All original text and images RJE Simpson 1999-2006
e-mail the webmaster

 

ARTICLES

 

The Dracula Myth

This was in fact the second article to appear on the Unofficial Hammer Films website back in August 1999.
Curiously enough, I hadn't then seen either Dracula Has Risen From the Grave or Taste the Blood of Dracula - hence the entries for both films are blank
- RJES 2006

The Scars of Dracula (1970)THE first thing which must be stated when dealing with Hammer's wondrous legacy of Dracula films, is that Christopher Lee is Dracula. Most of you already know that, I'm sure. Chris flares with charisma and sophistication. When he steps onto the screen, particularly as the count, one just pauses and is transfixed by his style and elegance. Hammer's version of a rather grand Englishman was something of a change from the Romanian stilted portrayal by the great Bela Lugosi. His portrayal seemed somewhat more authentic with him actually coming from the area. Lee however was slightly more believable, a damn sight more frightening, and spilling over with sexual charm.

The decision to move into the horror genre was a wise one for Hammer. Over the next twenty years they would reunite international stars (thanks to The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957) Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee many times in the Dracula series of films, and Peter Cushing would shine in the Frankenstein series.

The development of the characters in the Dracula series was pronounced and elaborate, moving through the ages, as was Hammer's treatment of the vampire in general. And yet, although the most popular series of Hammer's films, the legend told about Dracula, even in the first of the films, is far from that painted by Bram Stoker in his classic gothic novel. Something I realised when I finally got hold of a copy of Dracula on video the other year.

The company took the legend beyond the confines of Bram Stoker's novel and gave the character real identity and setting him in a wealth of strange places, from Transylvania to Germany to London to Hong Kong.

 

Dracula 1958 CHRISTOPHER LEE and PETER CUSHING

"Dracula" poster (1958)The first of Hammer's Dracula pictures was based only loosely around Bram Stoker's classic novel, but yet is still far removed from Universal's classic starring Bela Lugosi. Hammer used a great British cast including Michael Gough, but the relationships between Jonathan Harker and everyone else are seriously warped. I still get confused when I watch it. No one is as they are in the book, including Lucy and Renfield (is he even in this version?). However the sets are elaborate and Christopher Lee takes the Count to a new level, as a well-spoken aristocrat, not the misplaced alien that Lugosi played. Cushing too makes the definitive Van Helsing, and the climax established the elegant and far out death sequences that are occasionally the best reason for sitting through the films. Dracula's death by sunlight is simply blissful, and war commenced.

The Brides of Dracula 1960 PETER CUSHING poster for "The Brides of Dracula" (1960)

Brides is perhaps slightly strange. Although Cushing returned as Van Helsing, Christopher Lee has abandoned the scene, apparently because he was worried about becoming type-cast. The plotline, could easily be about Dracula. Baron Meinster (as played by David Peel) is a pathetic character at first but one who proves most cunning and perhaps surpassing Dracula, as he sinks his fangs into Van Helsing's neck, but like Captain Kronos he survives, and the scene where Van Helsing drives out the poison is still horrific, nearly 40 years on. Despite the title, Dracula is absent from the film. Van Helsing continues to develop as the young hero. Cushing shows off his athletic ability again, and his relative youth, as he leaps over high walls in a to the death struggle.

poster for "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1965)Dracula:Prince of Darkness 1965 CHRISTOPHER LEE

Prince of Darkness is the first of the series to omit the character of Van Helsing. Well, not quite. In the prologue to the story, we are treated to a reminder of the events of Dracula (1958) in an edited film insert of the climax to the first film showing the confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula as they battle to the death. Lee however returns as the evil count in a portrayal which has every effect on the imagination. With actors such as Barbara Shelly, Francis Matthews and Andrew Keir in the cast, most of the action for the first 45 minutes concerns the small family of explorers and their encounter of the castle, and Andrew Keir's warning (as a monk) to stay away. Naturally they ignore his warning and are brought to the castle in a great black horse driven carriage. They encounter the manservant of Dracula, who claims to be looking after the house since the loss of his master. The scenes of the servant restoring Dracula to life are needless to say, rather gruesome, and then Dracula finally makes his appearance more than half-way through the film. The tension built up as a result of this works to fantastic degrees and Hammer manages to live up to its Horror mastery. Dracula's rle develops further in that he has no speech throughout the film, merely using his powerful appearance, showing yet again, Lee's dominance over the cinema screen. The death scene is naturally a major part and rather than rely on the repulsion to light, they play upon the belief that clear running water is fatal to a vampire, closing on a dying Dracula. Perhaps the most interesting, yet oft stated fact about Prince of Darkness is the fact that it was shot back to back with Rasputin: The Mad Monk, using the same sets and cast. Naturally the overlap is obvious, and at times one can easily forget which of the two pictures one is watching, particularly as Francis Matthews seems to be portraying the hero on both occasions.

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave 1968 CHRISTOPHER LEE

"Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" poster (1968)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taste the Blood of Dracula 1969 CHRISTOPHER LEEposter for "Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1969)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Scars of Dracula 1970 CHRISTOPHER LEEArgentinian poster for "The Scars of Dracula" (1970)

Scars was actually the first Hammer film I actually remember watching, on video whilst staying at my Gran's some years ago. The film then influenced me greatly, and I have always remembered vividly four things from the film, the gruesome opening in the village church (buy the video and see what I mean), the frenzied exodus to from the village to the castle to burn out Dracula (rather like Twins of Evil in that respect), the death scene (which now that I think of it, is rather like the death of the priest in The Omen in certain aspects), and the performance of Patrick Troughton as the manservant. Patrick is one of my favourite actors ever, and Hammer used him usually as a manservant since Karl the Bodysnatcher in the first colour Hammer The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. By now the emphasis in the features is often on the other players in the script. Dracula though is more sexual than ever before in the performance, and his confidence overwhelming. The confrontation at the end between Lee and Dennis Waterman (of Minder fame) is powerful, and it is a foolish oversight which sees Dracula end his life again. The other aspect played out in the film is that of the violence of Dracula towards his slaves. The issue is played up of his horrific torture to Troughton's character, and in the end it is this which persuades him to aid the heroes defeat the Count.

Dracula AD1972 1972 CHRISTOPHER LEE and PETER CUSHINGposter for "Dracula AD 1972" (1972)

The first of the series to be set in contemporary times. Incidentally there was talk of a Hollywood re-make of this feature called something like "Dracula 1999", but as yet nothing has come of it so far as I am aware. Anyway, set in glorious Chelsea, in England, the film opens with Lee being staked in an accident in one of those great Van Helsing vs Dracula chases. We finally get to see the Count defeat Van Helsing in the process and then the plot moves off. In London's hippy infested streets a secret disciple of Dracula summons up the great vampire in the midst of amongst others, Van Helsing's great-great granddaughter (in the Church where the original Van Helsing is buried). At least the idea that Dracula and Van Helsing battled again in England is in keeping with the original novel. As Dracula moves out and bodies are discovered Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing's descendant, looking remarkably like the original. Odd. The pace moves on and Van Helsing mark II reluctantly continues the family business in a bloody fest of vampire hunting at its finest. A pleasing result for the feature, breathing its last into the Dracula series. Lee returns to battle more angry than ever and as a bonus we get two Dracula deaths in the one film. For the girls, Christopher Lee is back commanding immense sexual air as the Count, and for the boys, well we get Caroline Munro again, don't we.

Chris Lee and Joanna Lumely in "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973)The Satanic Rites of Dracula 1973 CHRISTOPHER LEE and PETER CUSHING

An often criticised entry in the Dracula series, continuing with the notion that Dracula is now battling with Van Helsing's descendant, and a part for Joanna Lumely as well! Van Helsing by now is much more adept with dealing with the vampire foe, and actually seems to be relishing in it. A bizarre subplot of germ warfare hides the true identity of Dracula despite the inevitable rites to resurrect the evil one. The climax this time is a relish as Dracula hides in a busy commercial office block. The look of sheer joy on Cushing's face when he works out and discovers the Count is reason enough to watch this entry (that and Joanna Lumley). The climax of the story once again is a Van Helsing / Dracula confrontation, and Van Helsing leaves no stone unturned as he prepares to thoroughly commit the Count to the ground. The change in scene for the series works, though one can't help but wonder why Dracula doesn't just do away with all those robes and things. Perhaps it is just so he can trap Van Helsing, whilst dressing himself up for marriage to Joanna. Hmmm.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires 1974 PETER CUSHINGBelgian poster for "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" (1974)

One of my favourites it has to be said, simply for the camera techniques used in the raising of the army of the dead. The series returns to the battles of the original Van Helsing as he combats the 7 Golden Vampires which stalk a small village in Hong Kong. The cast is made up of many of lesser acting ability, but Van Helsing and his son shine through in lead characters. The blend of Kung-fu and vampires works surprisingly well and is a refreshing alternative to the usual ritual. Dracula himself appears, having been written into the script, half-way through production and this does tend to show. Chris Lee is absent and one is surprised when Van Helsing asks Dracula to reveal his true form, why he seems to recognise the Count, despite dodgy eye-brows and deep booming voice. However Cushing is on top form, albeit dressed in much the same manner as his descendants in the previous two films. An anti-climax to the Dracula series, but very much a worth-while film. They had planned to carry on with the Van Helsing story, and had proposed a feature set in India, but alas Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires failed at the box office, and with the studios in rapid descent we were robbed of another Lee and Cushing double bill as Van Helsing and Dracula.

 

And so ends the Dracula series. The adventures go beyond the confines and the death which Bram Stoker had placed upon the character, and they develop the relationship into something of a Holmes & Moriaty type.Whereas the studios ignored much of the original book, they kept the feel of the series and characters rather well, I think. Christopher Lee played Dracula on many occasions outside the Hammer films, and is the actor who has most often portrayed the Prince of Darkness. He recently commented that he wouldn't play the role for which he is most famous again, unless it kept very close to the original story as laid down by Stoker. Lee may never get the chance as to play the difinitive Dracula in the diffinitive Dracula film but those which he did give us, with Peter Cushing as the difinitive Van Helsing will be fondly remembered forever.


text RJE Simpson 1999, 2006
Page posted 8th August 1999
reformatted and reposted 24 August 2006

- back to top -

 

 
 

House of Horror: The Unofficial Hammer Films Site RJE Simpson 1999 - 2006
Site launched Sunday 8th August 1999