Dra-cu-la!

 British teeth

James Bernard’s theme music tends to play out the title as if it were a song lyric. So the score for DRACULA goes “Dra-cu-la!” and the score for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA goes “Taste – the – Blood – of  – Dra-cu-la!” etc. And that’s just fine with me.

Christopher Lee’s entrance as the Count is the best ever. I do like the Lugosi (the first half of that movie is really good, creepy and dreamlike and nonsensically populated with armadillos and a tiny coffin with a bug in it and MAN!) and the Spanish language version filmed at night while they were shooting Bela by day has a great shot that swoops up the stairs to meet the vamp coming down, and Gary Oldman in the Coppola version looks like Glenn Close in DANGEROUS LIAISONS and Barbra Streisand in FUNNY LADY at the same time and of course the Nosferatus are brilliant BUT!!!

I'll build a stairway to paradise...

Chris Lee’s entrance is tops and here’s why: ‘There’s nothing like the introduction of Dracula in that picture, in which Christopher Lee just walked down the stairs, sort of bounced down, and said “Hello, I’m Dracula.” Having been reared on Bela Lugosi, with whom you knew you were in trouble, Lee just seemed like a very sensible, sophisticated gentleman.’ — Martin Scorsese.

Dude descending a staircase

Howdy

Lee is really scary here as he advances into huge close-up with a fairly wide-angle lens, fairly low: the shot is telling us to run for cover but there’s nothing in the performance to clue in the other guy in the scene, so for once the poignancy works without Harker looking like an idiot.

Scorsese’s other remarks are fun. On CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN: ‘The audience loved it, and there was a graphic quality to it that was… totally uncalled for! And was extremely endearing to us at about the age of fifteen.’

And more on Lee: ‘…he was a very likeable Dracula — we enjoyed his company, we could imagine socializing with him. We also liked Peter Cushing a great deal as Van Helsing, because he had such insight, and he was very precise in his movements within the frame.’

Miss Stake

I kind of wonder if Scorsese’s teenage friends all admired the precision of Cushing’s movements… but Cushing certainly moves well, and often. An admirer of Laurence Olivier, he brings a comparable dashing physical gusto to his work, but as Scorsese observes, he’s more camera-wise.

The third horror star in this film is often overlooked: Michael Gough. His work in later horror films has attracted favourable attention, and Tim Burton made good use of him in his BATMEN and SLEEP HOLLOW films, carrying on where Vincent Price left off in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, but it seems almost to be forgotten that he’s even in DRACULA.

Everyone who ever works with Gough remarks on how extremely clever he is, and so, with all respect to director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster*, I tend to attribute this next bit of clever business to Gough:

Not tonight dear I have a headache

Van Helsing brands Gough’s sweetheart on the brow with a crucifix, and as she screams, Gough clutches his own temples in sudden sympathetic pain.

A moment later, Cushing’s V-H dispatches the vampire gal with a businesslike stake to the heart, and Gough pulls the same stunt a second time, this time clutching his ticker.

ouch

Fine fine work from the Goughster.

I Made This!

*Sangster is amusingly modest about his writing abilities, but has written some fine films, a favourite of mine being THE NANNY. But at times he does live up to his reputation for rubbishness: his autobiography actually ends with the line “I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.” On CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Lee was sulking about not having any lines, and Cushing told him “Think yourself lucky, have you READ the script?”

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3 Responses to “Dra-cu-la!”

  1. The impact of the Hammer films cannot be underestimated. Lee’s Dracula is so completely unlike Lugosi’s that it takes your breath away. Equally breathtaking is the film’s emphasis on M’lady’s cleavage. Breasts heaved in horro/passion slippin’ one past the goalie in a highly circumspect era.

  2. I *cannot* get my head around censorship standards in UK film of this period. Just saw EXPRESSO BONGO, where our own dear Cliff Richard is surrounded by strippers in pasties, and Sylvia Sims has lines like “Your G-string’s slipped.” But then Val Guest always seemed to have his own cosy relationship with the censor. More on him soon.
    Hammer’s main weapon seems to have been overkill: loading their films with excess and whittling it away very slowly in hopes of exhausting the censor. Didn’t make it to see the restored, uncut DRAC yet, but it seems likely to clear up the mystery of the Odd Ankle Close-up during Lee’s disintegration.
    Lee is remarkable in his best work, and I enjoy his personality too. My pal Comrade K calls him “the experts’ expert” and he is amusingly keen to big up his erudition, but he seems very sweet too. My costume designer worked with him, and she’s a great chatterbox too — they got on like a house on fire.
    Heaving bosom policy seems to have always been more lax in the UK: scenes from THE WICKED LADY had to be reshot for the US market to get the decolletage in line with American standards of decency,

  3. Hi David Cairns,
    Awhile back I left a comment, which was actually a request asking if anyone had information about outdoor Denham Studio sets of the film Caesar and Cleopatra which was released in London in December 1945 and in the USA in 1946. I foolish forgot to click Notify me of follow-up comments via email. Could you correct this? I do not seem to be able to find my original comment. Thank you.

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