The Saturday Matinée ~ "Horror of Dracula"
Please see a spoiler alert and the design and intent of these "The Saturday Matinée" film recommendations at ~ "The Saturday Matinee ~ a preview".
Peter Cushing wore the clothes and handled the paraphernalia of Victorian England more naturally than anyone in film - whether in a laboratory, a medical facility, or his study, Cushing looked like he belonged there and had expertise with every device and tool he used.
When I was 10 years old and sitting in the Penway Theater's Saturday matinée, nothing had me more on the edge of my seat (literally) than the previews . . . these were not 'trailers', they were not promotions of the next batch of movies soon to be available - these were 'previews of coming attractions', they were sneak peeks at what this very theater was going to show next Saturday afternoon. Is it going to be space ships & aliens, laboratories & mutants, or will it be Jerry Lewis or Godzilla, maybe Hercules, or perhaps . . .
In the previous "Saturday Matinée" recommendation we talked about Ray Harryhausen's masterpiece "Mysterious Island" . . . few previews of coming attractions, actually, I will say that no preview of coming attractions provided more enthusiastic anticipation during the week than seeing Ray Harryhausen's name on the screen. But today we look at a name that was right up there with Ray Harryhausen's - Hammer Films.
In the late 1950's the Hammer Films studio of England began to remake the old Universal Studios monster movies. In the 1920's Universal Studios produced both Lon Chaney silent classics "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Phantom of the Opera", then in the 1930's, when talking pictures changed everything including every studio's stable of stars, Universal built the great pantheon of monsters that everyone recognizes to this day as the classic movie monsters of all time - Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, and even on through the 1950's adding the Creature from the Black Lagoon & the Mole People, along with over-sized tarantulas & mantises, etc.
stripped of the charm of his hereditary station and hissing predatory creature sounds - Lee created an new kind of vampire.
But in the late 1940's and early 1950's Universal began to mock and parody their own glorious creations . . . "The Mummy's Curse" and "The Bride Of Frankenstein" turned into "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein". But in 1958 Hammer Films not only resurrected these legendary screen monsters, they gave them the respectable treatment they deserved. From their set technicians and costume department to their screenwriters and directors, and, for all of us sitting in the Saturday matinées, most of all their actors, Hammer studios made the "Lawrence Of Arabia"s of monster movies, they produced Frankenstein and Dracula movies like they were Shakespeare's finest works . . . and filming these classic monsters in color for the first time, Hammer even gave the world a whole new color - Hammer red.
From the very opening scene, not even the opening scene but the end of the opening credits with it's forebodingly ponderous, plodding theme, when the camera closes in on a casket and the name "Dracula" gets splattered with Hammer red blood, you know Abbott and Costello won't be meeting anyone in this movie - this is serious. Bela Lugosi's Dracula was a distinguished, urbane host, and a vampire - Christopher Lee's Dracula in the "Horror Of Dracula" was a distinguished, urbane host, and a deliriously raging beast lunging to attack in an inextinguishable fury when the fever of blood-lust was upon him. Dracula never looked like this before. When we first meet Lee's Dracula, he stands an ominous, dark figure . . . but as he approaches his guest we see the warm bearing of an old world European nobleman. The first time we see Lee's Count suddenly appear stripped of the charm of his hereditary station and hissing predatory creature sounds we know this is not going to be an hour and a half of shadowy figures we think we saw and leaping cats stealing what we thought was going to be a genuine monster confrontation - this is going to be a bold face-to-face with the monster horror movie.
And for 'face-to-face', Dracula needs an opponent, the movie needs a good guy, and we need the hero. It may seem an odd choice to some, but I count Peter Cushing's Dr.Van Helsing as one of the all time great screen heroes. It's Dracula's name in the title, and Christopher Lee is the best screen vampire ever - but Peter Cushing steals the show. He portrays a selfless devotion to stopping what is evil, a valiant leaping to rescue others, and a deliberate, brilliant, and authoritative resolve to doing his work . . . and his work - hunting down and killing Dracula and ending his cult of the living dead.
As this film produced many sequels, one of the highlights of each installment became; how is Van Helsing going to kill Dracula and how is Dracula going to come back from that death for the next film. Stakes in the heart, garlic, crosses, running water, sunlight, etc, were all employed, and at the hands of Van Helsing Dracula died one cool death after another - but, none could beat this first one . . . the last 5 minutes or so, the climatic end of this movie, is one of the great finales of all Saturday matinée history.
Now, eventually, I suppose in the early 1970ish era, Hammer Films relied less and less on the impressive sets & costumes and the stunning performances of their great stars, and more and more on the cleavage and finally the bare breasts of Dracula's victims - you can't just pick-up any Hammer Studios horror movie and enjoy a great family monster-movie late show. But this one, "Horror Of Dracula", and the first several years of Hammer's remaking of the old Universal classics, is exactly that, a great family monster-movie late show.
We'll look at a few of the other best choices among the inspired Hammer Films horror masterpieces in the weeks to come - please check back and please do share your comments or questions below.
This is the second in my series of "The Saturday Matinée" movie recommendations. . . please check-out these other entries in the series.
"The Saturday Matinée ~ preview" (an introduction to this movie review series)
1. The Saturday Matinée ~ "Mysterious Island"
2. The Saturday Matinée ~ "Horror Of Dracula"
3. The Saturday Matinée ~ "This Island Earth"
please also visit my other series "Regular, Normal Christianity"
Please do share any comments or questions below ~