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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Greenbriar Horror Of Dracula Week --- Part One

Like Jonathan Harker with his diary, I want to get all this down while there are daylight hours and memory maintains. First comes need to confess imposter status discussing Horror of Dracula without ever having seen it theatrically, a believe me great regret despite childhood/adolescent effort spent toward that frustrated goal. Here I'll go again on how lucky viewers are today. Click on Amazon, stream the thing, borrow from a friend, and Horror Of Dracula is yours, along with everything else extant. Was fruit the sweeter then for having to climb so high to pick it? I'd refer you to a photo-telling of both Curse Of Frankenstein and Horror Of Dracula (above) published by Jim Warren in March 1965, two Hammer grails shown and re-shown everywhere but the Liberty ... Warren's black-and-white frame blow-ups a poor substitute for blood-color these were noted for, but a best you'd do along with gum cards and whatever Ackerman/Beck put between (or on) covers of respective monster monthlies. Knowing it had come out in 1958, an impossibly long reach across time when you're ten, made Horror Of Dracula seem all the more unlikely a hope to be realized. Maybe I'd just have to go a life not seeing it and make best of that ...

Universal had done a one-picture deal with Seven Arts and Hammer for Dracula with color and sleek scares in line with 1957's Curse Of Frankenstein. The fangs-ter show was shot in a UK winter of '57 and turned over to domestic-distributing U-I for school's out 1958, Universal having rushed in-house companion, The Thing That Couldn't Die, a black-and-white passenger more likely to raise shudders from boredom than fright, its existence justified by need of something on bills with Dracula. Trade ads began in March, well ahead of later in Spring opening. U-I's optimism was evident in mid-May announcement of an expanded deal with Seven Arts/Hammer for a multiple-picture distribution pact, as reported by Variety, including a sequel to not-yet-released Horror Of Dracula, the pic re-named to differentiate same from oldies on TV and Drac-glut filling theatres over a past season. Confusion with these would result in Horror Of Dracula going out minus a crucial Production Code Administration seal (U-I's first to do so), that snafu occurring due to earlier registration by independent Gramercy Pictures of their Return Of Dracula and the PCA's Title Bureau not having yet given clearance. Did such confusion alert Universal to importance of separating their deluxe Dracula from chaff offered by rivals?

U Swarms Over Field, said Variety of the company's move on behalf of three for summer selling. These were A Time to Love and A Time to Die, This Happy Feeling, and the Horror Of Dracula/The Thing That Couldn't Die package. Ten field reps would cover eighteen openings for the chiller duo, including New York's Mayfair Theatre set for midnight, May 28, with stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to appear and sign autographs a following day. Hammer head (did that come out right?) James Carreras accompanied the two as guests at a Uni headquarters luncheon held the 27th, press and columnists on hand to greet UK visitors. I found but a pair of images (both above) from that august meet, but can imagine cheer among this group only hours away from Horror Of Dracula's epochal Mayfair bow. Christopher Lee was presented with a surprise birthday cake, icing of appropriate blood-dripping variety. Expressions here are priceless ... Cushing nonplussed as expansive Chris plunges a knife into the pastry, the post-dining cigar suggestive of a man well pleased by America's embrace of his Dracula. If ever I were to meet Sir Christopher, this luncheon would be first item on my asking agenda.

James Carreras had reason to go proud. His Hammer firm had contributed seven out of sixty-three features made in England during 1957, few among total scoring like his Curse of Frankenstein or generating buzz to equal Dracula's. There were already US distribution deals with Columbia and United Artists for Hammer product, Carreras putting trade press on notice that his next would be Frankenstein Created Woman for Universal release, plus a new Hound Of The Baskervilles. He reveled in "top-notch production values" Hammer films boasted, adding that horror cheapies won't last and would garner unintended laughs. This wasn't to say Carreras was stuck on chiller subjects, being ready enough to shift production elsewhere once interest lagged in genre pics. I'm prepared to make Strauss waltzes tomorrow if they'll make money, said he to Variety. What the producer wanted was deals with US companies and access thus provided to worldwide markets American product reached. There is no British distributor who can match it, Carreras concluded. He was pleased enough cooperating with Universal in bringing Cushing and Lee to raise awareness of the Hammer brand, though Universal's advertising on Horror Of Dracula missed targets Carreras aimed for and hit back in England, namely sex lure exemplified in this newest Dracula. Emphasis on graveyards and bats Universal used to sell the film was outmoded and wide of erotic potential HoD offered, patrons hard put getting past notion this was just another monster movie.

Here are Horror Of Dracula Parts Two and Three.


Blogger Dave K said...

Great post... how I remember (and loved) that Warren ink on paper double feature. I had just started catching Hammer Films in the theater (always had to talk a semi-interested buddy or sibling into accompanying me on the long trek to the nearest grindhouse). Think EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN billed with NIGHTMARE, seen on my 13th birthday, may have been my first. Then a 'respectable' theater four towns away had a one shot Saturday matinee resurrecting both CURSE and HORROR sometime in the mid-sixties. No car, no license... did a lot of horse trading to get a pal to taxi me me in. No big horror fan, he did allow that both films were pretty good although "that monster was kinda crappy looking." I thought everything was wonderful, even Phil Leaky's make-up job. A favorite memory. Revisited both movies on Netflix recently... both still hold up. Oh, and I still stay in touch with the buddy too. Out of the blue, he was kidding me just the other day "Remember those old blood n' boobs Hammer horror movies. God, you loved 'em as a kid!"

4:00 PM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Horror of Dracula at a revival showing in Cambridge, MA, at the famed Brattle Theater. Neither the space, nor the screen, was particularly large, but the print was decent, and the experience of watching one of my favorite films with an enthusiastic audience (many of whom, it seems, were seeing it for the first time) was revelatory. Many in the audience appeared to be prepared to snicker their way through a campy old relic, and there was actually some laughter during during the more melodramatic early scenes, such as Dracula's attack on Harker and the vampire woman in the library. That nonsense soon ended as the film exuded its mesmerizing power; as the dust from the Count's decayed hand blew away under the closing credits, the audience rose and gave the film a standing ovation.

From an aesthetic point of view, I think I would most appreciate seeing Horror's sequel, Dracula Prince of Darkness, on the big screen. It's the only Hammer Dracula shot in 2.35 scope, and Michael Reed's masterly cinematography nearly equals the hallucinatory beauty of Jack Asher's work on the early Hammer Horrors. The print used for Anchor Bay's old DVD release was faded and disappointing, but I once caught a showing of Prince on TV (TCM?) that was jaw-droppingly beautiful, and stunning in its vivid immediacy, so I know pristine elements are out there.

I grew up in Massachusetts, and Boston was a great town for film geeks. As a teenager I saw most of Orson Welles' films on the big screen; I once sat for 48 hours straight watching Russ Meyer's oeuvre; and I was lucky to catch a number of uncut Hammer films including the Karnstein Trilogy, The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Captain Kronos.

4:34 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

John, what I'd like to know is: WHEN will we be seeing a blu-ray release of the recent restoration of this film done in England and shown under it's original title: "Dracula" (in the fancy scroll-lettering) I thought that, by now, a British company would have done this. "Dracula" is probably Hammer's crowning achievement and a blu-ray of this film should REALLY be forthcoming.....

James (Brad)

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really brought back memories of my youth with your excellent post on "Horror of Dracula". I was 12 years old in early summer of 1958 when my dad asked me if I would like to go to New York City with him for the day. I was very excited at the prospect because he rarely went into the city anymore and he never took me with him before.

After having lunch at the Horn and Hardart's Cafeteria right on Times Square (aka the Automat where the food was placed behind glass doors which were coin operated), Dad asked me if I would like to see a movie. I said that I would like it very much but had no idea what was playing. He said that all we needed to do was go outside and walk up and down the street and we would have a dozen different choices. Sure enough, as soon as we left the Automat, there were at least six or seven theatres within view.

Without taking a step, I eagerly scanned the marquees for something cool and there it was! "Horror of Dracula" starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I didn't know anything about the movie, nor had I ever heard of the actors who were starring, but I just knew I had to see it. Much to my surprise, my father agreed to take me. What a magical, yet terrifying experience that movie was for this 12 year old boy. Now that was a real, honest to goodness horror movie, the likes of which I had never seen before and the likes of which I may never see again.

Thanks, Dad, wherever you are!!

PS I don't remember the name of the theatre. Could it have been the Mayfair?

10:32 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...


October 1-4, 1958 - CENTER Theatre - played with THE THING THAT COULDN'T DIE

December 31, 1958-January 1, 1959 - SALISBURY DRIVE-IN Theatre

June 21-23, 1959 - 601 DRIVE-IN Theatre - played with TEENAGE REBEL


October 20-22, 1960 - JOE'S DRIVE-IN Theatre - played with GIRLS ON THE LOOSE

April 20-22, 1962 - JOE'S DRIVE-IN Theatre - played with BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE and THE MUMMY (1959)

May 1-2, 1971 - 601 DRIVE-IN Theatre - played with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and MY SON, THE VAMPIRE

10:57 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I'll be the odd man out here and admit that I was never a fan of the Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein films (I grew up with them on TV and never had a big screen experience with them 'til seeing Horror of Dracula at Eastman House--didn't change my mind).

I think what bugs me most about them is that for all the talk of "production values," it always felt to me like the sets had just been built, the costumes just sewn, and the blood obviously artificial--everything was fake and the characters just play acting. (Plus, I don't like Chris Lee, which is probably why I can enjoy Brides of Dracula and some of the later hemo-sapphic Hammers).

I'm a big fan of Amicus, though.

12:47 PM  
Blogger J. Theakston said...

A couple of years ago for the 50th anniversary of the NY Open, I ran both HORROR OF DRAC and THING THAT COULDN'T DIE as a double feature. I have to say that the latter is quite downplayed—not a bad little flick on the big screen, really, and one of two feature credit for Will Cowan, who was head of Universal's musical short department for years.

One thing that struck me on a recent viewing of the film is how simple but effective Jack Asher's lighting is in the film. Check out the scene where Harker reads the note left behind by Drac serving him dinner and check out the deliberate set-up of Fresnel light reflections (and the color gels he's using) in the reflection of the silver serving cover.

Asher's first color film was THE SECRET, a pretty good Brit suspense film directed by Cy Endfield. A friend of mine had a print of it, but apparently when it was released in America, it was only shown in Black & White. I would love to see it in color some day.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

James: Horror of Dracula, along with Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy, has come up more than once over the past several years in the online "chats" Warner Home Video occasionally does. There's always an upgrade to all three titles coming sometime in the future, but that future never seems to get here.

I remember there being a lot of complaints that Horror of Dracula was framed at the incorrect ratio on DVD, resulting in material being cut off at the top and bottom of the frame.

John: Is The Thing That Couldn't Die the one about a family living on a ranch in the American southwest who is tormented by the severed, but still living, head of a three hundred years dead warlock? I remember seeing that one on television years ago, but don't remember much at all about it.

7:35 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Frank, the Mayfair Theatre was located on Times Square, according to information I found, so you may well have seen "Horror Of Dracula" there, which must have been a great day ... and imagine lunch at the automat beforehand ... could life get any better?

Michael, your description sounds like "The Thing That Couldn't Die" that I saw, but it's been years ...

Mike, if I'd known about that show at the 601 Drive-In in 1971, I'd have driven down.

Jack, that's so neat your running the original double bill of HoD and TTWD. Inspired programming!

MDG, I would also say "Brides Of Dracula" is my all-time favorite Hammer, partly because it's one I DID see in the theatre ... on two happy occasions.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I'd love it if they'd release a legit proper looking dvd of The Thing That Couldn't Die.Having watched it again recently,theres much more than meets the eye in the character and atmosphere dept.than those sunday afternnoon tv showing eons ago..
I think my memories of seeing Hammer horror(the early ones mainly) for the first time in theatres and tv are more than what I think of them now.As mentioned above about things looking too new..everything pretty basic,little if any dramatic lighting,everything too stark..I also find Amicus a little more to my liking..and the Mario Bava's bringing more colorful bang for your Buck..

2:13 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

"May 1-2, 1971 - 601 DRIVE-IN Theatre - played with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and MY SON, THE VAMPIRE"

"Mike, if I'd known about that show at the 601 Drive-In in 1971, I'd have driven down."

I missed it as well. I didn't move here until the very next month.

9:07 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I should have mentioned that The Thing That Wouldn't Die used to be one of my favorites when it would show up on Creature Features.

It might also be my favorite MST3K (viewable on YouTube)

11:09 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I saw HORROR OF DRACULA at my local sub-run, weekends-only theatre in 1961. My friend Steve and I went to the Saturday afternoon double-feature. HORROR was supposed to lead off, but either the theatre screwed up or the newspaper listings were wrong. So, as we eagerly anticipated some Dracula action, what should flash on the screen but CHARTREUSE CABOOSE starring Miss Molly Bee? We groaned, but sat through it.
Finally the real thing arrived, but I was pretty far gone with anticipatory fear. When the camera moved in on the "Dracula" name on the crypt, my heart was pounding dangerously. When the blood started to drip, I was done. I told Steve I had to go, my mom would be worried. He begged me to stay because he wasn't allowed to stay by himself. But I was just too scared and we left.
By the next day, I had recovered and was determined to not be defeated by a little movie blood. I went back to the LeRose Theatre all alone (sorry, Steve) and, yes, sat through CHARTREUSE CABOOSE again. But this time I toughed it out and watched HORROR OF DRACULA. And I am so so glad I did. It's a childhood memory that remains burned in my brain--in a really good way.
Thanks for the terrific post on a great movie.

12:13 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Draculas come and go, Rick, but there's only ONE Molly Bee.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John-- a couple years ago some book came out with a title like "10 Films That Were Released At The Wrong Time"-- something like that-- the thesis being, the films in question were a bit too early, a bit too late, or just misfired at the box office for unaccountable reasons. And I remember reading that the author classified HORROR OF DRACULA in there-- "...too bad it didn't do as well as it should," that tone of stuff. Now, I've never heard of HOD doing anything but boffo, as your first two-thirds of your report relates. Comments? -- Ted Newsom

3:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Ted, that's a good point I've thought a lot about.

It seems to me that HoD would have done a lot better in a less crowded summer, competing as it was with so many scare shows and even another Dracula (Return Of ...). I also agree with James Carreras that HoD was sold wrong, as U-I went with a standard chiller campaign instead of emphasizing the sex angle more. I was always a little disappointed with paper/ads they generated for this show that deserved better.

HoD did boffo alright ... for a horror movie ... a million in domestic rentals was not to be sneezed at ... but "Macabre" actually did better according to figures I've seen, which in hindsight, and judging by qualities of both, seems insane.

6:45 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

This book: a good, if somewhat dry study of how horror movies were marketed in the 50s and 60s and has, I think, a whole chapter on the first Hammers

9:16 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Agreed, MDG. I read that book and liked it a lot.

10:05 AM  

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