Hammer Chooseday #11: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) 5/5

This was Lee’s eighth and final outing as the vampire Count, and the third pairing with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (along with Dracula in 1958, and Dracula A.D 72 in, funnily enough, 1972). It was also the very last Hammer film that would feature both of those great friends.

A minute’s silence, please.

My wife: please stop rolling your eyes.

The film’s working title was Dracula is Dead . . . and Well and Living in London. 

Christopher Lee wasn’t amused: “I’m doing it under protest . . . I think it’s fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives-fatuous, pointless, absurd. It’s not a comedy, but it’s got a comic title. I don’t see the point.”

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Eschewing the usual gothic setting, as was done in the previous Dracula film also, for Twentieth-Century London, this has the feel of a modern (for the time) thriller, complete with appropriate soundtrack. There are snipers on motorcycles, donning leather, fur parkas and 1970’s porn tashes.

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No, I wasn’t in CHIPS.

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I know-women chained up in the cellar. I can say from experience: it’s  a drag.

A research establishment and real estate business serves as a front for a satanic cult, headed by Dracula, which is developing a deadly strain of the plague to unleash upon mankind, at midnight on the feast of the sabbath of the undead. Suppose it sounded better than doing it on Pancake Tuesday.

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Lee as always, is iconic as Dracula, although in this film he doesn’t appear until thirty minutes in. At one point, with a flourish of his hands, he makes candles burst into life like a stage magician.

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And now for my ‘sawing a woman in half’ trick, Hammer style-best fetch a mop and bucket.

As his plans come to light, Van Helsing wonders why Dracula is attempting to destroy his only food source-does he harbour a subconscious desire to end his own torment?

This is a great twist, but unfortunately we don’t learn the truth of this, as, in the finale, Van Helsing’s granddaughter, played by Joanna Lumley, is rescued from the vampire’s clutches, and fire engulfs the only person stricken with the plague.

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Joanna Lumley: I should have stayed on the catwalk.

? playing ? : I should have stayed as a traffic cop.

Michael Coles, playing Inspector Murray: I should have stayed in the traffic division.

Dracula, in his endless pursuit of Van Helsing, becomes entangled and sliced in hawthorn, and is then dispatched by a fence post used as a stake.

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A (vampire) rose (from the dead) among thorns. No? I tried.

For the final time, we see Lee’s Dracula destroyed by Cushing’s Van Helsing. As the vampire wastes away, his destroyer picks up the only thing left: his ring. Perhaps paving the way for a further film that didn’t come? Regrets, I’ve had a few.

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Van Helsing goes into battle armed with a crucifix, silver bullets and a sticking plaster.

I loved this one, an imaginative twist on the Dracula franchise that felt like a thriller, with Dracula coming over as part vampire and part Bond villain. Perhaps it served as the perfect training vehicle for Lee’s future Scaramanga role.

Okay, my good wife, the film is over-here’s the remote. What’s going on in Emmerdale?

Hammer Chooseday #10: Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) 5/5

Peter Cushing reprises his role of the Baron, in this film going down the metaphysical road of soul transferral. He puts the soul of a wrongly executed man into the body of the woman that the man loved. Maybe not exactly the fantasy of her beloved, but close enough.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

The producer summarised the story: “This time Frankenstein creates a beautiful girl from one who has been ugly. Only something goes wrong. She goes around chopping people’s heads off with an axe.”

There’s always a glitch, but nothing that can’t be ironed out.

Susan Denberg plays Christina, a disfigured girl who is also paralysed down her left side. When a trio of arrogant dandies (I can’t believe I called them dandies) pay a visit to her father’s bar, they mock her, angering Hans, who gets in a fight with them. Later, without witnesses, they kill her father, and Hans is arrested for his murder. Unwilling to provide his alibi, that he was in bed with the currently absent  Christina, (gentleman that he is), he is found guilty and sentenced to death.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

Christina, returning to the town, and unaware of both her father’s death and everything else that has transpired since, spots Hans upon the hill, about to be guillotined. There is a dramatic scene as she tries to reach him, and there is a desperation as he spots her approach, but this is Hammer-they don’t do happy endings. He is executed before she gets there. Seeing the one man, besides her father, who saw past her deformities and loved her, killed, she is overcome with grief and throws herself into a river, drowning. That’s ‘don’t do happy endings’ x2.

Cue Frankenstein and his ill-advised experiments. He never learns, does he? Not with scriptwriters like he’s got.

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil. Have you met my wife?

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil.
Have you met my wife?

Once she is brought back to life, she is not the usual, patched-up lumbering monster, but is Susan Denberg, more easy on the eye than Christopher Lee. This would be Denberg’s last film, her career curtailed by a drug-induced breakdown.

Now resurrected, Christina is just a girl with no memory of who she is.

Was.

And-good news for us, her blemishes and deformities have gone, too. You don’t get that on the NHS.

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy?

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy? Or some freaky kind of Kinder Egg?

Several times she asks the scientist to tell her of her identity, but which he declines to do. Here’s a few snapshots that might help:

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Maybe not.

So, now that she is blessed with beauty, no longer paralysed and having to hide her face beneath her hair, do you remember what I said about Hammer and happy endings?

Yep.

Now the vengeful spirit of Hans begins to take her over, driving her on to take revenge, in turn, against the three men who were really responsible for the crime that cost him his life.

“Kill him. Kill him. Kill him, Christina.”

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After murdering the last of these, (and taking Hans’ head along for the deed, sentimental girl that she is), she flees the pursuing Frankenstein, and, having nothing left to live for, throws herself again into the river, ignoring her creator’s pleas not to do so.

The perfect combination for a stroll in the countryside: some food, a loved one, an ex's severed head.

The perfect recipe for a lovely day in the countryside: a partner, some food; a little wine; an ex-lover’s severed head. Bliss.

Farewell Christina. Farewell Susan Denberg.

I watched this while my wife had her earphones in, listening to music. When it finished, I said “It was quite good that.”  She replied “It looked boring as Hell!”

I enjoyed this different take on the Frankenstein story. We are now ten posts in on the Hammer Chooseday series, and I am yet to make a fan of her. I’ve not given up yet, but I think it best I avoid the lesbian vampires.

Hammer Chooseday #9:Dracula

Dracula (1958) 5/5

I watched this again recently, on the night that I heard of the death of Christopher Lee, and discovered, through Hammer fan sites, that many others around the world were doing exactly the same. Some with a glass of brandy, toasting the great actor. I did it the English way, with a cup of tea.

The title of the film in America.

The title of the film in America.

This classic film boasts a great cast, though I think that John Van Eyssen is a rather vapid Jonathan Harker, but Lee and Cushing, in the film that established them, carry the movie.

Lugosi was good, but for me Lee is the definitive Dracula, full of imposing, dark menace. Hammer made Dracula into a sinister, sexual predator. With teeth.

The new face of Dracula: Christopher Lee. Suave and debonair, you wouldn't be too put out getting this aristocrat on a blind date, would you?

The new face of Dracula: Christopher Lee. Suave and debonair, you wouldn’t be too put out getting this aristocrat on a blind date, would you?

Erm..on second thoughts, I don't think we have anything in common. Could you call me a taxi, please?

Erm..on second thoughts, I don’t think we have anything in common. Could you call me a taxi, please?

And Cushing, a favourite actor of mine, will forever be Van Helsing.

No matter how old you are, you don't cross Van Helsing. Cross-see what I did there? Oh, you did, and unfollowed me.

No matter how old you are, you don’t cross Van Helsing. Cross-see what I did there? Oh, you did, and unfollowed me.

One day I hope someone will make a film that is faithful to Stoker’s novel, but I do love this adaptation.

Despite my criticism of Van Eyssen as Harker, when Dracula closes the door of the crypt behind him, trapping him in there with the vampire, his terror is palpable.

Another  favourite creepy scene is when the maid’s child is being led through the cemetery by the recently deceased Lucy.

But first, a tea break, before scaring the bejesus out of a child actor.

But first, a tea break, before scaring the bejesus out of a child actor.

The final showdown between these two great actors is great. The Count’s demise is unexpected-caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea, or rather, a cross and a sunbeam, without a single stake in sight.

Should have gone for the Factor 30.

Should have gone for the Factor 30.

This film set the bar for future Dracula movies, not least Hammer movies. In such a defining and iconic role, Sir Christopher, you will not be forgotten. As a fan and a former blood-thirsty kid, I thank you for the sleepless nights.

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R.I.P Sir Christopher Lee

You guys know that I’m an old Hammer fan, and so  probably won’t need me to tell you how gutted I was to hear the news of his death today. It took me right back to how I felt when I heard about the passing of that other Hammer stalwart, and Lee’s good friend, Peter Cushing.

Lee had spoken in the past of their good friendship, the kind that he said only comes along once in a lifetime. I remember reading somewhere, (I’m not sure whose biography I was actually reading at the time), about how devastated Cushing was when his wife Helen died. He wanted to be with her, and had an unshakeable faith that one day he would be.

One day Lee was talking to that other (non-Hammer) horror actor Vincent Price. I may not recall the conversation word for word, but you will get the gist. Price enquired about Cushing, asking if he still expected to be with his wife when he, too, died.

“Oh very much so. In fact he is looking forward to it.”

Price paused, then said, “And what happens if he goes over and she’s not in?”

Lee recounted this conversation to Cushing later. Cushing was quiet for a moment, then howled laughing. “Only Vincent would say that, and only you would tell me.”

I think that helps illustrate their friendship, and now Lee has joined his friends, the final chapter closing.

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Lee was a true great, and, I think, vastly underrated as an actor. I believe in the months and years to come we will realise just what a loss he is to British cinema. He played the bad guy in many films, including James Bond, and both The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars series of films. He sang opera, and even charted in his eighties with a collection of heavy metal numbers!

But I will always love both he and Cushing, (to me they were both synonymous with each other), for the many Hammer roles that this blood thirsty kid lapped up way back when.

Though he may have tired of the role, he will always be the definitive Dracula. Tonight, I will watch the film where the two iconic roles began for both actors: Van Helsing for Cushing, and the undead Count for Lee- the 1958 film Dracula. 

I think you can take next Tuesday’s Hammer Chooseday post as a given.

Thanks for the memories. And the sleepless nights.

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Hammer Chooseday #8: The Nanny

The Nanny (1965) 3/5

After his little sister drowns in a bathtub, young Joey (William Dix) is blamed for her death and sent away to a special school to be treated by psychologists. His mother, Virginia (Wendy Craig), suffers a breakdown, and, dismissed by her distant husband, becomes more dependent than ever on their nanny, played by the great Bette Davis.

The film begins with Joey due to return to the family home, (after the medical expert privately admits to failing him), and straight away he exhibits hostility towards the nanny.

The first glimpse we have of Joey is when he is playing a trick on one of the staff by pretending that he has hung himself. Oh you little rascal.

The first glimpse we have of Joey is when he is playing a trick on one of the staff by pretending that he has hung himself. Oh Joey, you little rascal.

Joey settles in his new, cosy room, playing records like all kids do, finding somewhere to put his noose.

Joey settles into his new, cosy room, unpacking, playing records, finding somewhere to put his noose, like all kids do.

Soon his mother is taken ill after being poisoned, with both sides blaming each other.

As the poster asks, who would you trust?

As the poster asks, who would you trust? I know, because I’ve seen it.

Belligerent and unlikeable, Dix’s portrayal helps to instil in us a prejudice towards his character, but in a series of flashbacks we learn that it is in fact Davis’ character who is the unstable one, and it was she who unwittingly caused the death of the young girl and blamed it on Joey.

Go on, Joey, crack a smile.

Go on, Joey, crack a smile. A psycho-nanny can’t be all bad.

Joey’s aunt, staying in Virginia’s absence (the father is away on business), suffers from a medical condition, and collapses after confronting the nanny, dying when the nanny withholds her medication.

“This was not in your job description.”

There follows a creepy scene where Davis enters the boy’s bedroom, clutching a pillow, intent on smothering the lad. In his attempt to escape he is knocked unconscious, and in a horrifying moment she puts him face down in a filled bathtub to drown him. However, her murderous state of mind is broken when she sees his dead sister in his place, and, filled with remorse, sweeps him back up again.

The film ends with a doctor telling Virginia that the nanny is a sick woman who needs help, and Joey is suddenly transformed into a little angel promising the earth to his mother.

Personally, I have my doubts.

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Spare a thought for poor producer Jimmy Sangster: not only did he have to bow to pressure from 20th Century Fox to tag a happy ending onto the film after principal photography was finished, he also had to fight off the ageing Bette Davis’ attempts to seduce him. More scary than any Hammer film.

I think I read somewhere that, when Davis returned to do another Hammer movie, The Anniversary, Sangster’s wife packed her things and went on a holiday abroad, vowing not to return until his work with Davis was at an end.

He has my sympathies-the same thing happened with me and Jennifer Aniston.

Hammer Chooseday #7:The Reptile

The Reptile (1966) 5/5

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Harry (Ray Barrett) and Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) move to a Cornish village after inheriting a cottage from Harry’s recently deceased brother. They soon discover that the brother’s death was one of several attributed by the locals to the ‘Black Death.’

In their dealings with sinister neighbour Dr.Franklyn, whose attitude towards his own daughter, Anna (Jacqueline Pearce), is contemptuous, it soon transpires that the root of the epidemic is actually Anna herself, who is cursed to transform into a snake-like creature.

Surely the local folk should have thought of that first? Yokels.

"Get your claws off me, I'm not that kind of girl."

“Get your claws off me, I’m not that kind of girl.”

A favourite scene is the sudden, hissing, appearance of the reptilian Anna, behind an unsuspecting Harry, which is startling.

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Hammer favourite, the splendidly named Michael Ripper, is on hand to help the good guys out. Speaking of splendid names, there is a character in the film called Mad Peter, who ends up foaming at the mouth, his face blackened and swollen, which made him madder than ever.

Oh yeah-he dies.

"I thought you was going to show me around the kitchen?"

“I thought you was going to show me around the kitchen? Where’s all the, erm, food?”

Poor Pearce was claustrophobic, and hated wearing the monster make-up, vowing never to do so in any future role again.

"I've..got to..wear..what?"

“I’ve..got to..wear..what?”

"THATH IT!  THITH ITH DEFINETLY THE LATH TIME!!!"

“THATH IT! THITH ITH DEFINITELY THE LATH TIME!!!”

I enjoyed this film: it is atmospheric and has a climatic ending, despite the death of Anna being somewhat unsatisfactory. It was shot back to back with The Plague Of The Zombies, also set in a Cornish village, and so shared many of its sets.

Cornwall:you just wouldn’t move there, would you?

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There must be something in the Cornish water.

Hammer Chooseday #6:One Million Years B.C

One Million Years B.C (1966) 3/5

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John Richardson plays a prehistoric man banished from his savage tribe. He leaves behind his own dark haired, cold, volatile people (and Martine Beswick), to find, or rather, be found by, a contrasting tribe of blonde, warm gregarious people (and Raquel Welsh).

Every cloud and all that.

But soon he is banished from there, too, taking his new found mate with him. Popular guy, ain’t he?

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Being banished in exile has a few perks, yes?

You can bet Martine Beswick won’t take that lying down.

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Think I can sense a recurring theme here.

According to this film, we learn that prehistoric man had Victorian values:the men went out hunting while the women stayed at home making necklaces and sewing animal hides. Also, even less believable than the fact that dinosaurs and man lived side by side, is the fact that prehistoric women didn’t have hairy legs. And only the men had beards. But I’m not one to quibble.

The adventures of these two tribes play out with a sprinkling of wild beasts and dinosaurs before an apocalyptic ending with an erupting volcano. Even the landscape back then was deadly.

If dinosaurs and people aren't credible, about a, ahem, giant turtle?

If dinosaurs and people aren’t credible, how about a, ahem, giant turtle?

An enjoyable story, it is as much remembered today for Welch in her fur bikini than for Ray Harryhausen’s  dinosaurs.

Let's finish with this shot of Welch, a publicity shot for the film. I can't for the life of me think just what relevance the cross has for the movie. Perhaps one of you guys can come up with some symbolism? To me it just further symbolises why my Mrs won't watch Hammer with me.

Welch, in a publicity shot for the film. I can’t for the life of me think just what relevance the cross has for the movie. Perhaps one of you guys can come up with some symbolism? To me it just further symbolises why my Mrs won’t watch Hammer with me.