Turner Classic Movies is presenting four Hammer Horror films every Friday night during the month of October and, me being a lover of Hammer, I got pretty excited about the whole deal. Unfortunately, I work Friday nights, meaning my DVR is working overtime and I can't watch the films until Saturday. Well, so be it.
This Friday, they presented four Dracula movies, three of which feature Dracula as played by Christopher Lee, and the fourth which has Dracula's name in the title but no Dracula in sight. Strangely, that film, Brides of Dracula, is one of my favorite Hammer films.
First up, Horror of Dracula
This is the first in the series and the first Dracula film in color. This was the coming out party for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (who plays Van Helsing). They made Curse of Frankenstein before this and, although that film was the one that got Hammer rolling, this is the one, I think, where they really started hitting their stride.
Bram Stoker's tale is turned on its head and you figure that out within the first few moments. In this version, Harker does not journey to Dracula's castle to help him secure a land deal, but instead has arrived to destroy the vampire. This in only the first skewing of the original novel and Universal film, but it is the most surprising and really sets the stage. What follows is a quick-moving film with a ton of momentum, plenty of blood (in color!), and fantastic performances by Lee and Cushing.
Lee is a physical presence, standing and observing, bristling with barely-contained rage and power. His Count is not an austere gentleman, but instead a panther, prowling for his victims. Cushing is marvelous as Van Helsing, portraying the scientist as hero, both physical and mental, a throwback to the old pulp stories. The nice twist is Cushing is so small, and unimposing, thus presenting an interesting counterpart to the Count. When Cushing jumps onto the banquet table and leaps to rip the curtains down in a wild attempt to drench Dracula in daylight, you know you're in the presence of a master.
This film is the best of the series that actually features Dracula, the character. But it's a toss-up between this one and Brides as to which is my favorite of the series.
Brides of Dracula
Although Lee isn't in this film, nor is Dracula, you hardly miss either, and that's a credit to both the director and the story, but mostly to Cushing, who carries this film with his magnificent portrayal as Cushing.
Van Helsing comes in to deal with another vampire infestation and takes to it like a man born for the job. He strikes out, using a combination of science and religion and pure guts and gristle, to destroy the evil once and for all. My favorite sequence is after Cushing gets bitten by a vampire and the extraordinary lengths he goes to to rid himself of the vampiric infection.
Dracula, Prince of Darkness
Here, Lee returns to the role and he doesn't say one word in the entire film. Accounts conflict as to why this was so, with Lee stating the dialogue was atrocious so he refused to speak it, and Hammer saying this was always the design. Whatever the case is, we have a Dracula here who is more bestial, eyes brimming red with swollen blood vessels, intent on destroying all in his path.
Dracula is resurrected by the spilt blood from a slit throat of a man hung by his heels over the Count's ashes. If this isn't your first clue that this Dracula is more violent, then the ensuing madness surely tips you off.
It's funny, but I have no memories of seeing this film before. Somehow, it slipped past me so I actually watched this for the first time. I enjoyed it, with Lee kicking some ass and the fodder for his feasting adequately portrayed by a good supporting cast featuring Barbara Shelley.
It's not the best film in the series, but it's damned good and worth your while.
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
Lee returns as Dracula and finds his castle has been exorcised by a Monsignor. Since he cannot go back home, he embarks on a quest of revenge, seeking to destroy the Holy Man's family and life.
This version of Dracula brings back some of the seduction of the vampire, with Lee mesmerizing the ladies while great zeal. He's also just as vicious and vile as in the other films.
The best part of this movie, besides Lee, is the great supporting cast and script and direction. I actually like this better than Prince of Darkness, which some may consider blasphemy, but it all comes down to the characters. I just like these folks more.
One final note: In each film, Dracula surrounds himself with nubile concubines, all of whom he treats rather poorly at some point. It's almost as if Dracula is a pimp and he has to keep his ladies in line. It's a funny thought I had while watching, and thought I'd throw in, just for the hell of it.
Dracula, Prince of Darkness