Tag Dracula

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

You just can’t keep a good man down!

Even though Dracula drowned years earlier, the local town still lives in fear of his legacy and are forever in the shadow of his abandoned castle. When a young woman is found dead with the teeth marks in her neck, a visiting monsignor performs an exorcism in the castle to finally rid the world of his menace. But on their way out, an accompanying priest falls and hits his head. The resulting drops of blood resurrect Dracula. Outraged at what has happened, he plots his revenge and targets the Monsignor’s young niece to be his bride.

 

After helming the first three Dracula films, director Terence Fisher left the series and it’s no coincidence to note the stark decline in quality between this and it’s predecessor. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave suffers from the overriding problem that it’s too generic and contains too few memorable moments to distinguish it from the rest. After the first two Dracula films (the original for being a genre classic and Brides of Dracula being memorable for not featuring Dracula at all), the rest of the period Dracula films all blur into one for me. There’s some standard set-up featuring good-looking women destined to become slaves, Dracula’s minions running around trying to get the Count back from the dead and the hero of the piece blustering around the screen doing whatever he needs to do to kill time before Dracula is resurrected. Then once Dracula is brought back to life, it’s a quick re-run of the original (Dracula homes in on one young woman, said woman’s family and friends try to stop him) before he’s killed off again. Couple this with the same sets and locations, the same music and generally the same look as the others and you get an indistinguishable sequel which doesn’t promise much and doesn’t deliver much.

Like all of the direct Dracula sequels, the film’s strengths and weaknesses are basically the same. It’s halfway through the running time when Dracula is resurrected so the first half gears up towards this moment and then the last half is directed at finding ways to kill him. The opening half is sluggish, dull and tedious as a variety of nondescript characters go about their business, unaware that danger is coming. The film builds up the tension and the focus is solely on Dracula’s resurrection. You’d think it would be a big deal when he is given a new lease of film. However, once Dracula is back at the half way point, the film hits a brick wall and drifts into familiar territory. It spent all of that time building him up and then they simply do nothing with him for the rest of the film?

There’s no wonder that Christopher Lee was always unhappy about playing the role as all he does here is hanging around in a cellar, bite people who come down and then simply wait around for the next victim. This was supposed to be about Dracula’s revenge so why can’t he come up with a more elaborate and deadly plan than simply turn the Monsignor’s niece into a vampire? Surely he’s more scheming than that – heck, in one of the following sequels he turns into some sort of James Bond bad guy complete with gun-waving motorcyclist henchmen. He gets more lines this time around but quite frankly, he’d have been better off keeping quiet. His sheer presence was enough to turn the role into something sinister and supernatural in the previous films and there was a sense of awe and mystery surrounding Dracula. Some of that impact is lost when he opens his mouth and starts talking. I’m not knocking Lee, he’s one of my favourite actors – I’m just saying that the role worked better when Dracula was silent and deadly.

Hammer also plays around with the vampire mythology a little bit here with Dracula getting a reflection, walking around in the day time and a scene in which a huge stake through his heart has little effect. It’s all well and good tweaking the formula for stand alone vampire flicks but keep it consistent throughout the same franchise! At least the attempted staking does provide a healthy dose of the film’s blood quota. The other Hammer trademarks are evident with the two lead females parading around in little clothing to reveal their ample bosoms. Carlson in particular looks stunning and was roundly heralded as ‘Dracula’s most beautiful victim’ in the promotional material. You’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise as she’s the definition of the kind of woman that Dracula would love to get his hands on – buxom, blonde and beautiful.

Rupert Davies does what he can in the Van Helsing-like role as the monsignor-turned-vampire-hunter but he’s no Peter Cushing. Both he and Barry Andrews, who plays the younger hero of the piece, aren’t terrible in their performances but they’re not equals to Dracula. In the original Horror of Dracula and in the sequels which featured both Van Helsing and Dracula, you always got the sense that both characters were on level footing – both as equally determined to destroy the other and both as capable of doing so. Neither man was bigger or better than the other, they just needed to find the weakness of the other and exploit it. Here, Dracula seems to tower over his foes, so much so that you’d think it’d be impossible for him to lose.

 

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is your typical Hammer film with the right atmosphere, settings and mood and plethora of gore and suggested nudity. But the script is a little stagnant and it just goes through the usual Dracula motions which we’ve already seen before. Far from the worst sequel in the series but nowhere near the best either.

 

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

FIGHT BACK! DEFEND YOURSELF!

Everyone thinks that Dracula is dead after Professor Van Helsing killed him ten years ago. So when four English tourists stray into his old castle in the Carpathian Mountains and are met by Dracula’s old servant, they think nothing of it after being welcomed with open arms. Settling down for the night, one of them is curious when they see his servant dragging a case down into the basement. His curiosity is the last mistake he ever makes and Dracula is resurrected, unleashing his evil upon the world once again.

 

The third instalment of the Hammer Dracula series is the first true sequel to Horror of Dracula and sees the welcome return of Christopher Lee into the title role. He had decided to wait eight years before donning the cape again for fear of being typecast (which is ironic since he went on to star as Dracula in around eight films during his illustrious career). In all honesty, it probably wasn’t worth the effort. Whilst nowhere near as memorable as the original, Dracula, Prince of Darkness is perhaps the best of the sequels although it works better as a collection of iconic vampire set pieces rather than a fully rounded film. At least the film gathers the best that the studio had to offer in the form of director Terence Fisher, composer James Bernard and writer Jimmy Sangster who all contribute their individual pieces to the film in classic Hammer style.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness opens with the final scenes from Horror of Dracula to fill you in with what happened (and also hastens to remind us of how good it was). The film then immediately begins to suffer from the same problems as the rest of the sequels. It simply doesn’t know what to do with Dracula apart from having him hiss and growl into the camera and then seduce some nubile young women. The first half of the film is centred on the resurrection of Dracula but once he’s back in business, the film hits a brick wall. You wonder why they bothered including him in the first place and it may have been better had they just continued with the same theme as Brides of Dracula, featuring Van Helsing as the main character of the series and introducing a new vampire threat.

Like many earlier Hammer films, the pace is deliberate and the tone is foreboding. The film takes time to set up its story and characters, realizing that in order to care about people when threatened with evil, we need to know about them and their situation beforehand. It’s a little tedious at times and some of the stupidity of the characters beggars belief (the contrived circumstances in which the four people find themselves at Dracula’s old castle will have you shaking your head – despite all of the warnings, all of the doomsayers and all of the evidence to the contrary, the characters still decide to stay there and look what happens!).

Once Dracula has been resurrected, the film quickly goes through the usual motions of having him assemble a coven of lustful slaves to prey on whilst the vampire hunter rallies the troops and then finally confronts Dracula. This last sequence of events really seems rushed and had they introduced Dracula earlier in the film, they could have built up the finale a little more. Instead, the ending is left open for a further series of sequels, each one featuring more absurd ways of resurrecting Dracula.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness contains possibly one of Hammer’s most chilling scenes – that of Dracula’s resurrection. Klove (the servant) brutally slays one of the guests and hangs him above a coffin containing Dracula’s ashes, allowing the blood to gush out and spill over them, reforming Dracula. It’s an amazing sequence both in its violent nature and then in its spine-chilling conclusion as the Count arises to strike terror into the world once more. Coupled with James Bernard’s memorable score, the scene is Gothic horror at its finest.

Up there alongside the best scenes of the film is the moment where one of the female vampires is manhandled in the monastery by the monks who then promptly proceed to stake her in a most ruthless fashion. For 1966, these scenes are brutally effective. The traditional Hammer period setting is used to full effect here although if you think you recognize everything, it may be because both this and Rasputin: the Mad Monk were filmed by Hammer in 1966 and they share the same sets (as well as the same cast – economic filmmaking at it’s finest!).

Christopher Lee is back in the cape and although he only appears half-way through and doesn’t speak a word (apparently his lines were so poorly written that Lee refused to speak them), his performance is still mesmerizing. He uses tools of the trade mostly forgotten about nowadays – the expressions on his face, his piercing eyes and his body language – to become a powerful and seductive figure, towering over the rest of the cast. In taking a personal stance against the treatment of Bram Stoker’s novel, Lee turned the role into something more memorable than he could have envisioned.

Andrew Kier takes over the Van Helsing-like role as the local vampire slaying priest. He’s no Peter Cushing but Kier is an excellent deputy, more than matching up to Dracula and his minions. Barbara Shelley, one of Hammer’s most common leading ladies in their earlier days, is equally as memorable as the frigid Helen who is corrupted by Dracula and turned into an alluring sexual vampire slave. Finally amongst the cast, note must be given to Phillip Latham as Klove. His entrance alongside James Bernard’s haunting music tricks the audience into thinking it’s the Count himself. But he’s just as sinister and deadly, acting as the vocal piece for Dracula throughout the film.

 

Dracula, Prince of Darkness contains some truly classic Hammer moments which unfortunately mask over a flimsy plot and poor pacing. For these reasons, it will never be considered a true classic but for fans of Hammer or vampire films in general, this one should be compulsive viewing.

 

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The (1974)

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

Deadly Horrors! Dragon Thrills! The First Kung Fu Horror Spectacular!

Renowned vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing is giving a lecture in China when some villagers persuade him to travel to their remote village and help them fight off seven vampires which have cursed their village. Unknown to Van Helsing, the head vampire is in fact his arch nemesis, Count Dracula, who has assumed the body of one of the Chinese vampires.

 

I’m not usually a big fan of martial arts films on their own but when combined with the horror genre, they make interesting viewing to say the least. The success of the likes of Mr Vampire and Encounter of the Spooky Kind is testament to the popularity of the combination. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is no exception. The last of the Hammer Dracula films, this was always going to be up against it after Christopher Lee swore he would never don the cape again….and I don’t blame him after Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Just as they had done after the first film when Lee didn’t want to reprise the role, Hammer decided to turn Professor Van Helsing into the main character of the series. Given that Van Helsing was always played by Peter Cushing, that’s welcome news to me.

It was during this time that Hammer was on the verge of financial collapse and, obviously seeing a market for kung fu (thanks to the popularity of Bruce Lee), they decided to try and cash in on it. Combining Hammer’s classic Gothic horror approach with Hong Kong’s legendary production company Shaw Brother’s appreciation for mysticism and martial arts, this is one unique trip from start to finish although the two genres never fully mesh together.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires tries valiantly to get around the lack of Christopher Lee but in all honesty, Dracula’s presence is not really needed and he seems like an after thought, book ended into the film with brief throwaway sequences either side of the martial arts mayhem. This works better as a Van Helsing-driven film where he sets off to confront more vampires across the globe. In reality the film is little more than a series of martial arts set pieces as Van Helsing and his group head off to the remote village, encountering bandits along the way before finally coming face-to-face with the vampires. It may not be structured very well but it’s never dull.

There is plenty of nudity and gore courtesy of Hammer as various topless females are stripped and bitten by the vampires in their ceremonial chamber, the fresh blood flowing into a large bubbling vat in the centre (reasons for the vat remain unknown but it looks cool). We get people being impaled on large wooden poles. There are also lots of spouts of blood during the martial arts scenes as various sharp implements are driven into and slashed across their unlucky victims. As for the traditional Hammer atmosphere, it is evidently lacking here. There are a few decent moments of inspiration including the scene in which the vampire’s undead army rises from the ground. It’s all done in slow motion to give it some sort of otherworldly feel. But there is no overall atmosphere or tone like previous films. The Gothic vibe is sorely missing here.

As for the rest of the film, Cushing is on top form as usual (how many of his films have I said that about?) and the Van Helsing character is his own. Despite the absurdity of everything around him, Cushing keeps the film firmly grounded with another excellent performance. Christoper Lee opted not to resume the cape of Dracula and instead some lesser known Brit tries his hand at the Count – thankfully he’s not on screen for long because he’s awful and looks rather like a drag queen wearing the worlds worst vampire make-up. They get over the lack of Lee by having Dracula assume the form of a Chinese traveller early in the film so for the rest of the running time he’s played by a sinister-looking Chinese actor.

For once though, this isn’t totally Cushing’s show. The real stars are the Asian martial arts actors who accompany Van Helsing to the village. Each of the brothers who assist Van Helsing has their own weapon – and this is the only thing we have got to distinguish them from one another. They get little characterisation (only the older brother and their only sister get anything near to characterisation or meaningful dialogue). But once they get down to dishing out some kicks and fists, they don’t need to speak. The martial arts scene are pretty crude for their day and if you’ve ever seen a more choreographed, stereotypical and obligatory massive martial arts battle than the fight with the bandits, please let me know. But the fight scenes do the business they need to do – it isn’t meant to be a pure all-out martial arts film after all and what we get is just enough to make the film work. Besides which, the film boils down to another confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula and we know who always wins those fights don’t we?

 

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a really enjoyable but bizarre mix of genres which sometimes meshes, sometimes doesn’t. It’s not perfect and has plenty of faults but it’s one of the best of Hammer’s Dracula series and finishes the series on a reasonable, if somewhat silly, high.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

The Count is back, with an eye for London’s hotpants . . . and a taste for everything

After Count Dracula is finally defeated by Van Helsing in 1872, one of his faithful servants kept a bottle of his ashes and his ring. A hundred years later, the descendant of Dracula’s servant resurrects the Count with the help of his friends including the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, Jessica. As revenge, Dracula is determined to destroy the house of Van Helsing once and for all and targets Jessica to be his bride. But Jess’ father, Abraham Van Helsing, has followed in his family’s footsteps is a scholar as well. He realizes that he must take up the reigns from his grandfather in order to put an end to Dracula once and for all.

 

Having finally played out Dracula in a period setting, Hammer were desperate to continue the series but had to try and inject some new life into the flagging franchise. Gothic horror was no longer the in-thing, in no small part thanks to Hammer milking it dry over the past fifteen years or so. The rise of the likes of Night of the Living Dead had given birth to a whole new era of shock horror and the quaint Hammer films seemed like relics of the past.

One idea was to bring the story of Dracula and Van Helsing into a more contemporary setting. It would save money on having to build period sets and make period costumes. It would give Dracula new grounds to hunt in and Van Helsing would have a more modern array of weapon and knowledge to defeat the Count. All sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? Unfortunately theory is not always proven correct.

One of the worst Hammer films made, Dracula A.D. 1972 makes the horrid choice of transporting the classic series into the then-present day of the early 70s, still suffering from the after effects of the swinging 60s. Instead of the traditional Gothic Hammer sets, we’re given some awful Austin Powers-style sets. Instead of lavish costumes of the period, we’re given mini-skirts, go-go boots and ridiculous looking flannel shirts. The hairstyles are dated. The music is dated (perhaps an understatement – the music has dated extremely badly over time). From the dialogue full of hippie slang to the appearance of the young cast, Dracula A.D. 1972 has dated far worse than any of its predecessors – it was probably dated by the time it was released! Far too much emphasis is placed on the then-current scene as if the viewer needs constant reminder of which time period the film crawled out from.

Bringing the story into the modern setting is all well and good but Dracula is confined to a church for the duration of the film thus robbing the audience of any potential of seeing the Lord of Darkness prowl the streets of London. Once he’s resurrected, yet again another of the sequels fails to find Dracula anything worthwhile to do. Let him loose on the city for goodness sake! Let him do anything except wait in a church for his disciples to bring him fresh meat. It’s no wonder that Christopher Lee continually put down these films after the way they turned one of literature’s most famous characters into simply a supporting player in his own film.

Perhaps the only worthwhile thing that Dracula A.D. 1972 accomplishes is the reunion of Lee and Peter Cushing. They hadn’t starred together in a Dracula film since 1958′s Horror of Dracula and whilst both get top billing, its noticeable how out of place they both seem amongst the younger cast members. It’s no coincidence that the two best parts of the film are the opening set back in 1872 and the finale, both scenes featuring Van Helsing and Dracula fighting each other. The finale is at least one of the best of the series as Van Helsing attempts to defeat Dracula with crucifixes, holy water and a rather nasty trap of stakes.

Even though the two men were older than from their first encounter, the energy and enthusiasm they show in their roles is great. They’re still the best bits of the film in the scenes that they don’t share. Cushing adds his usual integrity and elegance whenever he’s on screen and Lee snarls and commands the screen with his towering presence. Whenever the two men are not around, the film drops a couple of notches. The younger cast don’t do such a good job of filling their boots either. The gorgeous and top-heavy Caroline Munro departs proceedings way too early although if I was Dracula and had been dead for 100 years and saw a half-naked Munro draped over an altar, I’d sure take advantage too! It’s left to Stephanie Beacham to provide the damsel-in-distress element for the duration of he film (and she fills out her low cut top quite nicely too). Beacham is actually alright in the role and adds a classier element to what could have been a bimbo-esque role.

 

If I summed the film up by calling it Austin Powers Meets Dracula then I wouldn’t be too far away from the truth. Cushing and Lee’s scenes and performances aside, Dracula A.D. 1972 might be good for some really cheesy laughs to see how things were like back in the day but it’s an awful film. I can understand the logic of wanting to bring Dracula into a more contemporary setting but mixing him with hippies would have Bram Stoker turning in his grave. Hammer really produced a turkey with this one and followed it up with a direct sequel, The Satantic Rites of Dracula.