Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources. Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier). Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.
10/27/2016 – Vampire: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Directed by Peter Sasdy
This is already at least the third vampire film (depending how you count three other films) of the month for me. So this write up is probably well overdo. While vampires as a concept have existed for centuries, it was only popularized in fiction in 1819 with the book The Vampyre and especially the 1897 novel Dracula written by Bram Stoker which defined many characteristics of the genre and is considered one of the foremost works of gothic horror. I thought about splitting Dracula off from the vampire genre as a whole but decided against it despite there certainly being enough Dracula related films to make for their own genre and a few. Aside from the basic idea of them being blood suckers, the whole myth of vampires has constantly evolved and is still far from concrete. Even things like aversion to sunlight aren’t universal and not even a part of the original myth with it not being established until the release of Nosferatu.
We already looked at the first vampire film (or at least the first to depict one) with Georges Méliès’ The Haunted Castle, it was not until 1920 or 1921 with Drakula(which may not have existed) and Dracula’s Death (also lost) that we got an adaptation of the novel. While not the first adaptation Nosferatu is the first notable one even if it was almost erased from history over a copyright lawsuit although it is now considered a landmark of the genre and German expressionism. The silent era also gave us the mostly lost film London After Midnight which is perhaps the most sought after lost horror film.
The Dracula most people think of however stems from Universal’s Dracula and his portrayal by Bela Lugosi. Universal would make five more films (not including the superior Spanish language version of Dracula) in the quality Dracula’s Daughterand Son of Dracula and the crossover films House of Frankenstein (that’s good), House of Dracula (that’s bad), and the comedic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (that’s good). The 30’s also gave us the experimental Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joah of Arc, Ordet) directed Vampyr, and a bunch of solid titles in The Vampire Bat, the remake Mark of the Vampire, and the Bogart starring The Return of Doctor X. Aside from Lugosi’s return to the role of a vampire (as an unofficial sequel) in The Return of the Vampire, the next notable titles weren’t until the enjoyable Mexican title El Vampiro and of course Hammer’s own series which I will talk more about in a bit.
The genre hasn’t slowed down since. The ‘60s birthed Black Sabbath (in one of the segments), The Last Man on Earth which was a big inspiration on the entire zombie genre and was remade a number of times including The Omega Man and I Am Legend, the disappointing Roman Polanski directed The Fearless Vampire Killers, and the TV show Dark Shadows and its film adaptations. The ‘70s gave a more varied approach with the Blaxploitation films Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream, the sci-fi slanted Rabid (which I haven’t seen) from David Cronenberg, the borderline Vampire film Martin (which everyone seems to love more than me) from George Romero, the classic throwback Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht from Werner Herzog, and the miniseries Salem’s Lot. Likewise the ’80s continued this with the stylish erotic mess of The Hunger, the overblown space vampires of Lifeforce, the horror comedy of Fright Night, The Monster’s Squad (haven’t seen), and The Lost Boys (also haven’t seen), the western Near Dark.
Despite giving us disappointing entries from masters Mel Brooks and John Carpenter in Dracula: Dead and Loving it and Vampires, the 90s were much kinder to vampires than to other genres with the dark styles of the decade fitting the genre perfectly. Bram Stoker’s Dracula may have had a lot of faults but it gets by on its stunning looks, Cronos (which is not my favorite del Toro film) and Interview with the Vampire certainly have their fans. From Dusk Till Dawn and the first two Blade films are a ton of fun and of course there’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer the lousy film redone as one of the most influential genre series ever made (which had Dracula in one episode) and Angel (there’s valid arguments on both sides for which is superior). While far from the first to play up the romantic sides (that’s kind of vampires’ deal), the relationship and to a lesser extent humor infused in it would set the stage for the ‘00s.
And good lord, was that not always a good thing. True the decade gave us perhaps the two greatest vampire films of all time in the “based on a true story” Shadow of the Vampire and Let the Right One In (as well as the very good I Sell the Dead and Thirst from Park Chan-wook and to a lesser extent Daybreakers and the unseen by me Night Watch and Day Watch) but the popular films were not great to say the least. It gave us Dracula 2000 and sequels, Underworld and sequels (okay Rise of the Lycans amused me but it wasn’t good), Van Helsing, BloodRayne, 30 Days of Night, and of course the Twilight films. I’d criticize the Twilight films more, but that’s been done to death by more qualified people who have seen more and honestly it’s influence was a lot less than people think (arguably being responsible for True Blood and The Vampire Diaries and some quickly forgotten crap). Plus the next decade saw a huge quality resurgence that may be perhaps unmatched in film history (discounting cruddy shows such as The Strain and American Horror Story: Hotel). We got Stake Land, Byzantium, Only Lovers Left Alive, What We Do in the Shadows, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and vampires as support in Penny Dreadful and Preacher. I also feel I should mention the heavily influenced by and classic Stoker even if it not a true one per say. It’s easy to dismiss the genre for how popular it is and for some of the crap turned out, but it has always been a fairly prolific and often quality genre.
In total, Hammer made nine Dracula films, the first six being a part of one continuity before the final three being set in the modern day. Christopher Lee played Dracula himself in seven of those films (Dracula wasn’t in the first sequel) with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in five of them. Of these films that I’ve seen (Horror of) Dracula and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave are alright, while Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Dracula A.D. 1972 were less so and none of those films really matched up with their Frankenstein films. Then again I thought the same about Universal’s films. Cushing’s performance is arguably the most iconic portrayal of the role and Lee is always fantastic and his Dracula is no exception. Today’s Dracula titles are the fifth and sixth in the franchise and let’s just say there aren’t many franchises putting up quality installments this late (though certainly not impossible).
The movie spends no time messing around, opening with a man quickly stumbling on Dracula stabbed through the heart by a giant cross before he quickly disappears leaving behind chunky sauce like blood (which quickly dries) and his clothes as depicted at the end of the last one. It then spends a bunch of time messing around and Dracula is barely present (which was originally intended to become the new normal after this film since Lee wanted out) and is basically silent the entire film. Away from Dracula, we are introduced to a trio of men who bored with life, approach another man with the ability to seduce women by snapping his fingers and who is apparently in league with the devil in an attempt to achieve greater pleasure.
They buy what little Dracula left behind and conduct a ceremony to resurrect him only for the man to start bleeding from the mouth and is beat to death by the other three who seemed to quickly realize (well not quickly enough) this whole raising Dracula thing (and having to drink someone else’s blood) is a bad idea. This man Courtley was very nearly set up to be the new lead to replace Dracula if Lee was to leave but that was not to be and instead he transforms into Dracula. From here the film becomes a revenge tale as Dracula sets out to kill the men who killed his loyal follower by getting their own children to kill him by hypnosis or by turning them into vampires.
All of this is broken up by a tedious romantic subplot that basically leads to nothing and another couple who is barely worth mentioning and is hard to even keep straight from the prime one such nonentities they all are. Still, there’s always this kind of crap pulling down Dracula films so focusing on that main thorough line (and if the film had done just that it would have fixed the pacing), the basic concept is pretty solid even if Lee seems to be in full paycheck collecting mode. SPOILERS Well that is until Dracula start throwing freaking pipes and is defeated by getting too close to a bunch of religious imagery with his body decaying first into a skeleton and then ash in a remarkably stupid ending that basically scuttled what little to like about the film. END OF SPOILERS
It really is just standard Hammer stuff but the two best characters are kept silent or beaten to death not even halfway though and the three men (who are interesting enough and actually given motivations even if they are barely distinguishable from each other) aren’t on screen enough nor are they good enough to carry the film. SPOILERS There were a few scenes that amused me with one of the daughters constantly asking if she pleased him only for him to finish her off out of annoyance and is only prevented from turning the other by the light (because he couldn’t just fit in that quick bite?) since the man who is weak to crosses and light set up shop in a church with stained glass windows. We then get a quick shot of her as she sleeps on this coffin in a way that just looks so stalkery and is completely delightful. END OF SPOILERS But really, it’s just not a film worth tracking down except out of a sense of completionism.
Bonus Episode #33 – Vampire: Scars of Dracula (1970)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Our second Dracula film from Hammer released in 1970 is this one from Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember, Asylum) who also directed Quatermass and the Pit, Moon Zero Two (as seen on MST3K) The Vampire Lovers, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires for the company.
This time around Lee comes back to life when a bat vomits blood onto his ashes. No context or anything, just brought back by a terrible bat special effect floating over him, an effect so stereotypically cheap the film has to go back to it. See this time Dracula has the ability to control nature which means he has the power to control a single bat. Maybe the man who said he had the ability to control nature was exaggerating a bit or just wrong. Then again, Dracula is apparently able to hypnotize with his eyes closed now so just randomly giving him powers seems like something the writer just felt the need to do (probably after realizing how incredibly weak he is based on the last film’s ending.
Speaking of not wasting time, the towns people just goes and burns down his castle right away after a woman is carried out with bite marks. It’s always nice when the villagers go ahead and do the big climax in the prologue but I liked the change of pace. Dracula of course responds by slaughtering their women and children and the villagers respond by not moving away from him to take advantage of the lucrative scaring off people who wish to give you money market.
We follow the adventures of Paul, who flirts and sleeps with every woman he can and is forced to flee to avoid a false accusation of rape (this is treated as a fairly comedic bit since it is 1970). He turns up at Dracula’s castle with Dracula putting him up for the night like the good samaritan he is. SPOILERS Dracula then turns the hypnotized imprisoned woman into a vampire but stabs the heck out of her, his face filled with glee, soon after for sleeping with and attempting to turn Paul with Paul himself disappearing from the plot without a trace after stumbling on Dracula’s coffin. I mean it; he’s shown looking at Dracula lying there sleeping and he’s never seen from again.
The lengthy scene that follows as Dracula’s unibrowed servant (played by the second Doctor Patrick Troughton!) hacks up the girl’s body to dispose of it has a darkly humorous quality and frankly he’s awesome. END OF SPOILERS He’s got the weird look all servants of Dracula are mandated to have, but he’s far more interesting than most. Even when he inevitably becomes obsessed with Paul’s future sister in law and protects her from Dracula, he is still willing to help her intended away to protect her which is certainly different from most takes on this. He desires her but more importantly just wants to protect her. SPOILERS Sadly he does wind up dying trying to protect her as all must and it’s not like this desire to protect her prevents him from kidnapping another woman for Dracula, END OF SPOILERS but he’s a fun character and successfully adds levity in a way most Hammer films try and fail horribly at. He also has bad scars from Dracula heating a sword and placing it to his back, the depiction of this is pretty great as we admire Dracula’s childlike glee.
This is a far more typical Dracula title with Dracula speaking more, the heavily gothic setting, and traditional storyline (of course with more ‘70s Hammer levels of blood and cleavage) but it feels more like a pale imitation of earlier better movies. Granted, none of them had Dracula SPOILERS fucking killed by lightning when he is holding up a stick waiting to stab someone and while this isn’t Bad Seed levels of idiotic, it certainly tries. END OF SPOILERS Still, Lee and Troughton (who had just left Doctor Who the year before) make it worth watching despite the efforts of the cast of cardboard cutouts.