Horror Of Dracula Goes Evergreen
From late fifties and well through sixties, Horror Of Dracula would be a workhorse pulling many a shock show's plow. Sample ads here are among dozens I've come across. Book a spook and there HoD invariably would be, at rentals within reason and prints taken however exhibs found them. This Drac had a reputation that got round, among playgrounds if not work place coolers. As a late show filler or unit wedged between two/three others at all-night drive-ins, Horror Of Dracula was ubiquitous as cherry smash off concession counters. Too bad Dick Bennick's no longer with us to recall night after nights he spent with HoD at theatres and eventually TV (he seemed to be forever hosting it). Universal's familiar fang-art sat uneasily with ad imagery going back to Glenn Strange Frankenstein days ... oft- times it was anyone's guess what they'd put on screens. Statesville's Playhouse Theatre promised 1,000 Free Copies of Famous Monsters Mag for their late hours blowout --- assuming that was for real, I'd guess Jim Warren still remembers said extraordinary order (heck, he might have driven that many FM's down himself!).
There would be a sequel, Dracula --- Prince Of Darkness, which in Summer 1966 began with Horror's block-busting finish and disappointed somewhat from there. Some of us sat wishing they'd forget following-up and just run the original we'd missed. During interim, there'd been a reissue of Horror Of Dracula with Curse Of Frankenstein, that courtesy of Seven Arts, recently heir to negatives from Universal and Warner Bros. respectively, latter's distribution rights having expired (7A was producing partner on both). The Canadian concern had dipped toes into US distribution before, without success. Now they were going full-bore with eleven features for late '64/65 release, the monster duo offered among odd assortment of British and Euro pics. Shunning sub-distributors and states rights dealing, Seven Arts put their own salesmen in the field, not an inconsiderable expense, and hoped bookings would permit expansion later. A Providence, RI try-out got mild returns for Curse/Horror, according to Variety, worse was St. Louis' sad total of only $5,000 for the bill's week (make that weak) stay in a 3,600 seat house. Seven Arts wangled a showcase break in twenty-five NYC Loews and Century Theatres for mid-December, backed by trade luncheon-ing at Sardi's (with Frank and Drac in attendance) and radio jingle placement the likes of "... in full color thrills/Dracula drinks what Frankenstein spills."
Trade tallies told the tale ... light, OK, dull, fair, and lean were wicket descriptives used more than once. The combo wasn't clicking ... but why? Part of trouble was fact these pics had worn play-roads smooth just about everywhere, Universal and WB having gotten most out of distributing spans for Curse/Horror. I found NC bookings for both through 1964 and virtually up to 7A's packaging. Obtuse was latter's failure to key their reissue with Warren Publications' Curse Of Frankenstein/Horror Of Dracula photo-mag, the latter going out March 1965, well after the double feature crashed in large city engagements. Coordinating the two might have spiked attendance, but where was chance of Seven Arts recognizing 1964's junior army of monster boomers? You could argue they dumped Horror Of Dracula into TV syndication afterward. Was it unrealistic to hope for a network sale? The package of forty-five made available 3-20-66 bunched HoD with odd Fox titles 7A controlled --- Shirley Temple's The Blue Bird (!), Call Me Madam, Lydia Bailey, etc. The only other chillers were The Fly and two-years-old independent Devil Doll. Seeing HoD vid-wise in 1967 inspired my own comic adaptation, blood color by way of felt markers I'd gotten a previous Christmas. As the above sample will attest, Frank Frazetta and Wally Wood's continued jobs were safe.
Castle Of Frankenstein among others kept torches burning. Their Issue 8 published in 1966 (above) utilized a 35mm frame blown up from Horror Of Dracula's trailer, blood-soaked Christopher Lee fast becoming the vampire king's embodiment for my generation. Canadian 8mm supplier Americom drew from countryman Seven Arts' inventory when it released a home-use Horror Of Dracula on narrow gauge. Sound for this eight-minute reel was by way of a record included with purchase, trick for consumers being to synchronize the two, this achieved, according to anecdotal evidence, about once in a hundred tries. My own efforts to harness HoD for anytime enjoyment meant buying in 16mm, and fortunately here, Seven-Arts made up their prints for television on IB Technicolor stock. Still, there was challenge finding one with proper registration throughout ... color had a tendency to vary from one ten-minute section to the next, some distinctly better than others. I found conditions much the same with 35mm got later out of storage at a Hickory, NC poolroom (that story recounted here), latter being one 7A generated for its 1964 round. I wonder if any Horror Of Dracula prints made after 1958 maintained full integrity of what Hammer shot. Certainly none coming my way would.
Burning question common to versions acquired was stakings and how much we'd see of them. Each drop of blood was essential to proper consumption, frustrating all the while for our knowing more existed elsewhere, most legendarily in Japanese versions said to have thrown all caution, and censorship, to winds. Still, HoD's subtle effects pleased best ... Peter Cushing unfurling hammer and wood spike as though serving refreshment, wiping blood off a pinky after deeds are done. What was had in Japan beyond this? Dracula's decomposition in last reel's sunlight was rougher ... stills indicate that ... but what of expanded mayhem elsewhere? Efforts have been made to scour Nippon archives --- to little avail so far. Sometimes we dedicated fans forget how (much) less important all this is to ones born too early (or late) to have felt full impact of Hammer's Dracula. Wouldn't Warners have otherwise rushed to get out a Blu-Ray per our fervent wish? (they own HoD by dint of absorbing Seven Arts years back).
Thanks to Scott MacGillivray for info on Americom and Mike Cline for the Hwy 601 Drive-In Theatre ad.