Christopher Lee remakes the vampire king into his own image: aloof, condescending, attractive – in a domineering, overpowering kind of way guaranteed to provoke ambivalent responses in viewers, male and female alike, who both fear and admire the Count.
HORROR OF DRACULA (known simply as DRACULA in its native England) was designed by Hammer Films to capitalize on the success of their previous effort, 1957’s CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which was the first Gothic horror film shot in color. Energized with a fresh approach and a modern sensibility, CURSE became a hit at home and abroad. As filmmakers who have tackled one half of horror’s dynamic duo almost always do, Hammer inevitably followed up Frankenstein with Dracula, taking all the elements that worked the first time and improving upon them the second time out.
The essential elements of the Hammer approach to horror, as established by CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, were color, action, eroticism, and gore, with a sometimes quirky British sensibility lurking around the edges. Although mild by the standards of later horror films, the impact was quite shocking during its day, causing howls of outrage from disgusted critics who accused the films of abandoning atmosphere and subtlety in favor of crude violence and bloodshed. Fortunately, neither CURSE nor HORROR is as crude as the critics would have had us believe, and now that the shock has worn off we can see perhaps more clearly just how good the films are: energetic and involving, with a crisp, fast-paced approach to narrative that somehow makes the incredible events seem like a completely believable component of the world being portrayed.
In a way, Lee’s Dracula is a missing link between the classic cinema vampire and his more contemporary brethren, who are often portrayed almost like human beings suffering from an uncontrollable addiction. Earlier horror films had emphasized Dracula’s allure by portraying the vampire almost like a hypnotic phantom. Bela Lugosi’s performance, in the 1931 DRACULA, emphasized the character’s foreign qualities and an uncanny otherworldliness that made the Count seem separate from humanity even while he moved unobtrusively among it. Lee’s portrayal, on the other hand, erases most of the character’s spooky nature (aided by the script, of course): in HORROR OF DRACULA, the Count does not turn into a bat or a cloud of mist; he seems more real, more physical – a flesh-and-blood being that the audience can more easily believe in. In a sense, he humanizes the vampire, not by making him sympathetic but by making him walk the Earth almost like a mortal – a super-powered, undying mortal, to be sure, but one subject to physical laws that limit his movements, just as they limit ours.
While advancing the Count’s evolution, Lee also captures some hints of Dracula as he appeared in novel Dracula. Author Bram Stoker’s physical description of the Count emphasizes not hypnotic fascination but physical strength. He is tall, his face a strong aquiline with a thin nose and a cruel-looking mouth. The literary character may be a fascinating monster, but he is definitely a horrible one. The air of cultured aristocracy (emphasized by Lugosi) is definitely there, especially in the early scenes at Castle Dracula as the Count plays charming host to his hapless guest, Jonathan Harker; however, this air is merely a deceptive cloud hiding the monstrous lining. Sophisticated he may be, but Stoker’s Dracula is better defined by the pride he exhibits when boasting of leading troops in warlike fury to fend off foreign invaders.
The more overt suggestions of savagery were absent from Lugosi’s Dracula, who never bared his fangs and seldom lost his temper (although he does snarl once or twice). Lee was afforded the luxury of allowing the character’s monstrous side to show more fully. Abetted with dripping fangs and red contact lenses, Lee portrays Dracula’s ferocity to the hilt. Also, in keeping with the novel, Dracula is never naively accepted into the society of his victims; instead, after the characterization is established in the opening scenes at Castle Dracula, he becomes almost a background character, infiltrating his victims’ homes like some sinister spy from beyond the grave.
Lee’s costume retains the familiar black cloak but omits the red lining (favoring Stoker’s description of Dracula’s attire being “without a speck of color anywhere”). Rather than Lugosi’s melodic cadences, Lee opts for a fast-paced, authoritarian tone of voice. Like Stoker’s character, he speaks “excellent English,” though without the “strange intonation” captured by Lugosi. By dropping Lugosi’s Hungarian accent, Lee erases the Count’s Continental aura, instead emphasizing the physical strength that underlies vampire’s aristocratic mien. Unlike Lugosi, one can imagine Lee leading troops in warlike fury against the enemy invader.

The Count (Christopher Lee) seduces a reluctant but willing victim (Melissa Stribling).
The Count (Christopher Lee) seduces a reluctant but willing victim (Melissa Stribling).

Without being overtly Freudian, the film is certainly more obviously aware of the sexual undertones in Dracula’s attacks on helpless women, who seem to enjoy being ravished by the rapacious vampire. His approach to his female victims, who now consciously await his caresses (rather than sinking into a hypnotic stupor), emphasizes the erotic as never before. The fact that Dracula is less subtly seductive and more physically overpowering in these non-verbal attacks (we never see him talk to the women whose bedrooms he invades) lends an almost sado-masochistic air to his nighttime predations.
Like CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the script for HORROR OF DRACULA offers a severely condensed version of the source material that erases the globe-trotting elements of the original story. While omitting the details, this telescoped version at least captures more of the essence of the novel’s structure (retaining more of Stoker than CURSE retained of Mary Shelly’s novel).
Stoker’s story was loaded with characters and took place over the course of several months. Jonathan Harker comes to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to help the Count purchase property in London, only to discover that his client is a vampire. Back home, Harker’s fiancée Mina has a friend named Lucy who becomes Dracula’s first English victim. Dr. Seward, one of Lucy’s three suitors, calls in Professor Van Helsing for consultation; unable to recognize the disease, the professor eventually realizes the cause is vampirism, which eventually claims Lucy’s life. Van Helsing teaches Seward and Lucy’s two other suitors, including her fiancé Arthur Holmwood, how to destroy her after she returns from the grave as a vampire. When Jonathan Harker returns to England (having escaped the clutches of Dracula’s three vampire brides), the details of the journal he kept lead Van Helsing to realize that Dracula is the vampire that attacked Lucy. Meanwhile, Dr. Seward has been noticing that one of his psychiatric patients, Renfield, has been acting in a way that seems to be an index to the comings and goings of the Count. Renfield, who wants to extend his life by devouring the lives of living things, worships Dracula as a sort of Antichrist, but the Count kills him when Renfield rebels and tries to prevent the vampire from claiming Mina as his next victim. Eventually, Van Helsing leads Mina and the young men on a trek back to Transylvania, where Harker and the Texan Quincy Morris manage to stab Dracula in the heart and behead him.
Sangster’s script jettisons Renfield and Morris, and reduces Seward to a walk-on as a family physician. Harker still comes to Castle Dracula, but he arrives on false pretenses, intending to destroy Dracula; instead, he falls prey to the Count after staking his vampire bride in her tomb. Van Helsing is no longer a kindly old bumbler who comes to believe in vampires only after studying Lucy’s condition; he is a full-fledge vampire hunter, dedicated to wiping the plague off the face of the Earth, with the same zeal as a doctor eradicating smallpox.
This twist on the Van Helsing character, embodied by Peter Cushing (who brings the same zest and precision that he displayed as the Baron in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) lends HORROR OF DRACULA its peculiar thematic underpinnings. Despite occasional flashes of warmth, Cushing’s Van Helsing embodies a cold ruthlessness in his quest that is very similar to Frankenstein’s monomaniacal obsession to create life, no matter what the cost. If Lee’s Dracula represents the eruption of carnal desire, of physical lust overwhelming the mind and sense, then Cushing’s Van Helsing is the intellect divorced from feeling, who will stop at nothing to subjugate the flesh to the mind.
In effect, HORROR OF DRACULA espouses a very conservative morality, in which unbridled sexuality is equated with spiritual Evil, and sexual repression is allied with Good. What prevents this old-fashioned concept from descending into camp is the very secular way it plays out. We are clearly seeing a film in which the characters can be interpreted as embodying the abstract metaphysical concepts of Good and Evil, yet the religious iconography is expressed in purely practical terms. In other words, the film’s Van Helsing (unlike the novel’s) seems hardly devout or spiritual; he uses crosses like weapons because they are effective, in the same way that an exterminator uses poison or traps.
The benefit of this approach is that it dissipates the cornball melodrama associated with too many bad horror movies, creating a film that seems fresh and modern even after the passing of decades. The potential pitfall is that it could downscale the story, mitigating the mythic undertones that make great horror films resonate in the mind like half-forgotten dreams suddenly recollected.
Somehow, HORROR OF DRACULA walks this razor’s edge with the skill of a tight-rope acrobat. Thanks to the robut staging of director Terence Fisher, the final battle between the forces of Darkness and Light, embodied by Dracula and Van Helsing, is as exciting as an World Wrestling Federation bout, culminating in Van Helsing’s Errol Flynn-style leap through the air to yank down a massive set of curtains, leading to the Count’s disintegration in the rays of the sun, his ashes blowing away in the wind — a remarkably poetic image to cap a remarkably well-made movie. At a clipped eight-two minutes, this is one of the most effective and tightly structured horror films ever made; in fact, some have gone so far as to call it the greatest horror film of all time.
In truth, the short running time robs the film of the scope that would have made it a full-blown, multi-level masterpiece. It works on its own terms, rather like the cinematic equivalent of a novella rather than a full-length novel, but there are other horror classics that have displayed more depth and sophistication.
HORROR OF DRACULA also falls prey to occasional melodramtic excess. In the role of Arthur Holmwood, Michael Gough’s horrorified reactions to the horrible events sometimes go a tad overboard (as when he desperately asks Van Helsing “Is there no other way?” – besides a stake in the heart – to release his sister from the curse of vampirism). And the flow of the story sometimes seems interrupted by old-fashioned fadeouts, not to mention the questionable cinematic device of showing Jonathan Harker sitting down to write in his diary. (Thankfully, the filmmakers eventually figure out that it is enough just to hear his words in voice-over on the soundtrack, while showing him perform some other action.)
But these quibbles do nothing to undermine the many strengths of HORROR OF DRACULA, which manifest themselves in numerable, memorable scenes. The first glimpse of Dracula at the top of the stairs is a wonderful fake-out – an ominous introduction followed by the Count’s perfectly civil greeting to Harker. The Count’s vampire bride (Valerie Gaunt) is wonderfully seductive, and her fight with her master, who stops her from making a victim of Harker, is wonderfully done, including Dracula’s athletic leap over a table. The staking of the vampirized Lucy (including a close-up of the stake sinking her white grave clothes, red blood welling up around it) is still sharp enough to make an audience squirm.
Apart from the mis-steps mentioned above, Gough does an excellent job in a relatively thankless role; embodying audience incredulity, he serves as the skeptic who must be convinced by Van Helsing, hopefully helping the audience to believe what they are seeing on screen. Also, Melissa Stribling deserves mention: the character of Mina has never come across on screen as well as Stoker imagined her; although Stribling’s version lacks most of the attributes of the literary version, the actress deserves credit for imbuing some life into her underwritten screen version. Her sly smile after her first encounter with Dracula, followed by her ambivalent reactions while anticipating a return visit, perfectly capture the mixture of attraction and repulsion inherent in the vampire mythology.
In short, HORROR OF DRACULA may not be the greatest horror film ever made, but it easily ranks in the pantheon of genre classics, and despite it’s considerably liberties with the source material (Sangster’s adaptation is in some ways almost an original screenplay), the film remains the best big-screen version ever made of Stoker’s novel. The decades may have given us far bloodier vampires, realized with bigger budgets and better effects; however, HORROR OF DRACULA (thanks in part to luminous Technicolor cinematography that defies the passing of years) is every bit as vibrant as the day it was released, living on from one generation to the next, rather like the undying Vampire Count himself.


The film was influenced by NOSFERATU, the silent German adaptation of DRACULA, in at least two ways:(1) Dracula can be destroyed by sunlight, whereas in the book he simply loses his powers and requires rest in his coffin. (2) Taking up residence in Castle Dracula, Jonathan Harker displays a photograph of his fiance, which attracts the attention of the Count, who later seeks her out.
One element retained from the novel is a rather pronounced class consciousness. The servants in the film are never taken into the confidence of Van Helsing and the upper-class Holmwood, even in the case of the maid Gerta, whose daughter nearly becomes a victim of the vampirized Lucy. And the various working class characters that Van Helsing and Holmwood interrogate in their search for Dracula’s resting place are inevitably played for comic relief. Fortunately, the humor goes a long way toward balancing out the film’s more horrific scenes.

Publicity still of Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) decomposing after being staked - a scene that apparently never made it into any cut of the film.
Publicity still of Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) decomposing after being staked - a scene that apparently never made it into any cut of the film.

For decades, rumors abounded that Hammer Films created multiple versions of their movies for different markets, supposedly even shooting different versions of some scenes: a tame one for England, a slightly rougher version for the U.S., and an outright bloody one for the Far East. Although Hammer executives propagated these stories to generate publicity, they appear to have been more mythical than real. There is no doubt that censorship in different territories resulted in different versions of the films being released, due to the trimming of violence, gore, or sexual innuendo, but there is little evidence that alternate versions of scenes were ever shot.
In the case of HORROR OF DRACULA, there does seem to have been more explicit footage that has never seen the light of day, not even on DVD.
In the course of the film, three vampires are staked, but only one, late in the film, is shown explicitly; the other two are suggested with shadows or fade-outs. Supposedly, these earlier scenes were shot to be more explicit; however, this seems unlikely, because of the obvious problem: two graphic stakings early in the film would undermine the impact of the later one, which would seem repetitious. However, there is a publicity still of Jonathan Harker, lying in a coffin after Dracula has turned him into a vampire, that suggests more footage may have been shot of Van Helsing staking his colleague and seeing his body decay after the vampire’s curse has been lifted.
Publicity still - perhaps an early makeup test - of a scene censored from all prints except those in the far east.
Publicity still - perhaps an early makeup test - of a scene censored from all prints except those in the far east.

Even more interesting, there is an oft-published still of Christopher Lee wearing a hideous, pock-marked makeup that was clearly intended to show the vampire’s face decaying in the sunlight. In the cut of the film shown theatrically and on home video, Dracula’s destruction takes place mostly off-camera: we see Van Helsing fashion two candlesticks into a cross and force the Count back into the sunlight; there are brief shots of his hand and his foot disintegrating, followed by a reaction shot of the professor reacting to the vampire’s demise. Then we see a prop skull covered with dust and, after another reaction shot, a pile of dust on the floor. We never see the makeup meant to show Dracula’s face beginning to decay, but the editing of the sequence clearly leaves room for another transitional moment to bridge the gap between Lee’s normal features and the prop skeleton that replaces him.
Film editor and horror fan Ted Newsom has seen a version of this image that reveals it to be a strip of 35mm movie film, which would indicate that the shot was filmed for the movie, not just as a publicity still:

“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. 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.”

We can only hope that some archivist finds the footage, either in a vault at Hammer or in a print in the Far East, so that a restored version of HORROR OF DRACULA can be made available to fans.

Copyright 2006 Steve Biodrowski

Dracula's Daughter (1936) review

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, the last of the first wave of classic horror from Universal Pictures in the 1930s, never established itself as a fan favorite, yet it has come to be highly regarded in some circles (particularly those interested in finding homoerotic undertones in mainstream commercial pictures). Upon recenti viewing, the film turns out to be more entertaining than remembered, but it’s still wildy overrated. Its reputation rests mostly on one suggestive, implied lesbian scene, which is actually pretty good, but then you have to sit through the rest of the movie, which has a bit of trouble linking vampire Countess Maria Zaleski to Count Dracula. Zaleski claims to be Dracula’s daughter at one point, but she also has childhood memories of her mother playing soothing harpsicord music. So she was Dracula’s daughter by a human mother? She had a normal happy childhood before her father…what? Bit her?
And don’t get me started talking about the male lead, a psycho-therapist who thinks he’s curing a patient of a mental disease when in reality she’s a vampire. Gloria Holden is good as the Countess; the reliable Edward Van Sloan is back as Van Helsing (in a greatly reduced role), and Irving Pichel is fun in the Renfield role (more or less). He’s bit mouthy and arrogant for a mere mortal serving an undead countess, mocking her attempts to overcome her vampire’s curse.
Typically, the film never explains the obvious question: Why does she put up with him?

Copyright 1994 Steve BIodrowski

Dracula (1931)

This 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, by way of the play be Hamilton Deane and John Balderston, is one of those films that qualifies as a classic despite numerous flaws that prevent it from being a masterpiece. In many ways, this is the real starting point of the horror genre in cinema: the silent era had seen Expressionist movement in Germany that produced THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) and NOSFERATU (1922), and America had produced mystery-thrillers like THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), but this early talkie was the first ever to be designated by the term “horror move.”
As a piece of cinema, DRACULA is sorely lacking in many departments: it is slow-paced, talky, and stagy, and yet its reputation remains secure on the basis of the atmosphere sets and photography, coupled with a trio of excellent performances that defined genre archetypes for generations to come. Weighed in the balance, the strengths still make this worthwhile viewing — an atmospheric artifact from the dawn of screen horror.


The novel by Bram Stoker is, in its own way, a flawed masterpiece — over-long, over-written, and overly populated with under-developed characters. Its strength lies in the way it presents a basic, almost fairy tale story of Good and Evil so that all the blood-and-thunder excitement of a conventional pot-boiler is intact, while at the same time the text is open to a wide range of rich interpretations.
In the novel, young solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to settle the details of a land deal with Count Dracula, a courtly host who turns out to be an ancient vampire intent on spreading his domain beyond his exhausted realm, reaching into the modern world of England, which is teaming with young life and fresh blood. Dracula imprisons Harker in the castle with his three vampire brides and heads off on his journey, but Harker manages to escape. On an ocean voyage to England, Dracula kills everyone on board the vessel, which crashes onto the shore at Whitby Harbor. Soon thereafter, Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina, notes that her friend Lucy Westenra is sleepwalking and showing signs of anemia. One of Lucy’s three suitors, Dr. John Seward, calls in his old professor, Dr. Van Helsing, to consult on her case. The old Dutchman eventually determines that she has been inflicted by a vampire. Lucy succumbs to the vampire’s bite and returns from the grave as one of the undead, attacking young children, but Van Helsing teaches her fiancé, Arthur Holmwood to drive a stake through her chest, putting her soul to rest. Mina goes to Europe to rescue Jonathan, who has turned up in a hospital with a case of amnesia. When they return, Jonathan’s journal helps Van Helsing determine that the vampire who attacked Lucy is in fact Dracula. They begin searching London to destroy the coffins, filled with his native soil, that Dracula has brought with him from Transylvania. One of Dr. Seward’s mental patients, Renfield — a lunatic who eats live insects in the hope of extending his own life — comes to worship Dracula as a sort of Dark Messiah, and aids the vampire in sneaking into Seward’s sanitarium. With no refuge left, Dracula heads back to his castle, but first he attacks Mina and forces her to drink his blood, tainting her so that she will become a vampire upon her death. Van Helsing leads the men to Transylvania and beheads the Count’s vampire brides. In a thrilling horse race, the Englishmen catch up with a band of gypsies racing with the Count’s coffin back to the castle. Jonathan and American adventurer Quincy Morris impale and behead Dracula, but the gypsies mortally wound Morris, who has just enough time before expiring to see that Mina has recovered from the vampire’s taint.
One of the great things about Stoker’s novel is the way it uses everyday detail to make its story believable. Dracula is an ancient monster who comes to modern day London, where he is defeated not just by crosses and garlic but by diligent legwork as the Englishmen search records, legal documents, and manifests to pinpoint his lairs, destroying them one by one until the monster has no choice but retreat to safer territory.
Although the characterizations are relatively simple, they are memorable. Dracula is something of an enigma, a courtly gentleman who also shows signs of animal atavism (as Leonard Wolf pointed out in A DREAM OF DRACULA, the ancient monster rather than the corrupt continental is the true villain of the book). After his character is established in the opening chapters in Castle Dracula, he is mostly a background presence for the rest of the story, which unravels like a mystery. The young men are mostly just virtuous heroes. Mina is to some extent a damsel in distress, although she is clearly smarter and more resourceful than the men. Renfield is a memorably pathetic figure who shifts between madness and sanity, plagued by the moral problem of his allegiance to the vampire. And Van Helsing establishes for all time the figure of the knowing scientist-father figure who will defeat the monster; although there is little depth, he remains impressive — a worthy foe capable of leading the others in the effort to route the seemingly all-powerful Count.
The book is long-winded and occasionally bathetic — it could have benefited from some judicious pruning — but the highlights outshine the lowlights. The opening chapters in the castle are excellent, as are the concluding ones during the chase to Transylvania. In between there is too much hand-wringing from the virtuous characters, who lament over the terrible fate visited on them in spite of their virtue, but there are numerous memorable scenes that keep the story involving, such as the staking of Lucy and Dracula’s assault on Mina.
With its titular character sneaking into bedrooms to exchange bodily fluids, the novel is open to a wide range of Freudian interpretation, no doubt far beyond the scope of what Stoker intended. These dark undercurrents of sexuality, sadomasochism, and Satanism (the Count is clearly intended as a kind of anti-Christ figure) make the book fascinating reading, in spite of the occasional lapses in storytelling.
The play by Hamilton Dean and John Balderston had to jettison much of the novel’s text, simply to fit the story into the confines of the stage. The early section in Transylvania is gone, and Dracula’s image is cleaned up so that he can move in polite London society without raising an eyebrow. The character had worn a cloak in the book, but the tie-and-tuxedo image derives from the play, and his cape actually became a major part of the stagecraft, hiding the actor’s descent through a trap door so that Dracula would seem to disappear from the stage when two humans grabbed the cape — only to find it empty.


When the play was a hit on Broadway in the 1920s, director Todd Browning tried to interest Universal Pictures in purchasing the film rights. When Universal declined, Browning crafted instead crafted a pastiche at MGM, called LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, with silent film star Lon Chaney as a detective who disguises himself as a vampire. A few years later, Universal reconsidered their decision about DRACULA, with the thought of casting Chaney in the title role, hoping to create another starring vehicle for him, along the lines of their previous successful adaptations of Victor Hugo’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and Gaston Leroux’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Chaney contracted throat cancer, which ultimately killed him. The lead in DRACULA went to Bela Lugosi, who had starred in the play on Broadway. A native of Hungary who originally learned his English dialogue phonetically, Lugosi was perfect casting for the part: his commanding height, seductive demeanor, and odd verbal cadences perfectly embodied a sense of an immortal character for whom time had little meaning. There was something at once authentic and larger than life in his performance, which enabled him to indelibly etch the public’s image of a screen vampire for decades hence.
Universal’s original plan was to make DRACULA as an elaborate, big-budget adaptation of the book, much as they had with HUNCHBACK and PHANTOM. However, a financial crisis brought on by the Great Depression necessitated that the film be severely telescoped; much of it ended up being a filmed version of the play, although numerous scenes from the book from the book (particularly the beginning in Transylvania) were added back in for the film version.
The result is some sever continuity problems. We only briefly see the vampire Lucy walking in the dark; Van Helsing promises to put a stop to this, but we never see her staked. The early Castle Dracula scenes introduce us to the vampire’s undead brides, but instead of bringing the story full circle as Stoker did, the ending has the Count staked in the basement of Carfax Abbey in England; thus, the forgotten brides are left to prey on Transylvania, instead of being dispatched as they were in the book. Perhaps worst of all, we never know exactly what Renfield is doing to help his “Master,” the Count. (In the book, vampires cannot cross a threshold unless invited by someone inside. It is Renfield who does this, allowing Dracula access to Mina.)
The film also suffers from an excess of restraint. Even by the standards of the day, when it was considered in good taste to suggest horror rather than depict it graphically, DRACULA seems too tame. Some of the best material is described rather than shown. An attendant at Seward’s asylum reads a newspaper account that refers to Lucy’s return from the grave. Mina tells us the Dracula opened a vein in his arm (rather than in his chest, as in the book) and forced her to drink. Renfield recounts his temptation, wherein the Count offered him thousands of “Rats! Rats! Rats!” in exchange for his loyalty and obedience.
There is some compensation. By following the conventions of the play, the film provides an opportunity for Van Helsing and Dracula to confront each other while hiding behind the pretext of polite society. In one memorable moment, Dracula attempts to hypnotize the professor, who seems on the verge of succumbing before regaining his self-control, forcing the frustrated vampire to admit, “Your will is strong.”
Actor Edward Van Sloan is perfect as the professor, a perfect embodiment of knowledge and discipline, without the book’s overwrought Dutch dialect and bumbling manner (which were meant to humanize him). Minus these minor flaws, Van Sloan’s Van Helsing emerges as the archetypal authority figure who must be obeyed because he knows what’s best for your own good even if you’re too skeptical to believe him.
The other standout in the cast is Dwight Frye, who lends a unique maniacal laugh to the character of Renfield. His wild-eyed glee at serving his master helps enliven the later scenes, which tend to lapse into talky theatricality at times, and he even manages to generate a little sympathy for the hapless madman when, as in the book, he dies at the hands of his vampire overlord.
Helen Chandler and David Manners fare less well as the young leads, Mina and Jonathan. They are attractive enough in a conventional way, but they generate little passion together, and they come across as standard issue ingénues. (Manners would fare much better a few years later in THE BLACK CAT, with Lugosi and FRANKENSTEIN’s Boris Karloff.)
By critical consensus, the highlight of the film remains the opening sequence in Transylvania, where matt paintings, a studio back lot, and some magnificent sets create a Gothic world meant to represent the a mythic version of the “Land Beyond the Forest.” The brief coach ride through the mountains is impressive. Even before we get to the castle, the film draws you into its depiction of a foreign world, with a lovely inn where peasants warn the English visitor (in this case, Renfield, replacing Harker, who took the journey in the novel) to wear a cross “For your mother’s sake” and intone the Lord’s Prayer in Hungarian. You get a rich sense that of superstition and the supernatural, evoking a sense of a communal dream for the audience. Everything is strange and yet somehow familiar, like deja vu.
After that, the ride to the castle is delightfully spooky, with a cloaked Count pretending to be an anonymous coach driver and then disappearing, to be replaced by a bat. Lugosi’s initial appearance atop the stairs at Castle Dracula presents us with his famous self-introduction: “I am…Dracula.” Long beat. “I bid you welcome.” A strange sense of dislocation emanates from the exaggerated courtesy delivered amid crumbling rocks, rats (actually possums, meant to represent large rats), and a magnificent spiderweb that completely blocks the staircase.
Soon thereafter, we get another famous line (not from the book): “I never drink…wine.” Then Renfield faints, and Dracula’s brides move in for a taste, but Dracula waves them off, reserving first blood for himself, bringing the opening sequence to a close as the camera fades out.
After this remarkably effective opening, the rest of the film moves in fits and starts. Some build-up leads to a weak payoff (e.g., the shipboard trip from Transylvania cuts away before the Count starts picking off the crew). The comic relief (in the form of an asylum attendant who speaks in an exaggerated Cockney accent) is amusing for younger viewers but tiresome for adults. And the staging of the later scenes leaves something to be desire, as characters tend to stand around and talk a lot instead of doing anything. Fortunately, the film is usually on strong footing whenever Lugosi is on screen: his commanding presence, aided by support from Van Sloan and Frye, holds our attention through the slow parts.


Whatever the flaws in DRACULA, the fascinating image of the vampire as a seductive predator, to whom females might willingly succumb, was more than enough to make it a huge hit when it was released in February of 1931 (the advertisements billed it as “The Strangest Love Story Man Has Ever Known”). This represented something of a breakthrough in the United States: up until that time, spooky American mystery-thrillers had always explained away any apparently supernatural phenomenon. To cite two silent films starring Lon Chaney as examples: the Phantom of the Opera turns out to be a disfigured man, not a ghost, and the vampire in LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is revealed to be a detective in disguise. (Of the later film, director Todd Browning famous stated that viewers were asked to believe in the horrifying plausible rather than the horrifying impossible, and plausability increased, rather than lessened the thrills.)
Thus DRACULA represented something altogether novel for American audiences, and Universal pictures was quick to exploit the successful new formula. In the days before sequels had become de rigueur, the studio did not follow-up with DRACULA II; instead, the opted to purchase another horror property, FRANKENSTEIN, with the idea of casting Lugosi as the monster. When the actor balked, Boris Karloff got the role, and the rest was history.
Strangely, Universal never did make a proper sequel to DRACULA. After BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1935, they did finally get around to the idea of a new Dracula movie, DARCULA’S DAUGHTER, which was originally planned as a co-starring vehicle for Karloff and Lugosi, with FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale at the helm. Unfortunately, none of the three talented men was involved in the film that was ultimately released under that title in 1936. Apparently, censorship problems in England (a major market for Universal’s horror films) caused the studio to back off their original idea, so the Dracula character was removed from the film. The problem seems to have been the unsavory sexual suggestion inherent in a story about a man who snuck into bedrooms to feast on the blood of supine virgins. Of course, the unintended irony was that, by focusing on a female vampire sucking on female victims, DRACULA’S DAUGHTER wound up loaded with lesbian undertones — a fine example of censorship actually increasing the perversity of a film.
In the 1940s, when Universal was rehashing every horror property from the glorious era in the 1930s, Lon Chaney Jr played the title role in SON OF DRACULA (1943), a contemporary thriller set in America, where the heir to the Dracula throne comes across like a lame metaphor for NAZI Germany — a corrupt aristocrat from Europe come to drain the vitality of the New World. Eventually, Dracula himself re-appeared, this time played by the gaunt Shakespearian actor John Carradine, in the HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA, both of which also featured Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man. Lugosi himself finally returned to the role that made him famous in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, a comedy spoof that is actually much better than the two monster rallies that preceded it. Lugosi does a good job of resurrecting the familiar elements of his old performance while at the same time showing that he is in on the joke.
Since then, numerous other companies have made numerous other films starring numerous other actors as the Count — a number far too vast to recount here. But it is worth noting that Universal Pictures returned to their original horror character in 1979, when Frank Langella played the lead in a new, color widescreen version of DRACULA. Like Lugosi, Langella had been a hit in the role on stage, when the old Deane-Balderston play was revived. The new DRACULA benefited from Langella’s mesmerizing performance, excellent production values and a budget that allowed for the story to be developed at fuller length; unfortunately, this resulted in some unnecessary scenes that could have been deleted in favor of tighter pacing.


As is well known among fans today, two versions of the 1931 DRACULA were filmed: one in English, one in Spanish. Apparently, during the early days of sound filmmaking, it had not occurred to the movie studios that talking pictures could be dubbed into foreign languages, so Universal Pictures hired a separate cast and crew to film a Spanish language version of DRACULA at night, using the same sets were Todd Browning was shooting the Lugosi film during the day.
With the benefit of being able to second guess the Browning film (the crew could watch the rushes and decide what worked and what didn’t), the Spanish language version has earned the reputation of being cinematically superior to its more famous English-speaking brother. There is no doubt that the film features a more inventive use of camera angles to tell the story, but the Spanish DRACULA suffers from some histrionic performances that make it even more of a museum piece than the Browning production. After the pleasant shock of seeing a new version of a familiar classic wears off, the Spanish DRACULA can be just as difficult — in fact, more — difficult to sit through.


In an odd way, DRACULA benefits from its degraded reputation. Unlike many classics, which can have difficulty living up to expectations, DRACULA comes across reasonably well — in fact, better than expected — when reviewed today. It is taken for granted that the film is slow, talky, and memorable only for Bela Lugosi’s performance. So it is a pleasant surprise to find that much of the film actually does play well for an audience of eager fans. The first half is startlingly good, filled with delicious atmosphere and melodrama (beautifully captured in glorious black-and-white by Karl Freund’s mobile camera), and even when things slow down later, they never quite grind to a halt.
Certainly, this is the kind of movie that often leaves you waiting for something good to happen; but good moments do occur, just often enough to hold interest. In the final analysis, Todd Browning’s 1931 production of DRACULA may not be a masterpiece, but it is much better than generally regarded, and deserves far more critical latitude than F.W Murnau’s over-rated 1922 silent snoozefest, NOSFERATU.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Cold Flesh, Warm Blood: Hollywood's Hottest Vampires

Once upon a time, vampires were resurrected corpses: ghastly, smelly creatures that crawled back out of their graves and attacked innocent victims with all the seductive charm of ravenous predators, hungry only for the living blood that would warm their cold flesh and sustain their undead existence. Much has changed over the centuries. In literature and cinema, the undead have morphed from mindless blood-drinkers to sophisticated aristocrats to Byronic anti-heroes to misunderstood outsiders; through it all, their sexual charisma has been increasingly emphasized to the point where (as in the recently released TWLIGHT) they are no longer monsters but objects of affection. As with man “innovations,” the audience watching TWLIGHT probably thinks they are seeing something new, but hot-blooded passionate vampires have been around since the dawn of talking films. Below is a rogue’s gallery of the most memorable.
Bela Lugosi as the Count in DRACULA (1931). Lugosi was cinema’s first seductive vampire. Hungarian by birth, the actor exuded Continental charm of the sort guaranteed to leave your average American male feeling inadequate and jealous by comparison. All he had to do was deliver a few lines of dialogue in his mesmerizing cadence, and Lucy Western (Frances Dade) was smitten, dreaming of Castle Dracula in Transylvania. Of course, nothing overtly sexual could be shown in 1931, but that is part of the cinematic appeal of vampirism, with blood-drinking standing in symbolically for other exchanges of bodily fluids. The Count could sneak into a woman’s bedroom – practically into her bed – and in a case of mass denial, audiences and critics could pretend they were watching a horror scene when it was actually ravishment.
Christopher Lee as the Count in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Twenty-seven years after Lugosi, Christopher Lee redefined the Vampire King in much more physical terms. Gone was the oily charm and much of the mesmeric quality; this Dracula’s advances upon women were much more aggressive and overtly carnal, suggesting an undead rapist from beyond the grave. (True to the fantasy – not the reality – of rape, the women eventually succumb willingly, even if they are ambivalent or reluctant at first.) Lee played the role many times after HORROR OF DRACULA; although the sequels often failed to use the Count in interesting ways, the actor always maintained the not so subtle sexual subtext that made his vampire alluring even while he was dangerous.
Valerie Gaunt as the Vampire Woman in HORROR OF DRACULA. Female vampires of an earlier era tended to be more sedate and slow-moving. Gaunt’s unnamed vampiress, although briefly seen, was a memorably breath-taking change-of-pace. Buxom and beautiful, she befriends Jonathan Harker by pretending to need his help, then sinks his fangs into him unexpectedly. Her fierce, predatory nature and good looks set the style for numerous female vampires over the next decade: beautiful fatal women whose charms were so alluring that men might willing lose their lives to them.
Barbara Steele as Princess Asa in BLACK SUNDAY (a.k.a. THE MASK OF SATAN, 1960). Princess Asa was not the first female vampire to play a lead role (that honor goes to DRACULA’S DAUGHTER in 1936), but she is the first one who is truly hot, thanks in no small part to the performance of actress Barbara Steele, who makes the resurrected revenant desirability almost palpable. Burned as a witch, Asa revives centuries later. Still unable to move, she succeeds in luring her first victim to her side using only her seductive charms, most prominently her heaving chest as she lies otherwise immobile on her slab, lusting for the blood that will infuse her with new life. There is a kind of sick almost sadomasochistic edge to this particularly vampire, thanks to her pockmarked face (result of her torture and execution that killed her), and having her literally kiss her victim will still lying in her tomb lends a creepy shudder at the necrophiliac undertones. Thanks to Steele, it is easy to believe that her victim would be swept away by desire and ignore these disturbing undertones.
Barbara Shelley in DRACULA, PRINCES OF DARKNESS (1965). In this sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA, Shelley plays a vampire in the model of Valerie Gaunt, but there is a twist: she starts out as a prim Victorian wife before transforming into an infernal seductress. The switch is starling, suggesting that the character’s repressive attitudes were a way of restraining her own hidden desires, which explode free when she becomes a vampire. These desires turn out to be lesbian in nature; she shows no interest in potential male victims, focusing her attentions instead upon her sister-in-law. Shelley was one of the best actresses to play this kind of role: she brings something more to the role than mere good looks – a real sense of hot hidden passions finally boiling to the surface.
Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins in DARK SHADOWS (1960s soap opera). Frid played Barnabas as a tragic character, cursed with desires he abhored but could not control. In keeping with the soap opera nature of the show, love stories and romantic entanglements were a big part of the plot lines. In particularly, the 100-year-old vampire yearned for his lost love from the time when he was human; conveniently, she was reincarnated (a plot line that would be resued in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA). Though Barnabas was a reluctant vampire, his approach to women maintained a seductive aura that was enhanced by his tragic nature; the combination appealed to millions of female fans when the show originally aired. Barnabas Collins may be the screen’s first truly Romantic member of the legion of the undead.
Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970). Looking to inject new blood in the vampire formula, Hammer Films (the company behind HORROR OF DRACULA) decided to make the eroticism even more overt in this adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanus’ classic novella, Carmilla. Pitt plays the vampire countess not only as an insatiable seductress but also as a passionate lover: when necessary, she effortlessly uses her sex appeal to seduce those who might interfere with her plans, but she also truly wants her intended victim to follow her willingly into the netherworld of vampirism. Carmilla uses her body like a weapon to get what she wants, and Pitt dominates the screen in the role, practically burning up the screen.
Robert Tayman as Count Mitterhaus in VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972). Another vampire variant from Hammer films, this one portrays the undead as members of a circus that comes to town and seduces the local populace. It is all to avenge the death of Count Mitterhaus, who is dispatched in the pre-credits prologue after seducing a school master’s wife. Tayman gives a memorable, albeit truncated performance, as the Count, for whom various carnal appetites are barely distinguishable. “One lust feeds another,” he says, as he switches from blood-drinking to love-making, earning his place in cinema history as the first movie vampire who seems capable of having conventional sex.
Frank Langella as Dracula in DRACULA (1979). As Dracula, Langella emphasizes the Count’s aristocratic manner and his romantic charm; he is also probably the first actor to make Dracula truly sympathetic. Like Lugosi, he’s the guy you just can’t compete with for the girl’s affections, because you know you are going to lose. The difference is that Langella’s vampire actually seems to admire Lucy (Kate Nelligan) for her strong-willed, independent ways: he’s not so much seducing her as courting her. The consummation, when it comes, is filmed with cloudy laser lights, suggesting a rapturous romantic interlude of mutual satisfaction. Unlike Mitterhaus in VAMPIRE CIRCUS, it is not clear that he has conventional sex, but the way the scene is presented visually, he might as well have. The result is not only sexy but also romantic, in a way that the later BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA could only hope to be.
Anne Parillaud as Marie in INNOCENT BLOOD (1992). This disappointing horror-comedy from director John Landis features Parillaud (who came to fame as the original LE FEMME NIKITA) as a vampire who kills only murderers. She teams up with a cop (Anthony LaPaglia), and the two take on the Mob, but complications arise when one of her victims becomes a vampire and starts turning other criminals into vampires as well. The film’s main appeal is Parillaud, who makes for a slim and sexy vampire. The highligh is her bedroom seen with LaPaglia, whose cop is so frightened of her superhuman abilities that he can rise to the occasion only if she is in handcuffs (which she almost immediately breaks anyway). It’s like a fun, teasing variation on the whacked-out misogynistic paranoid of Paul Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE (1982), made by a director who doesn’t think women need to be locked up in cages to protect men from their predatory ways.
Brad Pitt and/or Tom Cruise in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994). Neil Jordan’s film comes nowhere near achieving the full brilliance of Anne Rice’s novel, but it does capture some of the essence, particularly the erotic though not necessarily sexual nature of vampires. In this telling, the undead’s sexual apetites have been completely subsumed into blood-drinking, which creates as much rapturous joy as any conventional orgasm. Pitt and Cruise make for a handsome pair of homo-erotic immortals, and the film works overtime to keep passions so high that the predatory nature of their characters never interferes with the female audience’s urge to swoon over their beauty.
There have not been many memorably hot vampires since INTERVIEW. Series like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, and MOONLIGHT keep the tradition alive, but the emphasis is as much on angst as attraction – a trend brought to full fruition in TWILIGHT, where the whole point is the rapturous ecstasy of abstinence, lusting for a hot-blooded vampire who dare not draw too near, for fear that his bestial nature will take over. This modern approach to vampirism has its appeal, but it burns a few degress cooler than earlier generations of vampires, for whom blood-drinking was an all-purpose symbol for breaking taboos. Elicit pleasures burns much hotter when they are forbidden by feelings of guilt and sin. Edward Cullen’s self-restraint may be admirable, but for searing passionate can it really match the erotic allure of succumbing to the temptation of a demon lover who is truly demonic?

Brides of Dracula (1960) – Horror Film Review

The Brides of Dracula (1960) horizontal posterThis is Hammer Films’ first sequel to their 1958 classic, HORROR OF DRACULA. Made at the height of the studio’s success, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA features the familiar elements (beautiful color cinematography, lavish sets, solid writing, strong performances), making this a worthy heir to its predecessor. However, it is perhaps most notable for the obvious absence of the king of vampires, Count Dracula, who never appears.
Instead, taking a cue from RETURN OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), which ditched Christopher Lee’s creature from CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and made Peter Cushing’s Baron the returning figure, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA ditches Lee’s Count and makes Cushing’s Doctor Van Helsing the returning figure. In the new story, Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), a beautiful young woman on her way to a girls school, accepts the hospitality of Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) and finds that the old woman is keeping her son locked up in the family castle. Marianne frees the blond, handsome Baron Meinster (David Peel), but he turns out to be a vampire — and attacks his mother. Van Helsing shows up and gets Marianne to her school safely. Having destroyed Dracula in the previous film, the good doctor now seems to be mopping up the “little fish” of the vampire world. He dispatches the Baroness (who has been vampirized by her son), but the Baron shows up at Marianne’s school and proposes to her. Van Helsing puts a stop to the undead wedding but not before Baron Meinster puts the bite on him — the doctor purges the vampire bite on his neck with a red hot poker and some holy water, then finishes the vampire off by leaping onto the arm of a windmill, so that it spins until the shadow lines up to form a giant cross that pins Meinster down.

Freda Jackson resurrects a new-born vampire.
Freda Jackson resurrects a new-born vampire.

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is lavish and beautiful, and it is filled with interesting ideas and memorable scenes. One of the best occurs when the Meinster’s maid Greta (Freda Jackson, doing a good Mrs. Danvers impersonation) scrabbles on the soil over a recently buried victim, offering soothing encouragement for the newborn vampire to climb out of her coffin and rise. Van Helsing’s self-cure after being bitten by Meinster packs a wallop, and the climactic use of the windmill’s shadow to dispatch the vampire is a great image.
Unfortunately, the script for THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is a bit of a patchwork, credited to three different writers, and it sometimes seems as if the different sequences do not quite fit together. The long first act, before Van Helsing appears, is almost a self-contained mini-movie, featuring a typical misogynistic twist by Jimmy Sangster (the ignorant girl wants to help, but she only unleashes the monster). The all-girls school setting seems to be a personal fantasy of the screenwriter (it recurs in his later writing-directing effort LUST FOR A VAMPIRE), but thankfully director Terence Fisher keeps the sniggering to a minimum.
Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) fends off Baron Meinster (David Peel) with holy water.
Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) fends off Baron Meinster (David Peel) with holy water.

David Peel — blond, handsome, and innocent-looking — makes a nice visual contrast to Lee’s Dracula, and the actor gives a good erotically charged performance, hinting at incest during his attack on his mother and at homosexuality when he bites Van Helsing. Cushing is, as always, excellent as the single-minded vampire hunter, and he seems more than capable of carrying the film on his own shoulders.
In the end, however, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA cannot surmount the absence of Count Dracula, which seriously undermines the suspense. Having dispatched the Vampire King in the previous film, Van Helsing is the Gothic equivalent of the fastest gun in town, and it is impossible to think that any other vampire could outdraw him in any graveyard showdown. As a result, Baron Meinster’s defeat feels like a foregone conclusion from the very beginning.
This is not enough to ruin a fine horror film, but it does drag it down a notch from the exalted status of HORROR OF DRACULA. Hammer Films apparently realized this, as their next major vampire film, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, was a stand-alone effort from which both Van Helsing and Dracula were absent.
L to r: Marie Devereux, Andree Melly, Freda Jackson


This project began life as “Disciple of Dracula.” The original concept was that Christopher Lee would play a cameo as Count Dracula, arising at the end to destroy his rogue disciple, Baron Meinster.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA breaks with HORROR OF DRACULA in more ways than by simply omitting the Count. HORROR OF DRACULA removed most of the supernatural elements of vampirism; for example, Dracula could not turn into a bat. In BRIDES, however, Baron Meinster does turn into a bat (the prop, though not terrible, does prove the wisdom of avoiding such effects in HORROR). There is also a weird little spooky scene in which the locks on a coffin (meant to keep a vampire trapped inside) mysteriously drop off, without opening or breaking.
Although Katherine Ramsland’s otherwise authoritative The Vampire Companion (a companion book to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles) cites other sources of inspiration for Rice’s blond vampire anti-hero Lestat de Lioncourt, and in fact Ramsland does not even mention THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, it is abundantly clear that David Peel’s appearance as the boyishly handsome Baron Meinster was a major influence, not only for Lestat’s appearance but also for his homo-erotic undertones.


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As of 2006, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA had never had a discrete Region 1 DVD release in the United States; however, it was available on the Hammer Horror Series Box set, which includes seven other early 1960s films from the British Studio (such as CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN). These titles were distributed in the U.S. by Univeral Pictures, which in some cases tampered with the films heavily, not only re-editing them but sometimes adding additional footage as well. The box set features the original versions of all the films. Like all the film in the set, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is transferred at the correct aspect ratio of 1.66 (unlike some Region 2 releases) with an anamorphic squeeze to take advantage of widescreen television sets. Picture and sound quality are fine, but there are no extras, not even trailers.
Brides of Dracula (1960). Directed by Terence Fisher. Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, Edward Percy, Peter Bryan. Cast: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel, Miles Malleson.
The Brides of Dracula: Yvonne Monlaur The Brides of Dracula: Andree Melly The Brides of Dracula: David Peel The Brides of Dracula: Peter Cushing

Supernal Dreams: Christopher Lee on "Horror of Dracula" & "Curse of Frankenstein" – showing at the "Shock it to Me!" festival

Christopher Lee is featured in two of his Hammer Horror classics at SHOCK IT TO ME! San Francisco’s annual horror film festival, this Saturday afternoon, October 19, when a double-bill of Terence Fisher’s HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) will be presented at the historic (and haunted) Castro Theatre.
Get full details on the two day event here: http://shock-it-to-me.com/
To celebrate this classic revival, here are some excerpts from an interview with Christopher Lee talking about the two films, conducted in 1984, when Mr. Lee was still living in Los Angeles.

LAWRENCE FRENCH: When you first played Dracula had you seen Bela Lugosi’s performance in the 1931 version?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, I was determined not to see the Lugosi film, and I didn’t for years. I didn’t want to do any of the things he’d done, and I thought the idea of someone in the wilds of Transylvania, in full evening dress, a little bit incongruous. That’s not a reflection on Lugosi, who I never knew. He was a man of immense demonic power as an actor. As a young man he was a great romantic lead in his native Hungary. Among other parts he played Christ. All sorts of things like that – Hamlet, Romeo. The man had an enormous wealth of experience long before he came to the United States. He never learned to speak English properly; he only learned to speak it more or less phonetically. He was a gently, kind and understanding person. He had great tragedy in his life, there’s no secret about it, he became a drug addict, and was in and out of various institutions. He made many films, and played many parts that were not worthy of him. He was buried in Dracula’s cloak, that is true, it is something he asked to be done. I know this because his widow told me. His widow was at one time married to Brian Donlevy, with whom I did a picture in Hong Kong, called Five Golden Dragons. I knew Boris Karloff, he was a very close friend and he always used to tell me about Lugosi and the pictures they made together. He always used to say, “Poor Bela, poor Bela,” and he meant it very sincerely. He was a haunted man, but I think haunted and tormented by the fact that the pictures he did in the latter part of his life were simply not worthy of him. He was as tall as I am, I understand. His voice, of course, is one of the most imitated in the history of movies. We all know it, we’ve all done it, just for fun, at one time or another. (Imitating Lugosi), “Good eve-ening.” So I never copied him in any way. I played the part by reading the book, by reading the script and putting into it what I thought needed to be done. First of all, he is a nobleman, so he must be noble in his physical presence, and impressive. I believe that Dracula was not only mortal, but very much to be pitied. The sadness of a man who would very much like to be free. In Stoker’s book, there is a great look of peace on his face when he is killed. So many aspects to a character like that; very dangerous, very fierce, superhumanly strong, irresistible to women, much respected by men, who wish they could be like that, and so on. All these things were in the book. Of course, nobody has ever made a movie about Dracula, from the book, exactly as Stoker wrote it. They’ve come close at times, but it’s never been done. The nearest we ever got to the book was when I did Count Dracula in Spain, with Klaus Kinski. I even managed to say some of Stoker’s lines, but it was a mess, for production reasons. So the first time I played it, I enjoyed it, and we had a lot of fun. Peter Cushing and I used to giggle a lot, and behave disgracefully. You have to keep your sense of humour in situations of that kind. All the time we’d keep saying to each other, wouldn’t it be marvellous if I could do this, if I could do that, because it would get a big laugh, and the director says, “That’s not quite the intention of the picture!” Then there was one instance where I had to pick up this girl, and charge across the graveyard, where I’ve conveniently dug a grave, and throw her into it. The lady was a stunt lady, because I had to really throw her into the grave, although there was a mattress in there. So I rushed over and picked her up, and then rushed across with her and flung her into the grave, and went straight in on top of her! (Laughter.) The director said, “It’s not that kind pf picture either.” So that happened, and there were times with those wretched contact lenses in my eyes I couldn’t see a thing. I’d start to cry, and charge past the camera, knocking everybody over, tears falling down my cheeks. That wasn’t intended. We made the second one, Dracula, Prince of Darkness, about eight years later. I didn’t speak in that picture. The reason was very simple. I read the script and saw the dialogue! I said to Hammer, if you think I’m going to say any of these lines, you’ve very much mistaken. They were quite appalling. So gradually it began to lose its impact. The qualities of the scripts deteriorated, and the demands made on me were virtually nil. All I was asked to do was sort of stand around, and do things occasionally. I lost interest, and I’m sure the public did. I did the last one in 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, and said, “That’s it!” When they started putting a character like that in a modern day period, it was pretty ludicrous. Sitting in a high-rise, calling himself D. D. Denham, and playing it as a cross between Dr. No and Howard Hughes. It was absurd. So that was the reason I stopped. I suppose it became too easy for people, and I as an actor didn’t want to go on doing the same thing. So I said, “Enough is enough. You’ve spoiled a great character.” Do you know how many actors have played that since I’ve stopped? Between 10 and 20! Jack Palance, Louis Jordan, Klaus Kinski, David Niven, Frank Langella.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you see the Frank Langella Dracula film?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No. I’ve only seen Langella once, and that was in Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs. John Badham directed Langella’s Dracula – a very good director – and I understand Laurence Olivier played Van Helsing. But it’s still not the Stoker story. The only thing that would ever tempt me into playing that part again, would be if it was totally and completely faithful, word for word, line for line to the book. It may never be done. I imagine it would cost a fortune.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Were you ever approached about doing the Broadway version of Dracula in 1977?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, a man came to see me at my hotel in Washington, and asked me to read it. He told me it was based on the original play, presumably that would have been the Hamilton Deane script. I read it, and made up my mind that it was extremely dangerous, because in today’s day and age, if the original was done exactly as written, it would get a lot of unintentional laughter. The language is very Victorian, and outdated, and is very, very dramatic. So I didn’t think it was possible to do it, and I said so. What I didn’t realize was, that the way they were going to present it was, for lack of a better word, high camp. So it worked extremely well, and was an enormous success. But I was under the impression that they intended to do it seriously, as a faithful representation of the original play, which is why I said no. I thought it would get a lot of laughs in the wrong places.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You have also done a documentary on the real-life Dracula, Vlad Tepes.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, called In Search of Dracula, directed by an American living in Sweden, Calvin Floyd. We went to Transylvania, which is both Romanian and Hungarian, and very beautiful, too. It’s exactly like the book – mountains and mists, castles and bats – quite extraordinary. We ended up in a very old town, Pojana, with a great ruined castle, and it was cold and dark, and the moon came out as we were approaching the doorway of our lodge, and a bat flew straight across over my head. The director said, “They know!” (Laughs.) He was known as Vlad the Impaler, and was a real-life monster. He impaled thousands of Turks after one battle, and then ate amongst the corpses! Vlad’s father was the Transylvanian ruler of the province of Wallachia, Vlad the II, and was a Knight of the Order of the Dragon. So he was called Vlad Dracul, which meant dragon. Vlad the Impaler simply signed his name, Vlad Dracula, with an “a” on the end, which meant son of the dragon. Stoker knew this, and he also knew the Romanian word for devil was also Dracul. So he based the book on the historical Dracula.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I understand you’re not particularly fond of The Curse of Frankenstein.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: The only reason I didn’t enjoy that was because of the great discomfort of the make-up. As somebody said, I looked like a road accident, which was not far from the truth. The problem we had with that particular make-up, is that the original, unforgettable make-up that Boris wore, was the copyright of Universal. So we couldn’t even attempt to imitate it. So Phil Leakey, the make-up man, and I got together and tried out some of the most unbelievable looking things you’ve ever seen! We ended up with something that did look vaguely like a human being. That was in 1957, and of course, now look what we’ve got: heart transplants, kidney transplants, arms being sewn on. The mind really boggles at what lies ahead. Who knows? The secret of life itself may be just around the corner. So that was primarily why I didn’t like the picture, purely in terms of discomfort. Also, on the first day of shooting, I rushed into Peter Cushing’s dressing room with a rather alarming effect, with all that make-up on, and said to him: “Look at this, I’ve got absolutely nothing to say in this film, nothing at all!” He said, “You’re lucky. I’ve read the script!”
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s strange how genre films were treated back then with great condescension by the critics. It was certainly the case with many of the Hammer films.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: I think that’s true. I think there’s a regrettable inclination on the part of the press, to treat this kind of picture as if it’s less than top-class. It doesn’t rank up there with the great comedies, the great Westerns, the great dramas. That’s nonsense, of course. Absolute nonsense! As I mentioned before, something like Rosemary’s Baby, or Karloff’s performance in Frankenstein, is work of sheer genius. So it’s absurd to downgrade this kind of film. I believe that this kind of film is most certainly amongst the most popular kinds of pictures anybody ever goes to see. So the people who work in it, the writers, the directors, the actors, and so on, have, to be honest, never received the recognition that, I think, they deserve. I really mean that.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Certainly director Terence Fisher was vastly underrated by the critics.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, Terence, who is, alas, dead, was a tremendous director. I’ll tell you, the direction he gave in those pictures, and the performances in some of those pictures, are a hell of a lot better than they are today! It was more difficult then. You didn’t have all these ancillary devices that they have today. He was a dear, dear man. He used to keep me awake all night long, when we were shooting on location, because he smoked non-stop, and coughed non-stop, all through the night. He was a delightful person, who never did get the recognition that he deserved.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I get the impression that the early Hammer films were made special, by everyone working together as one big, happy family.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, we were a very happy group of people. The technicians, the actors, and everybody. It was a tiny studio on the river Thames, near the town of Windsor, where the castle is. I used to drive down there at four in the morning, usually in the fog, during the winter. Originally, it was a private house converted into some very small sound stages. That was for The Curse of Frankenstein. Then they built the stage for Dracula, which was gigantic by their standards. They really did regenerate the whole genre of fantasy film, as I prefer to call it, and they should take credit for that. The real stars of the Hammer films were the technicians. I know it’s a cliché to say it, but it really is true. Bernard Robinson, the art director, worked miracles on a budget which was alarming! Jack Asher, the first cameraman, his work was brilliant. Together all these people really created the results that you see in these films.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: There was also an ongoing use of the same character actors.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, we had our repertory company. They were all so good, and so versatile. Two who come immediately to mind are Michael Ripper and Miles Malleson. I remember Michael as the drunken poacher in The Mummy. He sees me and can’t believe his eyes. Somebody says to him, “Maybe you’ve been seeing the little people.” He says, “It’s the biggest little people I’ve ever seen!” (Laughter.) Then Miles Malleson was also very, very funny. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, when he came in as the Bishop, it was very difficult not to laugh.
While looking at the second issue of of Cinefantastique, from January, 1971, I was astonished to find it also featured a beautiful two-page photo spread on Christopher Lee’s (at the time) upcoming version of COUNT DRACULA. Here’s the brief text for the five photos featured. The text is obviously incorrect, as it was probably confusing Hammer’s upcoming DRACULA A.D. 1972 with Lee’s Spanish production of COUNT DRACULA, but it was clearly based on the conflicting information available at the time:
Scenes From DRACULA ’71, currently in release through AIP and formerly titled COUNT DRACULA. Christopher Lee appears a mustachioed Dracula, more faithful to Bram Stoker’s original conception than any other. Through the course of the film, Dracula becomes progressively younger and mouths dialogue much the same as Stoker wrote it.
Looking at the COUNT DRACULA stills featured in that second issue of CFQ, one can only wonder why the production turned out so badly. Well, in retrospect, it’s quite obvious. Mr. Lee had a bad script and a really bad director, Jess Franco. Let’s face it, Franco isn’t exactly a Terence Fisher or a Francis Coppola, is he? What’s even more astonishing is that Franco would attempt to even dare edit fragments of the greatest American director of all time – Orson Welles – into a supposedly completed movie.  I’m speaking of course of DON QUIXOTE, and what Franco did to this footage of Orson Welles should ban him forevermore from the world of movies, for committing “crimes against the arts and humanities.”
In any case, as Christopher Lee states above, through no fault of his own, Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA turned into a real “mess” of a movie. But, even today, looking at the marvelous stills on display in CFQ, I would think COUNT DRACULA could have been quite a good film, if only a competent director had been at the helm.
But as Christopher Lee notes, “there is no point in going over the past.” However, the concept Francis Ford Coppola used in his version of the Stoker novel, did feature some of the same elements Lee wanted to use in his definitive version of the Stoker novel. So here are some of Mr. Lee’s more recent comment’s about the Coppola version of DRACULA, recorded in 2002 when I spoke to Mr. Lee about his role in Peter Jackson’s THE TWO TOWERS.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Ian McKellan said you startled him in one scene, where you sneaked up on him and then snarled at him, as if you were playing Dracula.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, no, not at all. That’s quite a good story, but I didn’t sneak up behind him. What he said was to be within three feet of a Lee snarl is rather unsettling.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So you didn’t try to scare him by playing Dracula?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, not at any time. That part was last played by me over 30 years ago! I have no connection with it whatsoever. Nor do I wish to have.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Actually, I thought it would have been marvelous if Francis Ford Coppola had used you to play Dracula at the beginning of his version of the movie. You could have played the Count in Transylvania, exactly the way Stoker described him, as an old man with a mustache. Then, when Dracula arrives in London and starts drinking blood, he would grow younger and be transformed into Gary Oldman!
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, there’s no point in going over the past. These things either happen or they don’t and it’s too late now. I did see Coppola’s version, and while he’s done some wonderful films, his DRACULA was not the Stoker novel. Nobody has ever made a movie about Dracula, from the book, exactly as Stoker wrote it. They’ve come close at times, but it’s never been done. The nearest I ever got, was when I did COUNT DRACULA in Spain, with Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski. I had a mustache and I even managed to say some of Stoker’s lines, but it turned out to be a real mess. In Coppola’s movie, Gary Oldman did not have a mustache, and he was wearing what looked like a red dress! He also had a hairstyle that I thought was absurd. It certainly wasn’t how Stoker described the character. In the book, Stoker describes Dracula as wearing black from head to toe, without a single speck of color about him. But as far as I’m concerned, that character is very much in the past for me, and I’m really not all that interested in talking about the past. Only the present and the future.

Cybersurfing: Lifting the Lid on Dracula, Conceiving the Unborn

Book Lifts Lid On Screen’s First Dracula: Reuters reviews Stefan Eickhoff’s biography of Max Schreck, the actor who played Graf Orlock (i.e., Count Dracula) in the 1922 silent film NOSFERATU. Since Eickhoff’s book is in German, this may be the most that English readers can get out of it for some time to come.
Goyer Brings Horror to Chicago: The Chicago Tribune reports on THE UNBORN, a horror film that recently wrapped production in Chicago, under the direction of David Goyer. The film stars Odette Yustman (CLOVERFIELD) and Garry Oldman (HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) in a story about a young woman haunted by her unborn twin. (The Dark Half, anyone?)
Top Ten Twist Endings: HorrorMovies.ca offers their selections in this misleadingly titled post (which actually contains fifteen surprise conclusions, not all of them from horror films). I didn’t read the whole thing, because I skipped those titles I have not yet seen (didn’t want to ruin the surprise). However, I did look close enough to note one mistake: the claim that “Bad timing was the box office downfall” of THE OTHERS. The film actually made over $100-million in the U.S. – hardly a downfall.
JENNIFER’S BODY: Apparently somebody is making a movie about a girl named Jennifer whose body is possessed by a demon that causes all kinds of trouble. Not the most original storyline, but the body in question is played by Megan Fox (TRANSFORMERS), and somebody has got hold of lots of photos of her wearing some kind of body suit that is supposed to make her look naked in the movie.
Five Science-Fiction Movies That Get the Science Right: ABCNews.com offers their somewhat eccentric selections. No one can argue with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY topping the list, but some of the other titles feature science that is speculative or highly theoretical at this point, so whether they are “right” remains to be proved. Still, I have to concede the argument that SOLARIS (1972) belongs on the list “not so much for the specific science it portrays as for its portrayal of the limits of science and human understanding.”
Monuments and Primal Scenes: The Uses of Stillness and Violence in Horror. Over at the Groovy Age of Horror, Curt Purcell riffs on a 1999 senior essay by Yale University Student Sean Thomas Collins, which sought to fill a gap in horror film theory. Collins premise was that an emphasis on violence leads scholars to overlook something more important to the genre: the “Monumental Horror-Image” – i.e., “curiously static” beings or monumental objects whose mere presence evokes a sense of the Uncanny. Expanding on this notion, Purcell tries to eat his cake and have it, too, positing a “unified theory” in which violence and statis are two sides of the same coin, each equally important to horror. As an example, he cites the opening of Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, in which violent action is staged in an art gallery full of static objects, and the hero ends up literally trapped – in stasis – in a glass vestibule, able to watch but not to intercede.

Cybersurfing: Sarah Marshall's Rock Opera Dracula

In “Breathing Life into Dracula,” the Los Angeles Times profiles puppet-maker Peter Brooke, the creative supervisor of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, who most recently provided puppets for a vignette in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, which features a rock-opera version of Dracula.

Getting fleeced: Since the puppets are supposed to have been made by the film’s main character — a jilted musician played by Jason Segel, who also penned the screenplay — Brooke strove to give them just the right look. “I must say if you look at the final characters, they’re incredibly well-crafted handmade puppets,” he says. “Initially, we were thinking about this type of [felt] covering, which would reveal the seams to give it that handmade look. But in the end, we went for more of a traditional fleece covering. We use fleece an awful lot to cover the soft puppet heads because it’s got a little bit of a pile to it, like a fuzziness to it, which helps us hide the seams. It looks great on film, and it picks up the light well.”
The Transylvania express: Segel learned to puppeteer Dracula himself for the film. “He did a good job. As you can imagine, puppeteering these characters requires a certain coordination. For starts, this Dracula has fangs, but he also has to close his mouth. So there was that element about the mouth that we had to deal with. Jason did both [arm] rods. And in the final scene when a stake is driven through his heart by Van Helsing, we wanted to show him in his death throes. And so actually, there are two real pieces of red silk, which are pulled out and appear like blood. I mean, it’s supposed to be an amateur production that he puts on, so that’s why we used these old theatrical gags.”