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Friday, July 12, 2013

Dracula's Long-Awaited Reprise

A Ritual One Particularly Enjoys Watching at Age 12 ... I Still Do.

Dracula --- Prince Of Darkness Stakes Out 1966

This was a first Hammer Dracula since '58's Horror Of ... same, so I was pulsing to go. Even stuck with a crybaby neighbor-kid as Liberty accompaniment didn't diminish thrill of seeing C. Lee in fanged harness, opener flash back to HoD a further tingle for my not having seen the original trendsetter up to that time (summer '66). Admittedly not a best among Hammers, D---Pof D still has ringer moments (monks holding down and staking Barbara Shelly --- deathless!), and there is towering Andrew Keir as vicar head of vampire disposal. A redressed castle emits happy Bray vibes, Hammer leaving that site would forfeit much of their identity. Takes awhile to get moving, but we're patient in anticipation of Chris entry, which he does and without dialogue, maybe a wise move as the character's feral to a fault in strategically placed (and limited) highlights. Monster mags of the day writ large the fact that Drac (as in Lee) was back after eight years in diminuendo. Horror Of Dracula was let go to syndication TV a few months after Dracula --- Prince Of Darkness was released, and Universal reissued Brides Of Dracula during summer '66 on a combo with King Kong vs. Godzilla, so all three Hammer Draculas were in tandem circulation that year.

Techniscope was used, a first for Hammer with a "name" monster (previous B/W psycho-thrillers and tentative go at Jekyll-Hyde being previously wide, but no Frankensteins nor Draculas). They off the vamp King this time with "running water," a new one on me. Had any movie or lore floated such notion before? Father Keir confirms that Dracula is indeed vulnerable --- I'll say --- as of D --- Pof D, he couldn't even go swimming (with possible exception of an above ground pool or indoors at a YMCA). 20th Fox kicked off a US distribution pact with Hammer for Prince Of Darkness and co-feature Plague Of The Zombies, realizing better rentals ($429K domestic) than had Universal for recent (now discontinued) ones. Kid-centric promotion included sillies like Dracula teeth for boys, "zombie eyes" for girls. We got neither, and the Liberty split Fox's bill besides, necessitating two paying trips for the dollop. For then-quarter admission though, Dracula --- Prince Of Darkness and Plague Of The Zombies, even served separate, were worth it.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The word on this one was that the dialogue given Dracula in the screenplay was so bad Christopher Lee refused to say the lines. This silent Dracula, I agree, provides for a much more forceful performance.

The power of running water is part of the vampire lore contained in Bram Stoker's novel from which we got dollops in each of Hammer's films.

I had seen HORROR OF DRACULA but the inclusion of that film's climax in PRINCE OF DARKNESS did and does give the film on heckuva fine opening which, unfortunately, the rest of the film does not measure up to.

Still, it was a big treat to see back on screen as Dracula and it continued to be a treat to see him in the rest of Hammer's DRACULA series. Too bad they would not cough up the extra bucks to get him to star in THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES as the man they did use projected nothing of what Lee's presence brought to the part.

Between Lugosi and Lee, however, I will always go for Bela. Again, it is unfortunate that Universal, like Hammer, never seemed to know how to make the best use of its horror stars. One thing though, the Universal pictures (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE BLACK CAT, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, THE RAVEN, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, and the forties pictures which largely owe their origin to Curt Siodmak) are, for myself, better written films.

Notwithstanding that, for a long time the emergence of each new entry in the Hammer catalog was something to get excited about even if the pictures fell a little bit short of expectation. I had found the paperback of Guy Endore's A WEREWOLF OF PARIS and read it before seeing THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. The book is such an exceptional work. The film does not measure up to it.

The best written of the Hammers are the Quatermass films all of which came from Nigel Kneale's superlative teleplays.

I, also, began to dread the re-appearance of Michael Ripper in his many character roles. He is my least favorite Hammer actor.

I learned long ago that success in the theater comes from surpassing the audience's expectations. Simply living up to them is not good enough. In DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS our expectations were huge because THE HORROR OF DRACULA was such a tour de force. They were not met nor would they be again by Hammer with the exception of their final Quatermass film (almost as good in its way as Kubrick's 2001) and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS which has so much of Sheridan Le Fanu in it that I, personally, was thrilled by it as by no other Hammer. Others agreed with me at the time as the film was a huge hit.

I recall that someone noted, during the making of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, that people in that period did not wear underwear. That, not exploitation, led the decision for film's powerful use of nudity. Unfortunately, it also led the studio brass to exploit tits and asses in future Hammers which was the undoing of Hammer. I hated TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER when I first saw it (the print was gawdawful). Now it is viewed by myself as one of their best. Still, I have all the Hammers I can get my hands on on the shelf. Too bad I can't seem to get others to want to see them.

9:18 AM  

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