What I'm Watching: Hammer Dracula

The Hammer Dracula films deviate weirdly from the book, and each iteration gets stranger. Still, I'd like to see the rest; I've probably watched all of them at some point but it's been many decades.

  • Horror of Dracula (1958): Jonathan Harker is an ineffectual agent for Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), this time posing as a librarian for Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), whose castle is in "Klausenberg"/Cluj, Romania. The castle is quite nice, moody and gothic but also cleaned up enough to be a run-down Romanian palace. There's a pretty, slutty vampire wench in lieu of the 3 vampire brides. Soon enough we're in Karlstadt, Bavaria: No London or long sea voyages for this production! Mina has morphed into (pompous asshole) Arthur's blonde hausfrau wife (100% opposite of the Mina of the book), Lucy has become his chaste, brunette, engaged to Jonathan sister (even more variant, and completely changes the sexual element of her corruption). There's a Dr John Seward, but he's incidental, there's never a Quincey Morris cowboy in these adaptations.

Van Helsing does soon recruit Arthur and reveals while recording a gramophone memo (for this is an advanced 1885) all the powers and vulnerabilities of the vampire, in case you didn't know. Dracula is physically very powerful in his castle, but here in Karlstadt he relies entirely on suggestion and sneaking around, and while he has his way with "Lucy" the heroes quickly apply their scientific knowledge to destroy him.

The sets are nice, the film is bright and colorful. Chris Lee and Peter Cushing are excellent in their characters. But the script is nonsense, the plot is nothing like Dracula.

★★★★☆

  • I can't find #2 Brides of Dracula or #3 Dracula Prince of Darkness in any reasonable way. Maybe later I'll catch up.

  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1969): #4 in the series. It is now 1905. A girl is murdered in a church in the shadow of Dracula's castle; this is never clearly explained, because at this time Dracula is in torpor, frozen in a river (I dunno, #3 did it). A Monsignor (not quite a Bishop) takes the useless local priest up to Dracula's castle, does spiritual warfare (nothing) and claims victory. Well, no, because the useless priest coincidentally resurrects Dracula. So… did Dracula make that happen? Or is it just bad luck, dozens of people fell nearby over the decades but not quite in the right place?

But now we're in "Keinenberg", which sounds German but everyone and everything looks English, much less set decoration effort. The useless priest, a hot redhead barmaid, and a useless boyfriend of the Monsignor's "daughter" all bumble about, Dracula hangs out in the basement and does nothing but smoke a lot of dope, judging from his red eyes. Normally a Hammer film doesn't have time to be boring, but this one feels like it's taken hours.

There's no Van Helsing, is what it is. Say what you will about Abe's "YOU DAMNED FOOL" personality, it moves the plot along. The Monsignor putters about and does nothing, and is too fat and old for rooftop adventures. The lovesick useless boyfriend barely knows his line "where's Maria!" Dracula broods and stares, but apparently lacks the energy to do anything, except kill the slutty redhead, who was the only one I liked.

A very brief return to the bar and front door of the castle in Cluj isn't really enough of a set change, mostly it's just wandering thru woods like any Z-grade flick.

None of the vampire rules seem to apply to this one. You can see Dracula's reflections, it doesn't take multiple feedings to turn a victim, he can enter a house on his own. It is claimed you need prayer to defeat a vampire, which is not at all true in any other film; right angles inexplicably repel vampires, but the religious trappings don't do anything.

★★☆☆☆

Both have a rather overbearing score by James Bernard, who did many another Hammer soundtrack. A lighter touch and it would've been a good soundtrack, but brass shrieking at the audience made it hard to hear lines.

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