When Sarcasm Sold Hammer Horror
Halloween Harvest 2015 --- Get Your Hickey From 60's Dracula
Something began to corrode horror movies by the late 60's, or was it me being less enthralled by them? I'd been drawing/writing homebrew monster mags for a couple years and so fancied myself sophisticate equal to Calvin T. Beck at least, not realizing that it's just such attitude that sap fun from shows I took till then on face value. Such was burden of being age fourteen. But chillers by then had slipped, first AIP stubbing toe on stinker imports (Psycho-Circus) and worse effort to maintain brands (The Oblong Box, The Crimson Cult). Sometimes you couldn't help entertaining thought that monsters had been outgrown, time perhaps to put away what you'd been told (repeatedly) were childish things, especially now with a rating system in place and films playing more for grown-up keeps. Further salt to wound was chillers not being taken serious even by their makers (or at least distributors), to which Warners and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave pled guilty. It riled me to see Hammer horror sold like a Batman episode, with all but "Boff" and "Pow" spread across camp-infected ads.
There had been silly selling before, and of Hammers, but notion of "Black Stamps" issued to patrons for Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb/The Gorgon, or Rasputin beards as reward with admission to the Mad Monk's saga, seemed less insulting to the product. Merchandising was a must, after all, and show folk had to eat. And weren't horror hosts on late shows just as cheeky, some even interposing themselves onto action during movies shown? Difference it seemed to me was patronizing air toward Dracula, jasmine scent of irony over this and horrors to come. But I was clearly alone for my disdain, as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave did a best boxoffice for the series since Horror Of Dracula, proof to those with eyes that sarcasm did sell. I went to see Grave twice, put to unease by ads, but reassured by steady course the film took, Drac's dignity and stature at no time put in jeopardy.
I'm far from knocking Warners'
British merchandising for Dracula Has Risen From The Grave wouldn't kid around. In keeping with prior policy, they'd sell the shocker straight. Was Brit youth, ahead of us music-wise, behind a curve re screen horror? Censorship had been strict over there, "X" certificates keeping kids out of theatres playing rough stuff, and it hadn't been long since certain chillers were banned outright. Could monsters still inspire awe in the Isles? The Hammer films never sunk to lampoon ... sex, yes, and plenty of that because it paid heavy worldwide (She and One Million Years B.C. beat pants off Frankensteins and Draculas at the boxoffice). Dracula Has Risen From The Grave had sex, more than before, yet got a genteel "G" rating in the
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave may have lured them in with band-aids and laugh tags, but meal served was nutritious. In fact, this may have been the best of Hammer Draculas so far, at the least a big advance on what they'd done over a last couple of seasons. Christopher Lee was back in fangs, pleasingly so with dialogue, which hadn't been case since he did the part a decade before. Hammer bouts with evil called upon crosses and holy water, Baron Meinster in Brides Of Dracula dispatched with both in fact, but here was Godly role in vampire disposal for a Going My Way of chillers (or maybe Bells Of St. Mary's, considering the opening jolt). There is a strong and weak priest, one in Van Helsing mode, another debased to beck/call of Dracula. A stake to the heart is useless lest the wielder be true in his faith, Dracula with unerring eye to separate atheists from believers. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave makes sound argument for renewed church-going if not horror film attending.
So the silly ads served good purpose of bringing business to a show that deserved it, higher-than-average receipts a spur to further Dracventures (four more Hammers with Lee, each arguably a step down, though all with points of interest). Some of ad gags for Dracula Has Risen From The Grave were cute, others a little too cute. The band-aid made for an arresting image and maybe a best of the lot, but close-up of the fangs with "Who Can Brush After Every Meal?" was insult to intelligence of juves nationwide. Warners got out a door panel set of four as was case for Bonnie and