Tag Archive | Christopher Lee

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (StarChoice: 25)

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The sun is down, darkness covers the land – and Dracula lives!”

January 9th, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the initial release (UK) of Hammer Films’ Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, the second instalment in their colourful Dracula series with Christopher Lee in the title role.

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Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys (1911 – 1985) at an estimated budget of £100,000 (according to imdb)(1) and presented by Seven Arts and Hammer Films, the story centers around two couples finding shelter in the night in a dark and mysterious castle situated in the forest outside the village of Carlsbad. They had been traveling through the Carpathian Mountains of central Europe for climbings and sightseeings, and were forced out of their hired horse-carriage at the crossroads of a mountain track by their coach driver terrified at the approach of the sunset.

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Taken to the castle by a mysterious driverless coach and having arrived at the very plaace which was the subject of a cautionary advice of a Father Sandor for them to stay away from it, they were surprised at the hospitality extended to them by the sinister Klove, the manservant of the lord of the castle, Count Dracula, who apologised for the absence of his master since he was dead for the past ten years. A crackling fire burns in the grate, dinner table set for four created the impression that they were expected. Indeed Klove’s master had left instructions that the castle should always be ready to receive guests… The couples drank a toast to the master of the castle: “To Count Dracula!”.  

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As if he was convinced that the new arrivals would spend the night in the castle, the mysterious Klove had already prepared their rooms, had their luggage secretly brought in from the carriage and placed neatly at the foot of the beds before he had gone to greet them. Once the couples had retired to their respective rooms following their dinner, sometime soon in the dead of night, the occasion appeared auspicious to Klove to set out to implement his plan. Many years ago, he had faithfully collected the clothes, signet ring, dust, etc, of Dracula after his master’s body had disintegrated into a pile of human dust. The set of scenes that would unfurl during that night in the underground vault depicted the resurrection of Dracula – by intermixing Dracula’s bodily grey ash with the blood flowing from the corpse of Alan Kent suspended on a rope above the sarcophagus. And therein, blood fired the ashes and Dracula, the Lord of the Darkness, fully restored, rose to go about his single-minded pursuit of blood and ghastly deeds!

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When Welsh scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster was assigned to re-write the old script (The Revenge of Dracula), by prolific screenwriter Anthony Hinds, based on characters created by novelist Bram Stoker, none of them had known that the incongruity of the final product would allow them to attach only their noms de plume, to it, viz., John Sansom and John Elder respectively. In his late thirties, Sangster kept abreast of the pulse of Hammer’s target audiences. He would spend four decades at Hammer, in the capacity of production manager, scriptwriter, producer and director.

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Sangster was then known for brilliant ideas and sudden shocks which, as a rule, he sprinkled into the storylines of scripts; often linking the ideas to traditions related to vampires however minor they are – as, in “Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, when Charles and Diana escape from Dracula’s castle, he leaves Diana near a hut at the crossroads before returning to the castle. It was deemed that she would be safer there from vampires. I would have imagined such a scene is in tune with the European tradition that if a suspected vampire if killed or buried at a crossroads, he will be unable to rise again.

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As for the resurrection of the Count for this sequel, a convincing method was drawn up to use blood as the ingredient since the Count was destroyed into a pile of dust in Hammer’s “Dracula” (1958, U.S. title: Horror of Dracula), the first Dracula film in colour with thrilling visual treats of vampire violence, blood and sexuality. This method of resurrection with blood would be repeatedly used by Hammer to revive the Count in their subsequent Dracula films.

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Christopher Lee as the pale-looking Count Dracula topping gray streaked hair with a widow’s peak and eyebrows that join across, appears around 46 minutes (based on DVD edition of 86 minutes. Theatrical duration is 90 minutes.) into “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” (DPOD), clad in his long black cloak (now lined with blood-red lining), at times, with red contact lenses that covered the whole ball of the eyes, except for the cornea and iris, and of course, with the trademark pair of canine fangs intact (“long, but not too long, sharp but not sabre-toothed”, as a writer wrote). The Count’s character traits of commanding manner, fit constitution, cold austerity, penetrating eyes, icy sadism, tremendous ferocity, fiendish snarls and charismatic sex appeal are all there but short of dialogue to which Jimmy Sangster later claimed that the script was written without any lines for the Count. Alternate opinions to the contrary exists, including Lee’s own assertion in an autobiography that he did not use the dialogue as it was impossible for anybody to write convincing lines for him. Lee is reputed to have read Stoker’s “Dracula” many times over and over and, given the opportunity, always ventured to provide his personal view of its interpretation. There is another reference in a book which relates that when Lee finally consented to star as Dracula in 1965 he had become an expensive commodity and his services were being charged on a daily basis which resulted in his scenes being brief and without dialogue. Anyhow, short of dialogue, Dracula hissed and snarled and menaced in the movie, emphasising the vampiristic elements of Dracula.

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For Hammer, Lee’s mere appearance as the good-looking Count Dracula was enough to click the box-office and create fans for Hammer which had increased ever since the 6’ 5” Lee first appeared as a silhouette before he came out of the shadows and glided down the long baronial stairs of his castle and introduced himself as “Count Dracula” in Hammer’s “Dracula” (HOD).

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Following Lee’s marriage to the Danish model and painter Birgit (Gitte) Kroencke in 1961, the couple had moved to Switzerland. Hammer was happy to see Lee move back to England in 1965, and agree to appear in “DPOD” since afraid of being typecast as the Count, he had refrained from starring as Dracula for nearly seven years, venturing into other films, which had pushed Hammer to bring out different vampires as antagonists, viz., blonde-haired Baron Meinster (David Peel) in “Brides of Dracula” (1960) (2) and Doctor Ravna (Noel Willman) in “Kiss of the Vampire” (1963) while retaining Dracula for enactment by Christopher Lee whenever he is ready. Although Lee went on to become admired as an actor of vast experience and wide-ranging acting talents, like Sean Connery got docketed to James Bond, Lee’s career was always popularly tagged with the “old toothy”, and had gained him great financial success and international stardom.

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Barbara Shelly, the auburn-haired English beauty with her bewitching brown eyes, makes a very exciting vampire in “DPOD”, her initial style of attire of the Victorian wife Helen giving way for a seductive outfit when, in the dark of the night, the process of her initiation into the realm of vampires gets underway. Director Terence Fisher had rightly divulged Shelly’s capacity to aptly showcase the mannerisms of the spitfire vampire she had turned into, quite contrasting to her initial portrayal of the shrewish wife who seemed strangely fearful of something bad she had sensed present in the castle in which they had taken shelter.

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Lovely blonde Suzan Farmer appears as Diana Kent, the brave wife of Charles, notable for her liveliness and attitude to take things as they come. It was Diana who had the presence of mind to initially grab the gun and shoot at Dracula on the frozen moat which led to the discovery that running water is a deterrent for him – a realization that would add to an earlier instance when she accidently discovered that the crucifix on the chain around her neck could stop the evil although, at a later scene, under the demonic influence of Dracula, she would submissively take the crucifix off her neck and stand unprotected before Dracula ready to oblige to his demand to taste the blood flowing from his chest.

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Peter Cushing, who first appeared in the title role of Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), shot to international stardom as the indomitable vampire-killer Dr. (Prof.) Abraham Van Helsing in “Dracula”, a role which represented the force of goodness, making him an integral part of the Dracula cycle and a perfectly matched team with Christopher Lee. I have read somewhere that it was Cushing’s idea to make Van Helsing run along the refectory table and hold Dracula back with the glare from two metal candlesticks used for a cross until the Count desiccated into a heap of dust in the closing scenes of “Dracula”. According to one of Peter Cushing’s memoirs, when Anthony Hinds found that Cushing could not appear in “DPOD” due to contractual commitments, Hinds had obtained his consent to use the ending scenes of “Dracula” as opening scenes of “DPOD” for which Cushing was subsequently remunerated by Hammer Films.

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DPOD” featured a new adversary for Dracula, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), the Abbot of Kleinberg who, on his way to Kleinberg, accidently meets the four English travellers at the wayside inn and warns them to avoid travel to Carlsbad or stay clear of the nearby castle which the couples disregarded opting to keep up with their schedule only to meet with dire consequences. British TV actor Philip Latham, who had earlier appeared in Hammer’s 1964 films “The Devil-Ship Pirates” and “The Secret of Blood Island”, comes across very effectively as Klove, the quiet and sinister manservant of Count Dracula – soberly clad in black, devoid of gesticulations – a tool of the forces of evil.

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b16 Terry-FisherAustralian born British television heart-throb Charles Tingwell (Alan Kent), and television star Francis Matthews (Charles Kent) appear as brothers and husbands of the visiting English ladies. The cast also includes: Thorley Walters (monastery calligrapher Ludwig), Walter Brown (Brother Mark), George Woodbridge (Landlord), Jack Lambert (Brother Peter), Philip Ray (Priest), Joyce Hemson (Mother), John Maxim (Coach Driver), etc.

DPOD” tenders some excellent visual treats under the directional chores of Terence “Terry” Fisher (1904 – 1980). Starting as a clapper boy in the film industry at the age of 28, his first directorial assignment was “The Last Page” (aka. Man Bait, 1952, based on a 1946 play by James Hadley Chase) from where he rose up to become one of the best known directors to work for Hammer and one of the virtuosos behind the success of their films like “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), “Dracula” (1958), “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958), “The Mummy” (1959), “The Phantom of the Opera” (1962), etc.

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Consistent with Hammer’s reputation of using the major chunk of a film’s scanty budget on its production design, sets, models, costumes, photography, editing for stunning visual impact, “DPOD” has impressive sets and lavish-looking production values. It was from the brilliant talent of Bernard Robinson, the Set Designer for Hammer’s first two Dracula films that earned Hammer their signature looks for stunning backdrops and sets of the Dracula movies. Although in this official sequel, the story of “DPOD” takes place ten years after the end of the first movie and supposedly happens in the same castle of “Dracula“, Robinson’s ingenuity shows through in the difference of the interiors and exterior of the sets of Castle Dracula, everything dusted and polished. The coffins used for Dracula and Diana in the film have gold covered hinges to contradict with the old custom of Transylvanian coffin-makers using silver nails as a protection against vampires.

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Entirely shot in Technicolor  from April 26 through June 4, 1965 at Bray Studios, Down Place, Oakley Green (Berkshire); and on locations at Black Park in Slough, Iver Heath (Buckinghamshire); and St Michael’s Church, Bray, Berkshire, England, the crew consists of: James Bernard (Music), Michael Reed (Director of photography), Chris Barnes (Film Editing), Don Mingaye (Art Direction), Roy Ashton (Makeup), Frieda Steiger (Hair stylist), Rosemary Burrows (Wardrobe), Bowie Films Ltd (Special effects), among others.

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The special effects team of Les Bowie did not have to deal with “Kensington Gore”, the fake theatrical blood (stage blood) manufactured in England, since both the final scenes of “Dracula” and “DPOD” are devoid of blood,  though there is massive amount of fake blood shown during the resurrection of Dracula in “DPOD

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According to a magazine, for the complex shooting of scenes depicting the final destruction of Dracula, Bowie’s team had tried many techniques to get the scene right: they tried real blocks of ice in a swimming pool for few close shots; wax moulds at another time as it floats on the water; and for the final shots, a circular section of plaster mounted on pivots. At the same time, Christopher Lee has written in a book that he slid down a piece of wood on a hinge, painted white to look like ice.

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Part of the many trivia is about an incident while shooting the last scenes when one of the contact lenses of Lee fell onto the salt-covered wooden board (made to look as block of ice) which was retrieved and re-fixed to his eye without properly cleaning off the salt causing acute agony to Lee. An unfortunate incident would have intervened the production and turn fatal for Eddie Powell, Lee’s stunt double and husband of wardrobe mistress Rosemary Burrows, when he was trapped in the freezing waters of the castle moat during enactment of the scene when Dracula finally sank through the layer of ice into the water, but was rescued in time from drowning. However, as the story goes, Dracula will lay trapped in that icy grave until Hammer decided to allow him to be resurrected in 1968 in “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, ironically, with the blood of a wounded priest.

Besides “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, Hammer Films’ Dracula series continued featuring Christopher Lee in the role of the Count in “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970), “Scars of Dracula” (1970), “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972), and finally in “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973).

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It is undisputed that so many old manor houses in England have their ghost story. The legends of vampires (Vukodlak for Serbians/Murony to Wallachians) have always been there and will survive and flourish on print and visual entertainment in future also. As the viewers, we enjoy the choice to discern whether they are good, bad or indifferent for us – or for horrorsceptics to reassert their sense of rational control. When Hammer Films were first shown, they were sometimes reckoned as objects of derision and censure in some quarters. Now they are treated as classics of their kind. Since 2012, starting with “Dracula Prince of Darkness”, Hammer’s classic library of films are being restored/re-mastered into HD for Blu-ray and future media formats under the restoration project initiated by StudioCanal in coordination with major studios.

I have enjoyed some of those movies on several occasions, including “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” – and although sadly Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are no more, I would imagine many would have gladly watched another Hammer movie in which Lee reprised the role of Dracula in the period and Gothic ambiance of Stoker’s novel. No doubt, Hammer Films, at its finest, were truly distinctive.  Jo

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Notes:

  1. The budget is projected as £220,000 by BFI screenonline.
  2. For more on “Brides of Dracula”, please refer to my reviews of May 10 & 14, 2013
  3. Dracula, Prince of Darkness” was initially released as double bill with Hammer’s “The Plague of the Zombies
  4. Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  5. DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  6. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  7. This is in memory of director Terence Fisher who was born on 23rd of February. May his soul rest in peace.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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Hammer – H as in Horror

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British actor Christopher Lee is no more, but the nocturnal Transylvanian character he immortalised in Hammer Films’ Dracula series is very much alive and baring fangs at the discerning viewers. For centuries, folklores of blood-drinking vampires and other supernatural characters were tales of enduring fascination, dark passion, belief and fear.

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For most people, the name Transylvania conjures up haunted castles and vampires; and maintain some understanding about the characteristics of a vampire: that the vampire’s power ceases at the coming of the day; that they feed on human blood and their bite could transform the victim into a new vampire, that the objects for protection against them is a Christian cross, garlic, running water, etc.

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Such tales of uncanny, having echoed throughout Europe down centuries, may have now died down, their existence judged improbable in the modern view. Yet, what is the truth behind the legends of the undead? Are they alive and immortal only as products of fertile imaginations, dreams and fantasies? Anyhow, potential immortality is considered a salient feature of the vampire.

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b6The evil title character of the gothic horror novel, “Dracula” (published in June 1897) written by Irish writer Bram (Abraham) Stoker (Nov 8, 1847 – Apr 20, 1912) has been linked to Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad Tsepesh/Vlad Dracul/Vlad the Impaler, 1431 – 1476) (1), a flesh-and-blood prince who launched the Romanian resistance against Ottoman expansion in the 15th century.

Of the qualities attributed to Prince Vlad are his practice of impaling enemies on stakes in that age of brutality; his heroism in defending his country against the Ottoman invasion, but nowhere there is evidence proving him as a vampire.

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The review that would follow this frontrunner post is just my humble tribute to a movie from the very-British Hammer Films, a trailblazer for the genres of horror and suspense during the 1950s and ’60s.

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Most of the films of Hammer had triggered the adrenalin of millions of audiences across the world with their quality entertainment primarily produced at a splendid private residence called Down Place, in Bray, Berkshire, England where, it is claimed, there existed a resident ghost known as “The Blue Lady”. Charming!

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Hammer had all the ingredients in place to reincarnate the monster of Frankenstein, Count Dracula, Baron Meinster, Countess Dracula …. – mostly 85-minutes spine-chilling storylines of hauntings, spirits, exorcisms, poltergeists, banshees, consistent with the rules of folklore and legends, oral or written, prolific to Ireland, Scotland, Eastern Europe, India, etc.

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However true they are, I do not have any personal experiences to believe or disbelieve those beyond the grave incarnations. But while watching a Hammer horror movie, when I see a door open without a human hand on the knob, or hear the light or heavy sound of footsteps in the corridor when no one is supposed to be there, or see the face of someone who had been buried the other day calling through the open window in the dead of the night, I guess I like to have a sense of fearlessness. One thing is certain, I doubt I would ever want to run into any one of those undead creatures, especially Count Dracula, “the most evil and terrible creature who ever set his seal on civilisation.”

(Review in my next post)   Jo

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Notes:

  1. For more on the origins of Vlad Ţepeş: Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times by Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally
  2. Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  3. DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  4. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to Hammer Films. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

CHRISTOPHER LEE – A TITAN OF CINEMA

Is Count Dracula one of your favourite book/screen personalities? Well, the 6 feet 4 inches veteran British actor/musician/Opera singer/author Christopher Lee will not be reincarnating in the form of Count Dracula anymore. Lee of horror characters such as  Kharis the high priest/Mummy (The Mummy, 1959), Count Dracula, Dr. Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man, 1973), sadly died on Sunday 7th June at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, after suffering heart and respiratory problems. Chris-3

Lee, who belonged to the Carandini family, one of the oldest families in Italy dating back to the first century AD and to Emperor Charlemagne, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest leading actor amongst Clint Eastwood and others. He was also a step-cousin of the late Ian Fleming, author of James Bond novels. According to reports, Fleming had recommended Lee for the role of Bond’s nemesis in Dr. No (1962) but the role went to Joseph Wiseman. Finally, Bond in the form of Roger Moore faced him in the role of the three-nippled, million-dollars-a-hit assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

From early on, Lee’s flair for acting was evident when he appeared as the evil Rumpelstiltskin at Miss Fisher’s Academy in Wengen, Switzerland. In spite of his five-year stint in the Royal Air Force and Intelligence during World War II he was rejected for a role in the war-movie The Longest Day (1962) on the grounds that he didn’t command the look of a military personal. Chris-4 After his retirement from the RAF by the end of the war, taking heed from the suggestion of his cousin Count Nicolò Carandini, he obtained a seven-year contract with Rank Organisation in 1946. Lee debuted in the psychological drama Corridor of Mirrors (1948), the first film directed by Terence Young. In the following decade, despite that he was remonstrated for being too tall, dominating the frame, he appeared in many films. Chris-1

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Then came his Hammer years. At the age of 35, Jimmy Carreras’ Hammer Film Productions cast him in the role of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1957). This successful role earned him the mantle of Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian bloodsucker Count Dracula in Dracula (aka. Horror of Dracula, 1957). Under the master direction of British film director Terence Fisher, Lee portrayed the fanged Count as the most attractive and virile of all screen vampires. How can one forget that striking first entrance of Lee’s Count Dracula at the doorway and his descent down the stairs? Lee would go on to feature the stature and presence of Count Dracula in further eight movies including Dracula Prince of Darkness (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1965), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1968), El Conde Drácula (Dir. Jesús Franco, 1970), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka. Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, Dir. Alan Gibson, 1974), etc. Chris-6 With British studio Hammer specialized in the production of screen horror, Lee’s name was for many years synonymous with the best in horror films. He was part of the four iconic horror film stars: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and they acted together in House of the Long Shadows (Dir. Peter Walker, 1983).  While Vincent Price shared his birthday with Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (born on 27th May 1922 in the upmarket Belgravia area of London), Peter Cushing was born a day earlier on 26 May. Although Lee set up his own production company, Charlemagne Productions Ltd, he diverged from his horror image to mainstream film roles. Nevertheless, it is an unwritten fact that, just as Sean Connery will be indelibly associated with James Bond, the image of Count Dracula will always be correlated to Christopher Lee. Chris-7 Fluent in a variety of languages, the English-born actor Lee was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II (15-Jun-2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours) and Knight of the British Empire 2009. He is also a Commander Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 2002, Lee was awarded the prestigious World Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vienna, etc. Lee was also presented with the Academy Fellowship at the BAFTAs in February 2011. Chris-2

Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Sir Christopher launched his singing career in the 1990s, with an album of Broadway tunes. During his illustrious career, the veteran actor appeared in over 250 films, some of them the most iconic of our times. Watching the innumerable films of Christopher Lee in my collection was always joyful for me – especially those of 1950s to mid-70s. Chris-8   Endings are usually sad and we will miss Sir Christopher Lee. Nevertheless, there always will be the comfort in knowing that I can sit with a couple of soft pillows and a glass of red wine and watch the legendary actor come alive through one of his movies, his deeply melodic basso voice booming.

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NB: The DVDs of the above movies and music albums of Sir Christopher Lee are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 18: The Brides of Dracula – (Part 2 of 2)

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The morning has broken when Dr. Van Helsing’s carriage chanced upon Marianne lying unconscious in the forest. After reviving her, the doctor and his driver Carl took her to the “Running Boar Inn” where Father Stepnik had booked his boarding. From Johann, the landlord, he came to know of the death of a village girl whose wake is being held there now by few male relatives.

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The deceased maiden, attired in a clean beige satin gown, lay on a patterned sheet inside the wooden coffin. It is the custom that the men related to the deceased are bound to spend the night, short of sleep, keeping watch over the corpse. This is called the privegghia*.

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Although no one knows how she died, a brief look at the girl’s bitten throat was enough for Dr. Van Helsing to know the reason. He found a garland of wild garlic flowers # around the girl’s neck, placed there by the superstitious Transylvanian villagers as a precaution against evil. (# It is also very usual to lay a thorny branch of wild-rose bush across the body to prevent it leaving the coffin).

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Sometime later, finding Marianne fit to travel, he took her to the Lang School. En route, Marianne related the events at Castle Meinster to him. At the school, they were happily received by the principal’s wife, Frau Helga Lang, a jovial woman.

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Although the principal was initially annoyed by her late arrival, upon realising the identity of the eminent Dr. Van Helsing, a Doctor of Philosophy, Theology, and Professor of Metaphysics, he was impressed enough to forgive Marianne.

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When Dr. Van Helsing returned to the Inn, he learned that Hans, the dead girl’s father, a casualty of hard times, had buried his daughter in the churchyard which Fr. Stepnik had objected because he had inkling that she is not at all like the rest of the others*. Having met Fr. Stepnik who had send for Dr. Van Helsing to investigate the local nefarious activities, the doctor decided to seize the initiative and visit the girl’s grave to ensure that she will not rise as undead and become bound to this earth, which would initiate a new cycle of evil.

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Later into the evening, at the girl’s grave, he was horrified to find Greta lying above it, gently tapping on the loose ground, urging the dead girl to wake up to go for her ghastly business. With constant prodding from Greta, encouraging to push from underneath, the ground finally broke and a feminine hand came out. No sooner the lid of the coffin opened and the girl sat up, the hysterical Greta reached over and flicked the garland of wild garlic flowers off the girl’s neck. The reign of terror of the vampire has reached its full zenith. – (rest on the screen…..)

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10What is so ground-breaking about this horror film with elements of fear that has made some followers going gaga over it? “The Brides of Dracula” with its devilish violence and sexuality follows the formula of most of the classic Hammer horror films of the 1950s and 60s, a time when the vampires were elegantly dressed unlike someone displaying his buff biceps and abs in an ad of Paco Rabanne. Those spooky films were noted for their eerie storyline, good characterisation, inexpensive sets and gorgeous costumes (that appeared more lavish and expensive than they actually were), sharp and kinetic editing. The action is kept close to its original period and the climax always featured the triumph of the good over evil, despite the occasional dominance of the evil.

Most of these Hammer movies were of low-budget nature, created  in the family atmosphere at Bray Studios using the same producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, production designers, set/costume designers, including sets, costumes, etc.

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Veteran Hammer director Terence (Terry) Fisher (1904-1980), an astonishing visionary, helmed the direction with an intuitive and decisive flair. A former editor in films from 1933, Fisher had directed “The Curse of Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, and “The Hounds of the Baskervilles” (1959) to impressive results. Born in London, Fisher began his career in 1928 as a clapper boy from which he worked his way up to become an apprentice editor (for Gainsborough Studios) before progressing to a trainee director with the Rank Organisation. Having been invited by Anthony Hinds to direct “The Last Page” (1951) for Exclusive/Hammer, his unique, laid-back style in gothic horror started to develop with “The Curse of Frankenstein”. Reportedly, Fisher always insisted that the script came before all else in film-making, although he chose not to follow the original outline of Jimmy Sangster for the destruction of the vampire woman in “Dracula”. Staying within that framework and using minimal resources, Fisher was able to fashion up many horror creations with such power and conviction.

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The cast is led by Peter “Wilton” Cushing (1913-1994), one of my favourite actors. Cushing had left the English theatre and moved to Hollywood’s “dream factory” in 1939 to commence his film career. Soon after his arrival there, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. In March 1942, he was back in England, fell in love with his future wife actress Helen Beck in April of that year. Cushing joined the Hammer horror school in 1956 to star in “The Curse of Frankenstein” which brought him instant international fame and set him on a course to confront an assortment of monsters in films.

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A great persona of humour, Cushing reportedly enjoyed learning not only his lines but his co-stars’ as well. Cushing gives a charismatic and commendable performance as the renowned vampire hunter whose strength is rooted in his knowledge, generosity, honour, discipline, and courage. A noteworthy scene that easily comes to my mind is the one in which Cushing perfectly conveys the learned man’s physical and mental agony upon his realization that he had been bitten by a menacing vampire and should instantly muster up a life-prolonging intervention to get rid of the curse, which he does with the help of a white hot poker from a brazier.

16 English actor David Peel (1920-1981), once a student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, was known to Cushing since their days in the 1954 BBC adaptation of “Beau Brummell”. In his last major role as Baron Meinster, Peel is particularly convincing as the evil imprisoned in the castle.

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19Although Peel had restrained from aping the mannerisms of Dracula, at times his depiction lacks the presence and menace of the vampire who recharges his batteries on young blood. This deficiency is understandable since, to the audience, the character of Baron Meinster is just a small fish compared to the animalistic ferocity of the chief Transylvanian Count Dracula who is successfully anchored in the public mind by the portrayal of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. Dracula depicted by Lugosi and Lee appeared effectively menacing and sexy even when he gently approached the woman and forced his will on her, brushing his lips lightly on her cheek before sinking his teeth into the throbbing vein of her neck.

Actress Yvonne (Bèdat de) Monlaur (born 1939) is the daughter of a Russian count and his ballet dancer wife. It was her performance in “Avventura a Capri” that drew the attention of Anthony Hinds to her. After Monlaur’s arrival in England, she had much to be glad about since she could not only act in TV series but also  in three films in quick succession – “Circus of Horrors” (1960), “The Brides of Dracula” and “The Terror of the Tongs” (1961), a low-budget Hammer film starring Christopher Lee. Known mainly for her roles in Hammer Film horrors, Monlaur also did a screen test for the role of Dominique “Domino” Derval in the James Bond vehicle “Thunderball” (1965) though the role eluded her since the producers eventually cast French actress Claudine Auger.

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As student teacher Marianne Danielle, alone and new to the surroundings, everything from the way she dresses and does up her hair to the way she talks reveals the movie’s personality of a naïve young woman with good upbringing. However, the range of emotions Monlaur goes through needs refinement, while, in fact, her energy and beauty gleams throughout the movie.

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British theatre and film actress Martita Hunt (née Burnett) (1900–1969), was reportedly trained as an actress under Dame Geneviève Ward and Lady Benson. She graduated from roles of spinsters to grande dames one of which is her role as Baroness Narbonne Meinster. She is noted for her role as Baroness Elena von Livenbaum in director Anatole Litvak’s Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner starrer “Anastasia” (1956) and as Grand Duchess Elise Lupavinova in director Charles Walters’ “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964).

As the mysterious Baroness dressed in glorious black and red, (folds flowing downwards in soft easy lines, sleeves full and bulging while on her head was a dark, embroidered filmy veil floating down the back like a Spanish mantilla), Hunt’s looks and mannerisms, highlighted by lights and camera angles, projects the intended fear factor which in the initial scenes leaves us with doubt whether it is she or her son who is the vampire. Her scenes at the Inn where the Baroness gains the confidence of Marianne and entices her to the castle are well acted.

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There follows a scene of the Baroness’ encounter with Dr. Van Helsing when, looking pale and morbid, she bares her fangs but does not show the animalistic signs of nosferatu (described as a Romanian word for vampire) in spite the fact that the Baron had initiated his mother into the realm of the “flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood” – creating a “little death” that gave her the gift of immortality (essential aspect of the vampire) and an eternal demonic bond with her son. Hunt’s depiction of the vampire here is noteworthy for her acting as well as its deviation from the general perception of the characteristic of a vampire.

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Even with limited screen time, we cannot help but notice the fine performance of the British actress Freda Jackson (1909-1990) as the eccentric housekeeper/nurse of the Baron – especially, the eerie scene when the hysterical Greta coax the young girl to “push and push” (suggesting parturition) to emerge from her grave.

As much as Bram Stoker wished to demonise his female vampires, he did not create them with decomposing faces and bodies. Likewise, Hammer’s female vampires had beautiful but spitfire eyes, fair skin, voluptuous bodies clad in flimsy negligée, and pearly white fangs.

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Beautiful English actress Andrée Melly (born 1932) acts in the role of Marianne’s roommate Gina who was initiated as a bride of the vampire.

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Mona Washbourne (1904-1988) as the round and roly-poly Frau Helga Lang, the Principal’s wife, is a joy to watch. Her part, though minuscule, provides a fresh air of breath amongst the dark undertones of the movie.

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Although obscured by a muffled scarf, hat and top coat, Michael “George” Ripper with his wide staring eyes and controlled mannerisms in a cameo role as the coachman of Marianne, is instantly recognisable.

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The supporting characters in pivotal roles are represented by Norman Pierce (Johann, Landlord), Vera Cook (Landlord’s wife), Miles Malleson (Dr. Tobler), Henry Oscar (Herr Otto Lang, Principal), Fred Johnson (The Cure, Father Stepnik), Victor Brooks (Hans, Villager), Marie Devereux (Village girl), Harold Scott (Severin, stable-keeper), Michael Mulcaster (Mysterious man), etc.

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The marvellous sets created by Production Designer Bernard Robinson, who enriched more than forty films for Hammer, provides a wonderful gothic feel of the period, namely, the splendidly furnished castle at “the land beyond the forest” featuring a grand staircase, spiral pillars, the griffins, candelabras, wooden furniture, etc.

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Likewise, the old Transylvanian Inn with its old-fashioned wooden furniture, stone fireplace, wicker lamps, metal utensils on walls and cupboards, old clock, antique table glasses, wooden walking sticks, a coat-hanger that appeared like the branch of a tree, framed thread-works of flowers on the walls, etc, provides the traditional appearance of an Inn that is customary in Hammer horrors. All of this was set up at Bray Studios.

The costumes were executed by Hammer Wardrobe mistress Molly Arbuthnot (1908-2001) who discharged the same assignment for “Dracula”. The film is well pieced together by Film Editor Alfred Cox (“The Revenge of Frankenstein,The Mummy”, etc).

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The celluloid canvas of the movie was illustrated by master Cinematographer Jack Asher (1916-1991) whose immense talents in what is essentially a visual medium, was evident from his initial Eastman colour photography of “The Curse of Frankenstein”. His crisp photography created a sharp, eerie, and visceral look.

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The horse-driven coaches, the gothic castle, the haunted cemetery, the simple Transylvanian woods and Inn are all beautifully photographed in glorious Technicolor in superb lighting which has a rich illuminating flavour.

Hairstylist Freda (Frieda) Steiger’s ingenuity is evident in David Peel’s look which was emphasised by a blond wig. You can identify a similar look on the blond character of Herbert von Krolock in Roman Polanski’s “Dance of the Vampires (1967 – “The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck”) which also feature a wonderful set of a Transylvanian Inn. Roy Ashton’s make-up appears a bit topped up, especially relating to Andrée Melly and Marie Devereux.

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The other members of the crew are: Anthony Nelson-Keys (Associate Producer), Michael Carreras (Executive Producer), John Hollingsworth (Musical Supervisor), John Peverall (Assistant Director), Len Harris (Camera Operator), Sidney Pearson (Special Effects), etc.

The soundtrack dominated by organ, is composed by Australian-born prolific composer Malcolm “Benjamin Graham Christopher” Williamson (1931-2003). Though repetitive, it is nevertheless romantic and genuinely suits the tone of the movie. Being his first film score, Williamson would go on to compose scores for several Hammer productions. A former nightclub pianist whose music maintained a touch of the jolliness and forthrightness of his native Australia, he was the first non-Britain appointed as Master of the Queen’s Music (in 1975) whose duties include composing appropriate music for state events. In 1976, he was appointed CBE., and an officer of the Order of Australia in 1987.

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Even if you will not miss Dracula or Christopher Lee, “The Brides of Dracula” does have few flaws. It does not offer any explanation about the motive or connection to the castle of the mysterious man who coerced the coach-driver to ditch Marianne at the Inn. Besides, he never turns up after his initial appearances in which he could be sometimes mistaken for Christopher Lee from the distance. In another instance, Marianne had left her luggage at the Inn and miraculously, it was waiting for her inside the room assigned for her in the castle. The garland of wild garlic flowers does not appear to be an impediment to the dead village girl to rise from the grave.

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However, Terence Fisher maintains the suspense while keeping the film well-structured with taut narrative, visually impressive – the atmosphere top notch. As an added incentive, here is Peter Cushing, the great perfectionist and believer in politeness, at what he does best – positive aspects that had won this movie a cult following.

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By the sixth year after the release of “The Brides of Dracula”, once again Christopher Lee donned the long dark cloak and appeared as the Count in director Terence Fisher’s “Dracula: Prince of Darkness”. That was another reincarnation which would subsequently spawn various horrific and brutal sequels. Though the subject matter would not be necessarily attractive to just anybody, there are many who sought and welcomed the appearance of this abhuman entity. Bram Stoker wrote in his novel: “He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come, though afterwards he can come as he please.” Are you very warm and welcoming? Until next time, Ciao, Jo

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PS:

1)   The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc. Reportedly, the Blu-ray version is scheduled for release on July 22, 2013.

2)    In “Chapter XXV: The Roumanians: Death and Burial – Vampires and Were-wolves” (Page 318) of “The Land Beyond The Forest: Facts, Figures & Fancies From Transylvania” (published in 1888), its author Emily Gerard recounts: “In the case of a (man) who has died a violent death, or …..without a light, such a (man) has neither right to bocete, privegghia, mass, or pomeana (funeral feast), nor is his body laid in consecrated ground…..”.  Gerard’s book had quite an influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

3)    Scene of the Wake: Although we can see a man standing in the back of the room who could be leading the wake, the film shows only chanting of prayer and omits “Bocete”, the mourning songs usually sung over the corpse by paid mourners. According to Gerard’s book: “Bocete is sung as a “last attempt by the survivors to wake the dead to life by reminding him of all (he) is leaving, and urging (him) to make a final effort to arouse his dormant faculties, – the thought which underlies these proceedings being that the dead man hears and sees all that goes on around him, and that it only requires the determined effort of a strong will in order to restore elasticity to the stiffened limbs and cause the torpid blood to flow anew in the veins.”

4)    When Gina’s corpse was watched over in the night as instructed by Dr. Van Helsing, it is kept in the stable inside a closed coffin. According to Gerard’s book, the corpse must remain exposed a full day and night. Maybe the film-makers kept the lid closed in order to dramatize the following scene.

5)    Listen closely for the faint notes of “Hallelujah” in the climax scene.

6)    A movie tie-in novel “The Brides of Dracula” by Dean Owen is available in some bookstores including amazon.com.

7)   This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of this movie. Please refer to “About” for more details.

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 (This review is dedicated to the memory of Peter Cushing, OBE, one of the finest British actors whose 100th birthday falls on May 26, 2013)

 (Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)