Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

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 is HERE.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Thank you.

It always amazed me that Universal let this title go to Warner's. The CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN/HORROR OF DRACULA double bill should have, after their experience with the original FRANKENSTEIN/DRACULA double bill, been a Universal natural.

I first saw the film in a theater in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with a house full of kids who gave both films their undivided attention.

Never understood why Universal let the Hammer MUMMY go either.

For a studio that seemed for a long time to understand horror they showed an amazing lack of foresight regarding those titles.

The Hammers they did keep, with the exception of CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, are not in the same league.

Thanks for the "fangtastic" feast.

This is akin to their failure to properly use Karloff and Lugosi, often confining them to second stringer class in pictures where they clearly are the drawing names.

Somebody was not very astute.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

John, it's great to see someone setting down in print what every movie-crazy kid knew firsthand: making the best of distant TV signals and snowy reception. The Laurel & Hardy talkie shorts (which no Boston station had handled at all during the 1960s, if memory serves) started playing on a new UHF station in western Massachusetts. But I was in eastern Massachusetts, so they might as well have been broadcasting from the moon. My urgent need to see these movies was satisfied by my indulgent grandmother and her new, state-of-the-art console color set. Neither the set nor my grandmother ever let me down. And I agree with you that any recent DVD viewing pales in comparison to the thrill of first conquering the snowy signal!

2:21 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Amazing that in today's world of "digital everything," your antenna story of decades earlier remind me of the night three years ago when a DIRECTV "engineer" told me over the telephone (and Lord-only-knows in what part of the world he was) to go up on my roof and try to adjust my dish for a better 11:00 p.m. This would possibly eliminate the need of sending an "engineer" to my house. (I was already paying a monthly "service" fee.) When I told him he was "nuts," he reluctantly agreed to send their man to check the problem. He was scheduled to arrive NINE days later. The next morning, my twelve-year relationship with DIRECTV ended and by the end of the same day, I was an HD cable subscriber, of which I remain.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I still remember the night in the 1950's we got THE LONE RANGER on our regular TV with antenna in Chipman, New Brunswick, Canada from a station in Texas.

I got curiouser and curiouser abut THE THING THAT COULD NOT DIE (which I have never seen). Located a copy on the web. Finally saw MACABRE for the first time this week thanks to Warner archive. That was a big let down.

That is one movie where the ad campaign is definitely better by far than the picture.

9:47 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Just heard from Griff regarding HoD and the Mayfair Theatre --- check out the banner for attachments he generously included ...

Dear John:

Since there's been talk in the HORROR OF DRACULA threads about the Mayfair, the Times Square house in which Universal booked the picture's U.S. premiere, I was wondering whether you'd uncovered any publicity images of how the theatre's distinctive exterior might have been decorated to exploit the occasion. The Mayfair -- in a tradition that extended to its later incarnation as the DeMille -- had a gigantic billboard that wrapped around the 47th Street and Seventh Avenue sides of the theatre for many stories; you knew that the current booking was truly significant if this billboard was elaborately decked out (see attached images of the Mayfair when it ran UNDERWATER and APACHE*). No matter how lackluster the campaign design for HoD, I'd love to see what it might have looked like stretched ten stories high.

A few years after HORROR OF DRACULA, the Mayfair was renamed the DeMille; you can see extensive shots of the exterior of the house in the fascinating little exhibitor reel Paramount and Hitchcock produced to help persuade theatre operators to get behind the unusual admissions policy they wanted to enforce on PSYCHO, included on the picture's recent special editions. The DeMille was later turned into a triplex and renamed the Embassy; it closed in the late '90s. To my knowledge, it remains the only classic Times Square movie house that has not actually been either demolished or remodeled beyond reclamation; it's simply an empty, deteriorating theatre. I used to walk by it and dream that someone might restore it. New York needs at least one good-sized picture house -- Radio City and the Beacon are obviously no longer movie theatres.

A note here: your scholarship on FLYING DOWN TO RIO, George Arliss, BIRD OF PARADISE and other essential cinema issues has been sterling and stirring; this is no less of interest to me than material on these things that go bump in the night. Keep it coming.

-- Griff

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Marc H said...

Every time someone complains in a DVD forum because a frame at 26:34 has a scratch on it, or there isnt enough supplemetary material on the DVD, or they KNOW the color looked different when they saw such-and-such in 1943...I think about how we used to watch movies through a layer of snow, with a thousand commercials, edited for time, and sometimes even with the opening credits lopped off.

Yet with all that...there was indeed an Indy-Jones-like thrill to find these movies on TV...especially if it was late at night. I learned to appreciate them--who knows when (or if) it would ever be shown again?!

We are truly living in great times...when we can see these movies whenever we want, and aren't at the mercy of a piece of aluminum foil strategically held over rabbit ears.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Et tu, Johnny? From one avowed "Hammer-Head" to another, your two-part HORROR OF DRACULA posts were real bell ringers for me and I'm sure many others of similar persuasion. I had read about HoD and seen stock stills in Famous Monsters and CoF and Monster Mania, et al, and by the time I was twelve I was slathering to see this production from the House of Hammer--"The Studio That Dripped Blood". I'm sure that back in the early Sixties Colonel Forehand at the Liberty Theater had wondered what that fat little boy that kept pestering him wanted, always asking: "Mister Kernel 4-Hand, er, uh, when are you gonna be showin' that there "Haw-ruh of Drackler" movie?" The Colonel would just frown at me, puzzled. So, just like you, I had to wait until HoD showed up in the dreadful format of Dr. Paul Bearer's SHOCK THEATER. Who can forget the Orwellian retro "steam punk" days of tenna-rotors, safe-cracking fine tuning, and jackfrosted analog t.v. non-reception? Hey, look, in '67 I tried to watch HORROR that night on Channel 8, but in addition to 70 miles of geographic dislocastion, I had to contend with interference from a goddamn 100-foot water tower blocking the signal's transmission--ON A BLACK & WHITE TELEVISION! After being baited for half my childhood by the prospect of at last seeing this moody, discreetly-bloodied masterpiece of workman-like British resolve (as alway, produced in the face of tight budget constraints), I was not disappointed by the experience of watching Lee and Cushing (and the rest of the Bray repertory)going at it fang-to-crucifix, however pixelated it might be by driving sleets of shady grays and crunchy static. Lee's robust performance as the Count was an excellent counterpoint to Lugosi's: hot, animalistic sexuality versus a grandfathery Old World creepiness. I saw HORROR OF DRACULA--though it was through a glass darkly...

12:00 AM  
Blogger Linwood said...

John, thanks for bringing back memories of my attempts to watch the all night horror marathons on a fuzzy UHF channel, in my Princeton, NC home, between 1969 & 1970. As I was only 9 at the time, I rarely made it past 2 AM, but no viewing experience since then has matched the thrill of catching the Universal horror catalog for the first time. I was also lucky enough to catch Dr. Paul Bearer in both Fayetteville, NC and Tampa, FL. I used to marvel at his make-up, since he didn't look nearly as horrible when he was Dick Bennick.

3:31 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are the most loved actors in my life, I have loved all there films being horror or thrillers etc, I have some with Christopher in the film but then they spoils the films but dubbing his voice to me that is a insault after all Christopher would agree with me its was not necessary to do that. R I P Christopher and Peter until we meet again.

8:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024
  • June 2024