Monday, October 20, 2014


Challenge Totals to Date:

Movies Watched Today: 8
Total Movies Watched: 45
Total First Time Views: 10
Amount raised: $324.00

Today's showcased SCARE-A-THON Charity: 

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS, sponsored by Kevin Theis and Siri Buurma

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The Brides of Dracula (1960) d. Fisher, Terence (UK) (3rd viewing) 85 min

More explicit than its predecessor in terms of the vampire’s sexual allure and, ahem, potency of his bite, this Christopher Lee-free installment features a brand new vampire threat for Peter Cushing’s intrepid Van Helsing, that of Baron Meinster (David Peel). Chained up by his aristocratic mother (Martita Hunt), the dashing villain is loosed from his bonds by a comely young schoolteacher (Yvonne Monlaur, ridiculously full lips, cat eyes, and oh-so-fetching French accent compensating somewhat for her vacant thesping) and soon the countryside is crawling with fetching fanged femmes (Andree Melly and Marie Devereux). In addition, there are some delicious supporting turns, including Michael Ripper’s fevered coachman, Miles Malleson’s eccentric physician, and Freda Jackson as Peel’s crony familiar. Directed with skill and panache by Fisher, Brides is deserving of more attention than many of the later sequels; it’s probably the second-best Dracula film Hammer ever produced during its long reign, filled with action, surprises, and a wingding windmill climax showcasing Van Helsing’s ingenuity and athleticism.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) d. Fisher, Terence (UK) (4th viewing) 90 min

Following the triumph of Horror of Dracula, Lee avoided donning the fangs again for fear of typecasting (witness Bela Lugosi). He was eventually lured back into the cowl eight years (and a pile of cash) later for this rather predictable tale of two vacationing English couples who wander into the Count’s almost-but-not-quite deserted castle in search of a good stake dinner. Andrew Kier’s gruff Father Sandor respectably takes up the vampire hunting duties in place of the absent Cushing, and Barbara Shelley’s vivid character arc from priggish prude to prowling predator is a distinct highlight. However, Lee’s dialogue was reputedly so clumsy that he refused to utter a word of it, reducing his performance to a series of hisses, stares, and gestures. Even so, his substantial screen presence resonated with audiences, the film was another gigantic hit, and he eventually returned to the role four more times under the Hammer banner.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) d. Francis, Freddie (UK) (3rd viewing) 92 min

Though Hammer had churned out several sequels and spin-offs over the previous 10 years, there was no denying the Count’s marquee value. Lee’s third go-round as the big D occasionally paints by numbers, but still manages to inject some fresh ideas into the mix. A direct follow-up to Prince of Darkness, Lee is revived from beneath icy waters by a rivulet of blood dripping from a priest’s cut forehead; finding his castle sanctified, he sets out to make life Hell for resident Monsignor Mueller (Rupert Davies), his niece Maria (Veronica Carlson), and her atheist sweetheart Paul (Barry Andrews). Screenwriter Anthony Hinds (as “John Elder”) plays fast and loose with the legend, which allows for some surprising moments (such as when Lee is staked. . .and pulls the sucker out!) The appealing cast and Francis’ fleet-footed direction make this an enjoyable Gothic programmer, and the last cohesive Hammer Dracula pic.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) d. Sasdy, Peter (UK) (3rd viewing) 91 min

For Lee, 1970 was The Year of The Cape – hard upon completing Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (complete with mustache, as per Stoker’s novel), he was coerced into yet another installment of Hammer’s long running series. Due to the star’s increasing reluctance (and salary demands), Hammer exec Anthony Hinds had scripted a Dracula film without Dracula, planning to have Ralph Bates take over as the Count’s dark disciple. When Warner Bros. refused to back the film without him, Lee submitted to the cowl once again. Even so, the character operates very much on the periphery, the “sins of the fathers visited upon their children, then visited back on the parents” theme providing the narrative thrust. The subversive acts of comely youth Linda Hayden, Isla Blair, and Martin Jarvis doing in dads Geoffrey Keen, Peter Sallis, and John Carson (as Lee performs a superfluous countdown: “The first... The second... The third...") eventually culminate in the zaniest finale of the entire franchise. But wait, there’s more...


Scars of Dracula (1970) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK) (3rd viewing) 96 min

Lee wrapped up his exceedingly busy year (10 films!) with yet another toothy offering, this time revived by - wait for it - a vampire bat puking up blood onto the ashes left at the conclusion of Taste. (Yep, never a dull moment in Hammerland.) As if they knew the well was running dry, Hinds and director Baker start seemingly throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks. Insane swarm of rubber vampire bats attacking parishioners? Check. Flimsy sets visibly shaking as villagers trundle through? Check. Dracula scaling castle walls like a spider, whipping the hell out of servant Patrick Troughton, and stabbing Anouska Hempel with a rubber knife? Check, check, and booiing! For sheer exploitation goodness, Scars is never boring, but even as the Count bursts into lightning-borne flame in the final reel, it was clear the main vein was running dry.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) d. Gibson, Alan (UK) (3rd viewing) 96 min

Taking a cue from Bob Kelljan’s modern-setting vampire smash, Count Yorga - Vampire, Hammer sought to enliven their foundering flagship by bringing everyone’s favorite bloodsucker into the present day. Further shoring up marquee value, Cushing was persuaded to return as Van Helsing, granting fans a chance to see the old rivals square off again. Despite oft-heard groans about the mod nubiles’ grating “hip” dialogue and the fact that vampire lore is again transmogrified to suit the occasion (silver for vampires?), there’s still plenty for aficionados to enjoy. Cases in point: the delicious Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame’s underrated “Johnny Alucard,” Lee and Cushing’s breathtaking prologue sequence, Stoneground’s awesome musical stylings... (Okay, okay, I kid, I kid.) Neither unmitigated disaster nor unqualified success, A.D. 1972 is an apt metaphor for Hammer at the time – a once-powerful giant trying to adapt in a strange new world.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride) (1973) d. Gibson, Alan (UK) (3rd viewing) 87 min

Lee’s final fanged appearance for Hammer goes much, much further into the bonkers-verse than any Dracula effort ever dreamed before. Picking up two years after the events of the previous film, Cushing’s Van Helsing character learns that a mysterious organization (run by a Howard Hughes-type billionaire) is designing a virus to wipe out humanity in toto. It’s no surprise to learn the hermit-like mogul is Dracula (played by guess who) – what is surprising is how much the audience is just expected to go along with Don Houghton’s breakneck narrative. Where did Dracula get all those sheepskin vest-wearing, motorcycle-riding henchman? Where’d his infinite wealth come from? How’d he come back from the grave in the first place? Why’s he trying to wipe out his food source? It’s best not to get caught up looking for logic and just enjoy the pairing of these two titans of terror who, in spite of the insanity and inanity, are game as ever, determined to ride this bus to its thorny end.

Dracula (1979) d. Badham, John (USA) (3rd viewing) 109 min

Following a long weekend in Hammerland, I was obliged to honor the femalien’s request to revisit her favorite childhood Count, and it’s not hard to understand why. Fresh off his Broadway triumph in the role, a young and handsome Frank Langella smirks and smolders his way into the hearts of heroines Jan Francis and Kate Nelligan, leaving the former bitten and drained, the latter smitten and stained with his tainted blood. Donald Pleasance provides a busy and eccentric turn as Dr. Seward, head of the local loony bin, while Laurence Olivier lends estimable gravitas as an aging but feisty Van Helsing, wrestling with undead demons and an unplaceable European accent (Dutch? Swiss? German?) with equal fervor. Dismissed during its original release as lacking in horror elements – and I’m sure the laser beam-accented love scene between Nelligan and Langella didn’t do them any favors – this is decidedly more romantic thriller than monster movie. That said, it’s exquisitely realized with superb production values, and though I could have done without the final bat-kite mo-mo, it’s a more-than-worthy entry in the undead nobleman’s cinematic legacy.

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