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

Monday, October 26, 2015

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' US campaign, it being brilliant as their send-off for Bonnie and Clyde, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Harper, Inside Daisy Clover, others I could name from the mid-60's forward (see the B&C chapter in Showmen, Sell It Hot!). WB surely had a young ad-pub crew on Dracula, the campaign wired to zeitgeist dissolve from camp to counterculture. You've Seen All This Stuff, So Let's Have Fun With It was essential message, and indeed, by 1968, vampire lore had been driven into youth consciousness like stakes to bloodsucker hearts, result of non-stop late shows, Drac movies too numerous to count, let alone see, and comics kidding the character all over series TV. Kids and certainly teenagers knew by now that staying hip meant mocking monsters, a slow-drip process since live spook shows began sending up the genre, then Abbott and Costello meeting one or another Universal fiend. Of actors doing horror, Vincent Price was wisest for recognizing, then riding, a wave of gentle, if not outright, parody.

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 US, that system only recently installed by time the film was released. DHRFTG seems rough to me for a G, lots of blood and open neck bites, but 1968 was ushering in a wild/wooly era where skies were limit and one-time Bray display of décolleté would plunge to nudity and "R" receipt of The Vampire Lovers and similar ilk within a few short years.

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 Clyde, each with same sort of jibe we'd seen on spook trading cards or mags like Monsters To Laugh With. Best of all was the panels being free to showmen. All was geared to put viewers above horror films they were going to see, that a real rock in my shoe at the time. Hindsight teaches that I should have relaxed and gone with the flow, enjoying fun with incoming ticket-buyers. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is just out from Warners with three other Hammer faves on Blu-Ray. They all look splendid.


Blogger Bill O said...

Credit Freddie Francis, working in a genre he reportedly loathed, for the great visuals - including the halo around Lee. Supposedly his DP used the same filters Francis had used in The Innocents.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was generally put down by "serious" fans who created fanzines for its approach however it had an enthusiasm they all lacked. Contemporary publications like RUE MORGUE, good as they are (and RUE MORGUE is excellent) still suffer from a major attitude problem that comes and always comes from preaching to the converted.

Hammer and AIP began by doing, consciously or unconsciously, everything right. Gradually they moved away from that. THE VAMPIRE LOVERS was the first straight filming of Le Fanu's CARMILLA. I was knocked out when I first saw it. Its two sequels exploited the nudity pf the first film in a way that weakened the films.

Storywise the writing got lazier and weaker. Guy Endore's THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS is a piece of first rate writing. The film made from it, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, is okay if you have not read the book but if we had then we knew at once how far from the mark it was.

I agree with you about the ads for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. These films have to be sold seriously or they fail. The "nudge, nudge, wink" attitude evident in them leads only to short term success while at the same time killing the golden goose. When AIP tried to create in Robert Quarry a star of the same rank as Vincent Price (so they could save money by not using Price) they showed how little they understood their medium. Similarily, when Universal and then others used major stars like Karloff and Lugosi as red herrings they robbed their stars of their power and we, the audience, of the fruit of our expectations. Today, of course, few are interested in the people whose names appeared in the credits over those of Karloff and Lugosi. Those names have more selling power than ever.

We go to any event not to have our expectations met but to have them surpassed. Hammer, by accident more than anything else, surpassed our expectations with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE HORROR OF DRACULA. They were never to do so again.

10:00 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I saw the Rasputin poster with a beard offer at the neighborhood theater. Thought it was hilarious because the movie itself was positioned as lurid adult fare. For years I remembered it as including a "mature audiences" line next to the hey-kids giveaway, but that turned out to be memory improving on reality.

Maybe the sarcastic ads were appealing to kids and former kids who knew it was horror, but armed themselves with attitude rather than admit they wanted to be scared by old-fashioned boogies. Buying a ticket to a horror movie with a smirk was like buying a Playboy and mentioning it had Norman Mailer in it.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

The first few years of the G rating were very instructive--usually full blooded (not to pun) movies with far more acceptable range than nowadays. Today a whiff of cigarette smoke or "comic peril" is enough to slam a movie with even a PG-13. Practically anything rated G back then would now qualify for PG and up for the most ridiculous reasons. Even the a 3D edition of the 1939 WIZARD OF OZ got a PG. At least the new Peanuts movie is rated G--purposely so in intent, which doesn't happen often in 2015. Anyway, that's my MPAA bit of history for the day!

10:02 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's fascinating stuff about changes in ratings treatment, Barry. I had no idea they were so strict, even to a point of a PG for "The Wizard Of Oz." Who could have foreseen such a thing in the late 60's?

5:04 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Why a "PG" for THE WIZARD OF OZ? Someone's taking their job way too seriously.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Call it part marketing; for the most undeserving of reasons the G rating has become mostly anathema, even for kid-oriented movies. OZ had been rated G for decades (even the original 2D version retains that rating on the Blu-ray box), but because it was re-released in a new 3D format it somehow needed a resubmission by the MPAA, who I guess deemed the flying monkeys scarier than before. Total piffle, I say.

Take a movie like the totally innocuous Best Picture, THE ARTIST--rated PG13, while a decade or two ago it would've been a G, easily. It's both marketing (with the MPAA all too willing an accomplice) and an also almost neurotic sensitivity about potentially controversial material. Or, as happens often, a single obscenity is dropped into a movie to get it out of the G category. So what we're left with is a ridiculously narrow scope for a G, and the PG now being its essential replacement. Note that any movie rated PG13 today would have been yesterday's ho-hum PG, so call it "ratings creep," as one writer once put it. Still, why should this matter? Only in that a movie that adheres to being pretty much clean (for lack of a better term) doesn't get much respect anymore.

Hey, let's still appreciate that GONE WITH THE WIND retains its G rating, despite a soldier getting shot in the face, plenty of smoking and Scarlett's shamelessly immoral behavior. It might get an R rating today if resubmitted in 3D. ;)

10:41 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great article (as usual) and some interesting comments! I might take exception to your assertion that Hammer never sunk to lampoon. In the seventies, the studio went in all sorts of different directions to stay relevant. 1970's HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is pretty much a tongue-in cheek one shot parody of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Ralph Bates as a self-conscious Doctor F. Interestingly, I think that one was sold in the U.S. as a straight forward horror job with poster art of the monster, David Prowse, played for chills. In the film, he's played for parody.

11:35 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

I was in high school when HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN came out and everyone who saw it thought it was a flat-out comedy. The disembodied hand flipping the bird was the part that seemed to make the biggest impression.

12:47 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

"Something began to corrode horror movies by the late 60's, or was it me being less enthralled by them?..."

I think part of what was going on is a change from "scary fun" in movies to things more truly horrifying. By the end of the 60s, things like Night of the Living Dead, Targets, The Witchfinder General, Rosemary's Baby had come out, and they made the Hammer and AIP offerings look a little tired. To keep gothics relevant (or at least maintain some of the "fun", the choices seemed to be sex it up (Twins of Evil, The Vampire Lovers) or camp it up (Phibes, Theater of Blood). Plus, there seemed to be plenty of horror flicks coming from independent producers or euro imports to fill out double (or triple) bills.

Hammer and AIP (and Amicus) were able to hang on, but they weren't leading the market anymore.

2:36 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

I have a serious question to ask: should the fangs be on the incisors or the canines?

1:02 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

ANYTHING but the placement used for fangs shown in Dracula's promotion (or maybe it's the guy wearing them). My own fangs bought several years earlier for fifty cents looked worlds better.

7:00 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Those are some funny lookin' choppers!

10:09 AM  

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
  • July 2024