Wednesday, October 26, 2016

#24 - Horror of Dracula (1958), #25 - Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

Just about everyone's favorite portrayal of Dracula is done by Christopher Lee, in the Hammer film series of Dracula movies.  His longtime friend Peter Cushing usually played Van Helsing, Dracula's constant arch enemy and frequent hero of the films.  I have two of those movies for review tonight, and I must say, the Hammer films are some of my favorites.

Horror of Dracula (1958) was Hammer studio's first foray into the Dracula story.  We encounter Johnathan Harker on his way to visit Dracula.  Dracula thinks Harker is here to catalog some books from Dracula's library.  In secret, Harker is there to kill Dracula, as he writes in his journal.  Honestly, I don't see the point in trying to keep a secret by writing it in your journal, but they didn't have Facebook or blogs back then, so they had to make do.  Harker's plan, whatever it was, goes quickly by the wayside, as he is bitten by one of Dracula's vampiric mistresses.  Unfortunately for Dracula, Harker wasn't working alone, and as Dracula tracks down Harker's wife, so he too is being tracked by Van Helsing...

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly:  This is a classic Hammer Studios horror flick, starring Christopher Lee as Dracula, and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.  If you've seen the Bram Stoker version of the Dracula movies, you know that Harker's wife Mina is Dracula's main target, though her friend Lucy is one of his first victims, and that Van Helsing opposes him throughout the movie.  As I understand it, Hammer studios had to improvise the plot, but all the major characters show up, and it's a fun watch.  For you kids, the special effects are old school, because there wasn't such a thing as CGI graphics back in 1958.  No nudity, lots of blood and corpses, hellaciously good atmosphere.  Watch for Christopher Lee's Dracula, if nothing else.  Certainly rewatchable, as people have been watching and re-watching it since 1958, though I myself didn't actually become aware of the Hammer horror flicks until the late 70's.  Christopher Lee was actually my first experience with the Dracula legend, because I didn't have access to the Bram Stoker novel, or the black and white Dracula movies from the 1930's in my youth.  For me, Dracula will always have the scary face of Christopher Lee.  :-)

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) is Hammer's second movie in the Dracula series of movies, and the official sequel to the 1958 film.  I'm sure I'm not giving away any spoilers (the original movie is almost 60 years old by now) by telling you that Van Helsing successfully dispatched Dracula (with the help of some sunlight) at the end of the 1958 movie.  One of the coolest features of the Hammer films is that Dracula is damn near unkillable, and always seems to find some way to rise from the grave at the beginning of each new movie.  In this movie, 4 European travelers find their way into Dracula's castle, are greeted by a helpful servant, and given dinner and shelter for the night.  During the night, one of the Travelers goes missing, his blood drained by Count Dracula's faithful servant to aid in the revival of his undead master...

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly:  Peter Cushing doesn't show up as Van Helsing for this movie, and Christopher Lee almost didn't, either.  Mr. Lee was afraid of being typecast as Dracula, and it took him 8 years to return to the role.  Mr. Lee also had no dialog in this movie, not because it wasn't in the script, but because he just didn't like the lines he was given.  Andrew Keir appears as Father Sandor, an Abbott from a nearby monastery, who does the work of informing the travelers of Dracula's history and finds a means of again dispatching him into temporary incorporeality, at least until the start of the next movie.  Renfield also makes an appearance, renamed "Ludwig" in this movie, but it's obvious who he's supposed to be.  Barbara Shelley (Hammer Studio's favorite "scream queen") appears as Helen, one of the wives of the travelers.  The lack of Peter Cushing as a foil for Dracula is conspicuous, but Andrew Keir's Father Sandor does an admirable job of filling in, at least until the next movie, when Dracula rises again.

Both of these Hammer horror Dracula films played on Monday night on TCM, along with the entire Dracula Hammer horror film series..  I DVR'd them, and if I can't find anything else to watch, I'm going to review the rest of them all week, one film per night, until Halloween weekend comes around.  Christopher Lee is TCM's featured actor this month, and though their featured movie monster is actually Frankenstein (the Frankenstein movies played last week, and I'm not as fond of them as I am of the Dracula movies), the Dracula movies are much better, in my opinion.  I'm sure an avid horror movie fan has either already seen these movies, or would have little trouble tracking down a way to view them.  TCM may even play them again, before the end of the month, who knows?

In other news, it's late, and the sugar rush from my pre-Halloween candy binge is wearing off.  Talk to you guys tomorrow night.  :-)

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