Greenbriar's Horror Of Dracula Week --- Part Two
For this then-and-then format, I jump briefly to March 1967, time at which Horror Of Dracula landed finally in my parent's den, courtesy High Point's Channel 8 and its Shock Theatre hosted by Dick Bennick, erstwhile Count Shockula and later Dr. Paul Bearer. Problematic was signal from that station seventy miles distant. Pulling it in was not unlike fire generated by rubbing sticks together, results often as (un)satisfactory. I lived with snow much as Arctic-dwellers, albeit indoors on a temperamental tube. Greatest wallop of Horror Of Dracula on Shock Theatre was Channel 8's broadcasting it in color, perhaps that late show's first. I ran lines from a long-retired roof antenna at high opposite end of the house in hope of a clearer picture, tests being conducted up to Saturday's zero hour with a re-installed tenna-rotor, said device unknown to latter-day cable and satellite users, but one that coaxed many a remote signal during years when a desired movie might surface once and never again. Adjusting tuner knobs was its own precise science, a single millimeter determining success or abject loss of viewing objective (imagine reward, noted parents, had I applied myself so resolutely to schoolwork). Was juice of HoD worth the squeeze? I'd not sit five minutes now for what barely transmitted that 1967 night, being 35/16mm, then digitally, spoiled over a four decade's interim, but neither will Horror Of Dracula play again so thrillingly as on this first occasion seeing it. I'd trade all since repeats for a fraction of that night's wonderment.
Back to the Mayfair, Horror Of Dracula having begun siege of US markets there and at an earlier Milwaukee domestic bow (May 7), latter w/o Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee greeting on a first day. The Mayfair planned all-night "Horrorthons" for its first three dusk-to-dawns, fans arriving in costume let in free for initial showing. There were "Courage Cocktails" served (tomato juice) and a nurse to administer blood pressure tests. New York's WOR radio station broadcast Horror Of Dracula's entire soundtrack on opening night, a unique tie-up, said Variety, to go with a premiere. Air host Long John Nebel afterward held a panel discussion with Peter Cushing and James Carreras on his wee hours' "Long John Show" (oh, to have an audio recording of that!). Observed Variety: The horror swing in broadcasting was sparked by Screen Gems with its release of "Shock" and the "Son Of Shock" package of horror vintage pics. Oldies on TV, country-wide and creepy host-enhanced, were indeed a hearthside engine propelling chillers that 1958 summer, Horror Of Dracula being but one of (too) many competing at the trough.
Universal knew its offering towered above rivals' rest. Challenge was spreading word of HoD's superiority to circuits benumbed by chiller bombardment. Dracula's review ads, both for the Mayfair engagement and trade mags, were surely firsts for a monster movie, ordinarily the last genre to want critical reaction aired in public. "The Insiders" were calling Horror Of Dracula best in its class, for whatever that was worth, some said. Who distinguished one spook show from another among teens and kids known for lack of discrimination? Still, it was enough for Universal that Horror Of Dracula ranked among Top Ten grossers in Variety's Nationwide Boxoffice Survey for June, a month otherwise spotty for the usual post-holiday letdown and the yen of people to head for outdoors as weather continued spring-like. Outdoor meant drive-ins, of course, and here's where Horror Of Dracula really took off, its resonant color ideal for enlarged projection under moonlight. Drive-inners preferred deep reds on screen to go with ketchup over dogs and fries got from concession menus way broader than what hard-tops offered. Universal read those (iced) tea leaves and trumpeted findings accordingly --- They love it IN THE DRIVE-INS headlining a July 21 trade ad to goose Horror Of Dracula toward continued summer profiting.
Maybe they weren't banking millions like June's Number One South Pacific, but monster merchants, their numbers expanding daily, knew it took little investment to buy gains scare pics assured. Bill Castle demonstrated with Macabre how you could score many times money spent with gimmicks simple as that prevailing on fairgrounds. Trouble was these stunts were beginning to trip over each other, carbon-copied according to Variety. Universal placed reps at Horror Of Dracula venues to execute last wills and testament against patrons being scared to death by the film. Competition heated to a point where ballyhooers claimed proprietary interest in gambits they claimed to have invented. Aforementioned Castle threatened United Artists with legal action over their brag that twelve insurance companies refused to assume liability risks for patrons seeing The Return Of Dracula, his attorney putting UA on notice to desist and refrain from capitalizing on Macabre's selling device (nothing would stop them, however, from offering "free burial" to those so traumatized by I Bury The Living). Here then, was the circus against which Horror Of Dracula performed. Maybe a less crowded season would have given it an even better reception, but horror as a paying proposition had to face diminishing returns eventually, a fact of life that Hammer, and distributing US majors, would increasingly face.
As distributor Warner Bros. would later say of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, You Can't Keep A Good Man Down! Part Three (and conclusion) for Horror Of Dracula will go up on Thursday.