Archive for James Bernard


Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2008 by dcairns

 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


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.


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?”


The Great Stone Face

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2007 by dcairns

And that's how my scalpel got so blunt.

My partner’s brother Roddy is a movie buff too. He has learning difficulties, which partly means he’s even more certain about what he likes than most of us, and what he likes is Hammer Horror. As he’s with us for Christmas, we’re going en famille to the digitally restored DRACULA tomorrow, but this afternoon we ran Terence Fisher’s lesser-known THE GORGON, also with Cushing and Lee.

Don't look in her eyes!

It’s a slow-paced bit of thick-ear, with a Greek gorgon rather oddly transplanted to Germany, and an unusual restraint shown in revealing the monster, perhaps due to the makeup and special effects departments’ inability to muster a convincing headful of serpents for the titular mythological beast-woman. They really needed Ray Harryhausen to pull this one off.

Then there’s a distinctly Scooby Doo shortage of suspects — there is precisely one. Essentially all we have to see us through to the climax is atmosphere (dry ice and lighting, sets, Peter Cushing and what Scorsese calls “the precision of his movements within the frame”, James Bernard’s yowling score) and a few petrifications, though at the end there’s a rather lovely effect as we are startled by the decapitated gorgon Megaera’s transmutation into — the only other woman in the film!


“Is this black and white?”

“Where’s he going?”

“Who’s this?”

“What’s he doing?”

“Where’s he going?”

“I don’t think it’s her.”

“I can’t see a thing.”

“Where’s Christopher Lee going now?”

“Uh oh.”

“That did the trick.”

Harryhausen pulls off a good Medusa

Harryhausen can’t help but make monsters more monstrous than they’re supposed to be! His cyclops has goat legs, his troglodyte has a horn on his head, and Medusa is kitted out with scales and a serpent’s body. Generosity, that’s what I call it.