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The silent era was the richest in the cinema's history.- Kevin Brownlow
Motion, two planes and a suggestion of depth: that is our chaos from which we will fashion our universe.- Charles Chaplin
Characteristic of all good film is a certain rhythm-bound restlessness, which is created partly through the actors' movements in the pictures and partly through a more or less rapid interchange of the pictures themselves. A live, mobile camera, which even in close-ups adjusts flexibly and follows the persons so that the background is constantly shifted (just as for the eye, when we follow a person with our eyes), is important for the first type of restlessness.- Carl Theodor Dreyer
In the montage of attractions: it is not in fact phenomena that are compared but chains of associations that are linked to a particular phenomenon in the mind.- Sergei Eisenstein
To get the public enthusiastic, you have to get the same feeling into your camerawork--poetry, exaltation... but above all, poetry.- Abel Gance
The camera is the director's sketching pencil. It should be as mobile as possible to catch every passing mood.- F.W. Murnau
At this once-great website, I write comments (or reviews, as IMDb now calls them) on movies--mostly early silent films thus far--and I formerly sometimes took advantage of the message boards to discuss movies with fellow enthusiasts before IMDb ended that feature. (With recent site changes downgrading the user review features, I may not be writing reviews any longer, either.) I also update information on titles when I come across it. PrivacyLover, which was meant to be political, was formerly my user name here, but I've changed it to Cineanalyst, which is more fitting for this website.
I love many different kinds of movies, from throughout the history of motion pictures, but I find silent films to be especially alluring. It's exciting to view the beginnings of a new art form. Furthermore, viewing the early films has taught me much on the importance of cinema and has altered my appreciation of the later films. It's not as though these early pictures are necessarily inferior, either. Silence was in ways benefitial; it emphasized that it's a visual art form: to the filmmakers and viewers.
I don't subscribe to any particular academic film theory, nor is there necessarily any formal unity to my comments. I write on what I find interesting, and I try to write well, but informally. I'm interested in style and structure, including editing, mise-en-scène, cinematography and narrative. I'm especially interested in how they relate to the early development of filmmaking, as well as relationships to art history and history in general. I like self-reflexive films--movies about movies--and like to compare films to see where filmmakers are influenced by others.
(By the way, I've recently seen every movie before I comment on them--usually on home video--just to clarify, since some posters comment on titles they haven't seen, often to provide some information. And, some of the titles I've commented on can be hard to find or out of print.)
There are some good film comments on this website: for links, especially as concerns other reviewers of silent films, here is a link to Snow Leopard's profile http://www.imdb.com/user/ur1174211/boards/profile
Since the IMDb message boards and private message features are gone, here's an email that I can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
Franco Does Dracula AgainThis Time with Lesbians
Director Jesús Franco had already directed an impoverished international adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" the prior year. At least, that film managed to attract two acclaimed actors in Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski, both of whose careers would include being in better Dracula movies made by others (Lee had and would continue to star in Hammer's series, and Kinski went on to be in Werner Herzog's 1979 "Nosferatu"). "Vampyros Lesbos" has lesbian vampires and nudity. The 1970 Dracula was closer to Stoker's text than most adaptations; "Vampyros Lesbos" is a very loose reworking or continuation of the novel. Neither one does anything especially intelligent, though.
Here, Linda repeats, from Stoker, Jonathan Harker's business trip to a vampire's lair (this time on an island, presumably Lesbos), where the Countess Nadine Carody, perhaps intentionally, offers a twist on Bela Lugosi's famous line ("I never drink... wine.") from the 1931 "Dracula," saying, "I love red wine." Apparently, Linda is overseeing the Countess' inheritance from Count Dracula. Not that it matters; the story is poorly developed, and this Dracula connection only serves to bring the women together. There's another woman named Agra who plays the Renfield-type character here in Dr. Seward's asylum. Seward, meanwhile, doubles in the role of his namesake from Stoker as well as the Van Helsing type. Appropriately, Agra isn't a bug eater like Renfield. She's another lesbian, but frustrated by the celibacy of being locked in a cell. Agra and Linda are both blondes, which is a bit confusing for a moment, because, for a while, they're both committed to Seward's asylum.
This rehashing of Stoker's book is enough story for a short film, but Franco and company add a bunch of filler to drag it out to feature length. There are long stretches that rely too heavily on the musical scoremaking this, at times, appear more like a music video rather than a film. There are numerous location shots serving no narrative purpose. The many insert shots of a scorpion are loosely connected to the story in the end, but would have been better left out. The shots of a moth never make sense. Franco himself has an on-screen role as a woman killer, a part that seems as though it were filmed as an afterthought for further runtime padding. It has nothing to do with the main Sapphic vampire plot, and it should've been entirely excluded.
Besides being a countess, Nadine also performs at a nightclub (yeah, it makes no sense), which she exploits to suck the blood from her nude-female counterpart on the stage. Linda watches this performance in the film's beginning, and the performance is again replayed later. I guess, though, that Linda's viewing of it may've been explained as a dream. There's also a repeated voice-over of Nadine saying Linda's name. Some have claimed this filler to add to the film's dreamlike and psychedelic atmosphere, but in my sober state, I fail to appreciate it. This isn't a poor-man's or an exploitative edition of Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Vampyr" (1932); it's just bad.
Which can be good, but I prefer trashy, poorly-made movies to be funny. This one isn't; instead, it flails between the artsy and erotic and mostly fails at both. Somewhat funny, however, is the non-Seward shrink business. Not only does Linda see one, but there's also a scene where the Countess lies on a bed submitting herself to the mute psychotherapy of a male vampire, as she, ironically, talks about how she hates men. Linda's quack, meanwhile, doodles a diagram seemingly depicting the filming of a vampire movie! This one, perhaps. Too bad the doodle doesn't offer any rationale for Franco's obsession with zoom shots. I would've enjoyed his Dracula movies much more without the constant zooming in and out. Especially bad is how some of the zooms are telegraphed by the shots, at first, being out of focus. Narratively, "Vampyros Lesbos" likewise lacks focus; it's soft- focus, soft-core erotica.
(Mirror Note: The Countess uses a mirror, which casts her reflection, in the nightclub performances. The male vampire's reflection is also seen in the finale. Franco demonstrated that he knew Dracula didn't cast reflections in his 1970 adaptation. "Vampyros Lesbos" isn't a strict adaptation, so I'm not especially offended by these vamp reflections, although the mirror shots aren't interesting otherwise.)
Scars of Dracula (1970)
The sixth film in Hammer's Dracula series and the second of the series to be released in 1970 alone, "Scars of Dracula" is a mostly lackluster addition. Although it resembles Bram Stoker's novel in a few ways, which is more than can be said of most of the follow-ups to Hammer's original 1958 adaptation, it doesn't adapt any of the novel's themes in particularly interesting ways. Hammer's prior 1970 Dracula film, "Taste the Blood of Dracula," on the other hand, did update the sexual hypocrisy of Stoker's 19th-Century tale for the era of Vietnam and modern youth counterculture. In that regard, it was far more in the spirit of Stoker than is "Scars of Dracula," despite the latter film sharing more in common with the novel's story particulars.
As in the novel, here, Dracula has some control over animals specifically, vampire bats. Unfortunately, the film is full of cheesy fake bats, but this does lead to the clearest view yet in a Hammer film of Castle Dracula, from a bat's-eye viewpoint. This time, the castle is on an impossible cliff's edge in some Germanic village (the castle and general settings of these movies keeps changing from film to film and is best when, as here, the exact locations are ambiguous). The bloody church scene might also be the best part in this film. Although, when we see the bats attacking and not just the aftermath, it is as hilarious for its cheesiness as it is gruesome.
Christopher Lee's Dracula gets some lines again, too, and he's once- again a welcoming hostoffering his guests drugged wine and beds for the night. Paul's visit, in particular, recalls Jonathan Harker's stay from Stoker. Clearly, since the kids in "Taste the Blood of Dracula" tarnished his home by making it over as a church and since the village mob this time feebly attempted to burn it down, Dracula has had time to do some interior decorating. He's decided to embrace a red theme this time, even including red candles. It accentuates his natural bloodlust well. Also from Stoker, there's a shot of Dracula scaling the outside walls of his castle. The last and first time this may've been done in a film was the Turkish adaptation, "Drakula Istanbul'da" (1953). Meanwhile, the business with Sarah's portrait recalls the device used in "Nosferatu" (1922) and several subsequent Stoker adaptations, but which is not in the novel.
Otherwise, "Scars of Dracula" is sometimes dull in its plotting, sexist at other times and generally follows the horror cliché of promiscuous characters dying (Paul and the barmaid) and virgins surviving (Simon and Sarah). There are two brothers. Paul's the Don Juan of the family, and his adventure includes a supposedly- funny storyline regarding the burgomaster's daughter accusing him of rape. Carrying over Hammer's introduction of nudity to their series from "Taste the Blood of Dracula," this time they show us the backside, including as the daughter is chased up a staircase by her father. Next, the film follows Paul's chivalrous brother, Simon, as he annoyingly tries to ditch Sarah thrice before only temporarily succeeding the fourth time during their travels to the castle. Inexplicably, these brothers are like catnip to the ladies. It must be because of manly lines such as when Simon informs, "I can take care of myself, Sarah can't." Oh, brother.
There's another slave for Dracula named Klove, as there was in Hammer's "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1966). Two characters in the same movie think it's a good idea to sneak into empty carriages; spoilers, it's not a good idea. There's a female vamp who claims to be a prisoner at the castle, a la Hammer's original 1958 film. Dracula stabs her to death, and he scars his slave with a flaming- hot sword. For the finale, Dracula's combustibility from a lightning strike was one of the strangest and weakest deaths yet in the series.
(Mirror Note: Like another 1970 Dracula film starring Christopher Lee, Franco's fairly-faithful adaptation, this one also inexplicably has a mirror inside Castle Dracula. This time, there's a relatively small mirror in the room where Paul and Sarah stay. The female vampire is seen through this mirror, although since she is also killed by Dracula's blade, she's an odd one of her species in general. Hammer had screwed up vampire reflections already in "Dracula has Risen from the Grave" (1968), too.)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Dracula Sucks the Blood from English Hypocrisy
I think this, "Taste the Blood of Dracula," is easily the best of Hammer's Dracula sequels. Unlike the other mere bosoms-and-blood affairs, it gets at something of Bram Stoker's novel: Dracula's invasion as a self-inflicted undermining of the hypocrisy of English society. And, that message had some resonance with Hammer's target audience of Vietnam-War-era youth. It, too, also has plenty of bosoms and blood.
Dracula is revived by three hypocritical men. They pretend to be socially-respectable husbands and fathers, but they also visit the brothelin a sequence containing the first glimpses of nudity in Hammer's Dracula series and among the earliest in general among Dracula movies. When they bore of such titillation, they engage Lord Courtley, who for whatever reasons is a kept man due to the generosity of the prostitutes, to procure for them more thrilling delights. Courtley offers them Satanism in the form of a ceremony where they drink a cocktail of Dracula's powdered blood liquified by Courtley donating some of his own, fresh plasma. The hypocrites refuse, however, and, instead, they demand Courtley drink some. He does and begins gagging, at which point the other men beat him to death! Somehow, this resurrects Dracula and, in another flimsy revenge plot (like in "Dracula has Risen from the Grave" (1968)), he seeks to compel the children of the hypocrites to kill their fathers because, apparently, Dracula cared about Courtley, his servant, or, more likely, he's just upset that someone other than himself killed him. Obviously, as evidenced by his killing Lucy and turning his back on Alice, he doesn't seem to care about his minions.
Stoker's book, too, was about Dracula invading a sexually-repressed English society and, in effect, exposing their hypocrisy by exchanging bodily fluids with them and turning them into wanton vampires. In "Taste the Blood of Dracula," the Count does this for the benefit of the youth. Dracula is like the Id monster from "Forbidden Planet" (1956), fulfilling the wishes of the rebellious children by allowing them to murder their repressive parents. Alice's father won't let her go to a party with Paul; OK, Alice will cut daddy's head open with a shovel, then. Once the hypocrites are dispensed with, save the inspector who'll steal a drink on the clock in private but not inebriate himself so publicly when offered the liquor (although maybe vampire Jeremey will still be around to bite him), Dracula is dispensed with. In the face of true puppy love, he is killed by Paul's decorating of Dracula's lair as a church and, presumably, setting the stage for Paul and Alice's red wedding.
So, I disagree with those who say Dracula is a mere afterthought in this outing; rather, he's finally integral to a decent story in the Hammer series. Plus, Christopher Lee's Count is a supporting monster in every one of Hammer's Dracula movies. The rest of the cast is probably the best of any of their Dracula films, too. The reading of Jonathan Secker's letter, as Paul prepares himself like a young Van Helsing for battle, is genuinely exciting. And, it's about time Hammer moved the series to England instead of some vague continental-European place populated by Brits. Probably because they didn't have to hide as much, the art direction seems better and more open as a result.
(Mirror Note: Nothing to speak ofLucy's father is seen through the mirror a couple times in their home's entryway.)
Cuadecuc, vampir (1971)
Better than the Film it's about
Spoilers Warning Elaborated: This review contains spoilers for "Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht" (1970), as well as for this film, "Cuadecuc vampir."
A documentary following the filming of Franco's cheap international "Dracula" adaptation "Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht" (1970), "Cuadecuc vampir" one-ups its subject in both style and content selection. (And the documentarians, apparently, didn't even have enough respect for the other production to realize it wasn't a Hammer film, as the documentary's credits erroneously claim.) A silent film with a musical score until the end scene, "Cuadecuc vampir" reminds me of the simultaneous silent productions of early talking pictures made in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when some movie theatres had yet to transition to the equipment required to screen talkies. Similarly, other films were made into separate foreign-language versions with a different cast and crew. The 1931 "Dracula," for instance, was made into two different films, one in English and another in Spanish, and may've also been edited into a silent release. Sometimes, these secondary productions upstaged the primary film. That's kind of what happened here.
Rather than simply being behind-the-scenes footage or a making-of documentary, "Cuadecuc vampir" is a simultaneous filming of the same production as Franco's film. It replaces the latter's absurd abundance of zoom-ins with some superior framing of images behind foreground objects, in addition to the focus on light with the low- quality black-and-white photography. "Cuadecuc," of the title, translates as "cuvette," which is a tube used to hold samples for experiments. It's an apt analogy for this experimental film.
It also cuts out some of the worst parts of Franco's film and includes some interesting and humorous behind-the-scenes footage of the other crew filming the same scenes or the actors in between takes. Christopher Lee lurching at the camera before getting into his casket as Dracula, or Maria Rohm, the film's Mina, winking at the camera during a scene are some of the more enjoyable and playful moments. The silence removes the often-tired dialogue. There are no taxidermic animals attacking, as Franco ridiculously had in one scene. Klaus Kinski's Renfield is eliminated, and as it frequently turns out in movie adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel, the film's no worse without the character. We don't see the other film's weird Van Helsing stroke, either, nor its death-by-fire ending. Consequently, the pacing is better and is even quite rhythmic, as opposed to the slow, dull pacing in the Franco version.
The five minutes near the end where the musical score is stuck on one repeating note is an annoying exception to this film being an improvement. It sounds like a broken record or piece of malfunctioning equipment. The scene after this, however, is the best part and its only talking sequence. Rather than reshoot the ending of Franco's version, which is a bad alteration to Stoker's original take, this film shows Christopher Lee describing and reading Dracula's death scene from Stoker's novel. This scene also has the best mirror shots I've seen in any Dracula movie, as the camera whirls around Lee's reflection in two dressing-room mirrors and finally upon his image outside them. It's the documentary coming out of the mirror of the production of the fictional film, to the reality of Lee, out of makeup, reading the fiction's source. It's certainly better than the camera tricks to not show Lee's Dracula's reflection in the castle mirror shot in the Franco film.
"Cuadecuc vampire" may not be very interesting by itself, but viewing it after the disappointment of the 1970 "Dracula," it somewhat makes having viewed the other film worth it.
Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht (1970)
This cheap international production of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" is poorly conceived and poorly made in most ways, but it does have the draw of featuring two actors who played the titular role in other, better films, and is, thus, interesting for comparison. Christopher Lee had already played Dracula in the 1958 Hammer production and would continue to appear in the role in the studio's sequels. He again plays the Count here. Klaus Kinski would later play Dracula in Werner Herzog's remake of "Nosferatu" in 1979, and here he plays Renfield.
Although championed as faithful to the book, as an adaptation, this "Dracula" features some bad deviations from Stoker's tale and in other ways is a poor imitation of prior "Dracula" filmsespecially the 1958 Hammer one. Although it adopts the gore and blood splatter from Hammer, it's, overall, a tamer version, and there's very little sex appeal here as opposed to some of the Hammer productions. This film also steals from the 1958 film the part where the Count lures Mina away, but adopts from the 1931 Universal picture the scenes of Dracula prowling the streets and entering a theatre. This stuff is absent from Stoker's original. Also absent from the book is Van Helsing's weird stroke, which in this film leaves him wheelchair bound and stuck at home with Mina while Quincy and Jonathan go to Transylvania. Also, in the final scenes, a fire motif is invented, with Van Helsing making a makeshift, fiery cross to ward off Dracula, and the Count is climactically burned to death in his coffin.
There's a laughable scene involving taxidermic animals supposedly coming to life to threaten our heroes, some obvious dummy boulders in the climax, and the film makes the head-scratching mistake of trying to pass off docile German Shepherds as wolves. The fake bat gimmickry is far more tolerable by comparison. Overall, the main stylistic theme of director Franco's movie is an abundant reliance on zoom-ins.
Lee and Kinski can't save this dull and ill-advised mess, but their characterizations are of some interest. Kinski as Renfield seems too true to art imitating life, as the actor really had been committed to a psychiatric hospital in years past, and his continued abnormal behavior was evidenced in his frequent-director Herzog's documentary "My Best Fiend" (1999). Unlike other portrayals of Renfield, Kinski plays him comatose, with occasional screaming and violent outbursts, including jumping out a window and choking Mina. Kinski's later stilted Nosferatu isn't that far removed from his Renfield, really, except his Dracula talks more and breaths heavier. Meanwhile, Lee got the opportunity to play a Count that is a somewhat closer approximation of Stoker's characterization than his Hammer iterations, although he still manages to play him mostly mute after his castle scenes. His mustached appearance and white-to- black hair transformation is closer to Stoker's description, too, than his wild-eyed sex beast in the '58 shocker.
The final embarrassment is that the filmmakers of a documentary, "Cuadecuc vampire" (1971), of the making of this film, made a better movie.
The next year, Franco made a looser, Sapphic Dracula adaptation, appropriately titled "Vampyros Lesbos" (1971).
(Mirror Note: Contrary to the novel, Dracula has a wall mirror in his castle, which, for further inexplicable reasons, he points to in a scene with Jonathanrevealing to him his lack of a reflection. Although also contrary to the novel, a shadow disappearance shot is handled better later in the film.)
Hammer's Dracula Goes Downhill; or, is it a Mountain Now?
Hammer's Dracula series certainly doesn't benefit from one screening them in order within a relatively short span; they're horribly inconsistent. For this one, Castle Dracula moves once again: in 1958, it was a country villa on relatively flat land; in 1966, it was on a country hilltop with pathways allowing horse-drawn carriages to it; now, it's on a mountain ridge without pathways, and it's close enough to town to cast a shadow on the church. And, I'll just go along with the geography of one pub having a basement bakery and another being adjoined to a church. It's clear by the reliance on the same camera positions for some exteriors in this film that Hammer didn't have much space to work with.
Also new, Dracula, apparently, has some flair for staging his murders, as one of his victims hangs within a church bell (or maybe one of his human assistants did it, since it seems especially odd that Drac would venture into a cross-filled church to create such a scene). Somehow, he's more misogynist than usual, too; when he's done with the cleavage-baring barmaid, he has the priest burn her in a bread oven, while Dracula pursues the supposedly-more-virtuous blonde (who, laughably, sleeps with a doll). This is also part of his silly revenge plot, for the blonde's father dared put a cross on his castle door (which he doesn't immediately have removed because they need it for the finale). And "Dracula has Risen from the Grave" gets even worse from there.
The Hammer series had always required more-than-the-usual suspension of disbelief, what with Transylvania being populated by Brits, and, of course, the aforementioned settings and story inconsistencies. But, now, we must put up with the late 1960s mores and hairstyles, perms and all, for what appears to be an early-20th Century setting now (judging by the date on the coffin Dracula steals). No, it's too much. The characters are insufferable this outing. The blonde's sniveling and weeping is annoying. The atheist scholar is insulting. New, for this film, staking Dracula isn't enough; you need to say a prayer, too. Even when he's impaled by a cross. The atheist hero dutifully learns his lesson and performs the sign of the cross at the end.
(Mirror Note: Aargh, Dracula's reflection is seen in water. The 1979 "Dracula" would later make the same mistake. The only actual mirror shot shows the otherwise-out-of-frame lovers while the priest grabs a blunt object in which to bludgeon the guy with.)
Dance of the Vampires (1967)
Well-Made Vampire Farce Hammers Hammer
Since reading Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula," I've been viewing a bunch of Dracula movies. Although "Dance of the Vampires," renamed "The Fearless Vampire Killers" in the US, isn't a "Dracula" adaptation, it's said to parody the Dracula and vampire series of Hammer Films. Having endured some of the lackluster output from that studio to follow its more-successful original 1958 "Dracula" adaptation, I wanted to be rewarded for it by Roman Polanski's vampire comedy. In that regard, it's quite enjoyable despite a lot of the humor not working for me.
As far as vampire comedies go, I find "Love at First Bite" (1979) funnierlargely because of its rapid-fire structure of jokes. Many of the one-liners are duds, but they're quickly passed over by other lines that do work. "Dance of the Vampires," on the other hand, is rather slow and silent early on, although it picks up after the vampires come into the picture. The humor is more of the physical and slapstick variety. While this leaves a lot of dead space, when a gag does pay off, it can be more gratifying.
The best ones, methinks, are those that upend traditional vampire lore established by prior movies. The Van Helsing type Professor as a buffoon, for instance, or the first explicitly gay vampire in mainstream cinema that I know ofwho is thwarted by a human biting him! Or the Jewish sexual predator who continues much in the same vein once he's turned into a vampire. In one of the film's best jokes, when his victim confronts him with the usual vampire repellent of a cross, he quips, "You got the wrong vampire."
Like some of the Hammer films, there's sex (plenty of cleavage and bath scenes and a bit of spanking) and color. "The Fearless Vampire Killers" is even better photographed and has richer locations than Hammer's output. Of course, there's a makeshift cross in one scene, too, and the vampires are a satanic cult. The bath scenes, the human and vampire sex predators and the hunchback assistant (à la Universal's non-Dracula monster movies) reminded me of another "Dracula" adaptation, "Drakula Istanbul'da" (1953).
The film's alternate title, "The Fearless Vampire Killers," can be read two ways: as referring to the human Professor and his assistant or to the vampires themselves. Reflecting this dual reading, there are two comedic chases: in the first, the humans chase a vampire and, in the second, the vampires chase the humans. Moreover, these vamps have mirrors in their mansion. Unlike the inexplicable mirror in Castle Dracula of Franco's poor 1970 adaptation, these mirrors have a reason. The vampires don't care whether the mirrors expose their true nature because they're not hiding. They're not like the suave Dracula of so many movies who sneaks into high-class English society. No, their mirrors expose the true nature of humans. This works wonderfully in the ballroom dance sequence (which is likely inspired by Hammer's "The Kiss of the Vampire" (1963)). It's far better as a gag than Mel Brooks's ballroom mirror exposure in "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995), which returns mirrors to being a threat to vampires.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Hammer's Dracula Series Strikes Back, but on Thin Ice
Although others have some nice things to say about "The Brides of Dracula" (1960), the second film in the Hammer Dracula series, I found it disappointingnot least because kid-vamp Baron Meinster was a poor heir to Christopher Lee's Dracula. It was lacking in the main Hammer ingredients of blood and bosoms. It had color (although, again, too little of the red blood), decent production design on a budget, the music, a few bits of new vampiric lore for the genre and a reworking of, but which was all-too-similar-to, the ending of the 1958 "Dracula." "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," the third in the series, largely corrects its predecessor's missteps returning to the stuff that made the 1958 original stand out. Appropriately enough, it begins with a recap of the end of the '58 film in an eye framing.
As in "The Brides of Dracula," however, and unlike the '58 film, "Prince of Darkness" does delay the reveal of its star. It takes over 45 minutes before Dracula is reincarnated in the film's most gruesome sequence, involving the hanging upside and bloodletting of a corpse. This is the stuff of Michael Myers, Jason, Freddie Krueger, Chucky, etc. al. Of course, there was reincarnation in the Universal monster series, too, especially with the seemingly immortal Frankenstein creature and the Wolf Man. Anyways, there's also some sex appeal again, too, when Helen turns vamp. Moreover, the Helen character is the most interesting one this outing, especially since Lee is entirely mute this time as Dracreminding me of the confusion the Universal series had back in the day with the voice of the Frankenstein creature. Helen begins as kind of a wet- blanket-wife type, which provides the important horror role of someone being afraid and critical of the impending doom and fantastic sites. The other three travelers are just fun-loving nincompoops. Helen's transformation is more fascinating because of this.
Before Dracula's appearance, the film could best be described as falling in the horror subgenre of the old dark house, with the Count's servant Clove filling the shoes of Boris Karloff from the subgenre's namesake, "The Old Dark House" (1932). In this respect, it does well enough in creating a spooky atmosphere. Afterwards, "Prince of Darkness" largely reworks material from Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" and includes the role of Renfield (renamed "Ludwig" here) not used in the bare-bones 1958 adaptation. Dracula's greatest strength, it seems this time, are his human servants, Clove and Ludwig. He's kind of helpless otherwise, especially when people figure out the cross trick. Father Sandor plays the Van Helsing type credibly. And Dracula picks a particularly daring invasion this time, considering his aversion to Christian icons, by making a raid on a monastery.
The horse-carriage business earlier on also has the flavor of Stoker, although how the horses lead themselves while Dracula (and his supernatural powers) is still dead, I do not know. In fact, the travelers are only able to control a horse for a getaway after the Count returns. Trying to make sense of such a movie, including the continued geographical confusion of the series where Brits populate Eastern Europe, is probably a fruitless exercise; as the old cliché that one of the characters repeats, best not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Although, once again, the hero employs a makeshift cross, this is done in the middle of the picture, and the burning removal of a bite wound is recycled from "The Daughter of Dracula," the ending offers a new take on vampire destruction. As Father Sandor, conspicuously as it gets, explains in one scene, vampires can drown. I wouldn't bet against that tidbit not becoming relevant in the end. But, hey, at least it was different.
(Mirror Note: No mirror shots.)
The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
Fun when it's in Poor Taste, Boring when it's Not
Hammer seems to have had a creative crisis of sorts regarding its vampire output in the eight-years absence, between the 1958 "Dracula" and the 1966 "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," of Christopher Lee in the Dracula role. "The Brides of Dracula" (1960) had Peter Cushing return as Van Helsing, but it's a dull retread, and kid-vamp Baron Meinster was a poor heir to Lee. Absent Lee, Cushing and any Dracula connection this outing, "The Kiss of the Vampire," at least, has a grown man in the role of its head vampire. And although it's slow going for a while after the opening credits, if you stick with it, you're in for a few treats.
This probably would've benefited by being cut down to closer to an hour's length. The early automobile-out-of-gas episode, for instance, where the wife is left alone and, gasp, nothing happens, could've been left out. Or the innkeeper's sad wife, who disappears in the second half of the film, may as well have not been in the first half either. There probably could've been fewer protentive looks early on, as well. You can't really create mystery with such eyeballing when the movie's title tells us there's going to be vampires.
Now, for the treats, we get one to start off when the Professor thrusts a shovel through the coffin and the heart of his turned daughterresulting in the kind of blood splatter Hammer is beloved for. Vampires as decadent cultists is another good idea. Roman Polanski must've seen this for his ballroom sequence in "The Dance of the Vampires," a.k.a. "The Fearless Vampire Killers" (1967). The husband gives us Hammer's best makeshift cross yet by drawing it on his chest in his own blood. And for the grand finale, they realize the black-magic climax that, reportedly, Cushing thought (probably rightly) unwholesome for his Van Helsing in "The Brides of Dracula." Fortunately, the Van Helsing stand-in here, the Professor Zimmer, has no such qualms. The fake-bats biting the vampire cultists to death is just deliciously trashy.
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
Another Dull Dracula Sequel
Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" is a rich text, which has retained interest even in a bare-bones adaptation such as Hammer's 1958 film, which succeeds largely because it cuts so much from the long book to create an exciting pacing. Plus, it had red blood and sex appeal two things lacking from prior Dracula films. So, at least, it was a well-paced action shocker. That's not the case with this, the misnamed "The Brides of Dracula," the first of what would be eight sequels to the '58 "Dracula." Like Universal before them, which released the dull "Dracula's Daughter" (1936) after its successful 1931 adaptation, Hammer follows up its own success with a dud. In both cases, the studio writers weren't up to the task of following in the footsteps of Stoker.
There's no sex appeal here despite the possibilities of incest and homosexuality offered by the vampires' victims. Even "Dracula's Daughter" did better in this regard. There's little blood and, for most of the runtime, no action. There's also no Dracula, nor daughters from him. It's over half an hour into the film before Peter Cushing's Van Helsing appears; in the meantime, we're left with an uninteresting, unknowing female lead. There's some mystery in the beginning as to who's a vampire. There's a man who steals a ride on a carriage whose character is never adequately explained; supposedly, he hunts victims for the vampire. We later find out the second and younger of the two mystery men is the main antagonist and vampire of the storya boyish and entirely lackluster heir to Christopher Lee. Also unlike the '58 original, which was somewhat ambiguous as to its location, "The Brides of Dracula" is firmly set in Transylvania, which is unfortunate because most of the cast is populated with Brits, including some stupid comic-relief that exemplifies that British strand of humor based on class and regional accents.
Cushing's Sherlock Holmes-type Van Helsing lacks his Watson (the Arthur character in the '58 film) this outing, which might be part of the reason his process of vampire hunting seems much duller than before. A local priest briefly fills this void, though. Plus, it's nearly 50 minutes into the thing before Van Helsing encounters any dangera female vampire raising a hand from the grave despite an obvious continuity error where she opens her unbroken coffin afterwards and from a laughably shallow burial (it takes a very weak person, let alone a vampire, to struggle to emerge from that dust heap). There are a couple more action bits after this between Van Helsing and kid-vamp Baron Meinster. In these incidents, this sequel adds a bunch of new vampiric folklore to the series. Apparently, one can burn off the bite marks of vampires, thus avoiding turning into one themselves. Holy water is like acid to vampire faces. Vampire brides standby mute and motionless when their master is getting his butt kicked by a vampire slayer and presumably helplessly burn to death in a windmill while humans have the gumption to make an exit. And, you can make a makeshift cross out of just about anythingeven the shadow of a windmill turned at just the right angle can do the job. Hammer's vampires are wimps.
(Mirror Note: On the plus side, this film does have the best mirror shot in Hammer's Dracula series: an unbroken-moving-camera mirror shot not revealing the Baron's entrance through the mirror due to his lack of reflection, but behind the Gina character, as the camera moves away from the mirror.)