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 #4:Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb

Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971) 4/5

Enjoyable Egyptology hokum, based on a book by Bram Stoker, and made watchable by the beautiful Valerie Leon in a rare lead role. In fact, she plays a double role: that of Margaret, the daughter of Professor Fuchs (Andrew Keir), and also that of the ancient Egyptian Queen Tera. She waits all her career for a lead role, then two come along at once.

One way to stop biting your nails.

We discover that Margaret’s mother died giving birth to her at exactly the same moment that Fuchs makes the discovery of the inexplicably still-bleeding body of the Queen. Now what a coincidence you may say. Or perhaps there’s something going on here. Maybe even just get on with it.

I bet my wife is giving birth at home right now. It's all about bleeding mummies today.

I bet my wife is giving birth at home right now. It’s all about bleeding mummies today.

Twenty years later, Margaret, plagued by nightmares, is given a ring by her father on the day before her birthday. And guess who the ring used to belong to?

As modelled by Thing. Father, really, you shouldn't have.

As modelled by Thing. You shouldn’t have, Father, really, you shouldn’t have.

What ensues is the discovery that, among many deaths, Margaret is the vessel through which Tera still wields her magic, ahead of her planned resurrection. Along the way we are treated to such creepy images as the shadow of a jackal, and a crawling, severed hand.

I hear Strepsils are good for sore throats.

I hear Strepsils are good for sore throats.

In the end, both of Leon’s characters are buried in rubble as a battle between them occurs. Only one woman survives-but which one? Lay in a hospital bed, wrapped ridiculously in a swathe of bandages covering everything but the eyes, and looking just like, well, a mummy, a clue is that the patient is missing a hand. Hmm. Thank God for the NHS. Sleep well.

Why Grandmother, what nice eyes you have.

Why Grandmother, what nice eyes you have.

I enjoyed this film, but it could have been so much more for the presence of the great Peter Cushing, who had to leave the production after just one day to nurse his wife who had fallen ill (and eventually died). Although Keir does a satisfactory job as a last minute stand in.

Leon and Cushing together on the first day of filming, before his unfortunate withdrawal.

Leon and Cushing together on the first day of filming, before his unfortunate withdrawal.

Also, five weeks into filming, director Seth Holt suffered a fatal heart attack, encouraging rumours of a mummy’s curse, and another director had to fill in to film the remaining sequences.

Given Leon’s presence, it is curious why Hammer never gave her another lead role. Someone suggested to me that it could be because she was quite tall, and leading actors of the time did not want to be set against taller leading ladies. And they couldn’t run around graveyards wearing heels. Or maybe it could be down to something much more credible like a mummy’s curse. Either way, Leon can lay claim to be the only Bond girl who worked with two different Bonds-both Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Whenever put on the spot to name her favourite she played it safe, saying that she thought both were good.

See-savvy too.

Now where did that hand come from?

Now where did that hand come from?

Hammer Chooseday #2:Fear In The Night

Fear In The Night (1972) 5/5

The much better film of a double feature release (the other being the dreadful Straight On Till Morning), Judy Geeson plays a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown, who is attacked by an intruder with a prosthetic arm. Soon after this she moves, along with her new husband, a teacher, to the country, where he has a new job at a boys’ school. At least she will be safe in the country, won’t she?

Of course not, this is a Hammer film.

A further attack happens in her new home, but, due to her previous mental health problems, her husband Robert (Ralph Bates) doesn’t believe her. She meets the headmaster of the school, the unsettling Michael, played by the ever great Peter Cushing. We soon learn that Michael has a prosthetic arm. Now I’m no Sherlock, but this could just be a clue, couldn’t it, as the number of people that you meet with a false arm you can count on, well, one hand?

Peter Cushing should have gone to Specsavers.

Peter Cushing should have gone to Specsavers.

One night, alone and tormented, Peggy shoots Michael and flees. The next morning, when Bob returns, she neglects to tell him what has happened. Finding blood, used cartridges, and a damaged door, (but no body), Bob try’s to put the pieces of the jigsaw together, and hunts for Michael’s body.

Eventually, we learn that the villains of the piece are actually Bob, in cahoots with his lover Molly, (played by Joan Collins), who just happens to be Michael’s wife. Keeping up? They have set up Peggy to kill Michael for them.

Call me unreasonable, but the fact that Molly has made a clay model of Peggy, and likes to thrust sharp implements into the eye, should have set alarm bells off.

Call me unreasonable, but the fact that Molly has made a clay model of Peggy, and likes to thrust sharp implements into the eye, should have set alarm bells off. Nice cardigans though.

In the end the unstable Michael, who we learn is the headmaster of a school that, like Molly’s model, has no pupils, comes to Peggy’s rescue and we are left with the image of Bob hanging from a tree.

The things you have to do for art.

The things you have to do for art.

An entertaining thriller with good performances all round.

Whatever you do, don't let Peggy have a go of the Karaoke.

Whatever you do, don’t let Peggy have a go of the Karaoke.

That's right, keep her away from the mic.

That’s right, keep her away from the mic.

Too late:"You know you make me wanna shout..." (Clears the room. No wonder the school had no pupils.)

Too late:”You know you make me wanna shout…” (Clears the room. No wonder the school had no pupils.)