Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oh, The Horror: Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

Just in time for my horror movie kick, I stumbled upon a couple of the classic Hammer Dracula movies on AMC the other night. I caught the last 20 minutes of Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and then Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) in it’s entirety.

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave actually picks up where Prince of Darkness leaves off. Dracula meets his demise by falling into an icy river. (Remember the old vampire rule about running water? They cashed it in here.) But like Han Solo at the end of Empire, he’s not dead, he’s just frozen. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave starts in a village at the foot of the mountains where the Count’s castle looms over... casting an evil shadow on the villagers. A young boy finds a victim of the count hanging in a church, and is traumatized to the point of being mute for the rest of his life. We then fast forward a year, presumably past the events of Prince of Darkness, to a time when Dracula has been destroyed. But the town is still affected by the shadow of the castle, and the church and it’s priest are having a crisis of faith.

When the Monsignor comes to town and realizes the situation, he decides to trek up to the castle and perform an exorcism to restore the spirit of the congregation. But for some reason, the road the castle no longer exist and so the Monsignor and the priest have to hike all the way up. As they get closer, the priest has a panic attack and refuses to venture all the way up to the doors of the castle. While the Monsignor performs the ceremony and seals the castle doors with a large metal cross, a storm rolls in and the priest falls down and bleeds into a steam. Unfortunately, it happens to be the exact spot where Dracula is frozen in a block of ice. The blood seeps into his mouth and before you know it, the count is thawed out and back in action. And his clothes look great for being wet and frozen for a year. (Meanwhile, when I put on a dress shirt it’s wrinkled before I walk out the door.)

I don’t intend on writing a blow by blow synopsis of the movie, but I wanted to make a point. This movie takes a long time to get going. Dracula doesn’t even show up until well into the first act of the film.

Once the Count realizes he can’t get into his pad, he decides to take revenge on the Monsignor and follows him back to his home town... with his latest Renfield-like slave, the priest, in tow. In town, we meet the Monsignor’s hot niece and her boyfriend, a feisty fellow who works in the tavern/bakery. Dracula quickly sets his sites on the niece and also bites and enslaves the busty tavern girl.

Lee’s Dracula is a real departure from Lugosi. No accent, much more vicious and just loves to enslave and hypnotize people. And he’s got those awesome, angry red eyes. Although he rustles up the lust with the ladies, there is very little romance with him. At one point he smacks the tavern girl when she questions him. Why if his cape was covered in fur, Drac could probably pass as a pimp.

One great moment comes when Drac secures a new coffin for himself. He simply has his priest-slave dig up a grave and he tosses the occupying stiff aside. Another example of the inglorious existence of the vampire.

I love these old Hammer flicks, but compared to modern films, they can seem a bit slow at times. The main problem with this film is that the protagonists are pretty lame and we don’t care about them a whole lot. The bakery boy and the Monsignor both are not compelling adversaries for the Count compared to Professor Van Helsing. Hopefully the next old Hammer film I see will be one of the Peter Cushing entries. (Perhaps the screen's greatest Van Helsing.) But still, it’s always fun to catch a Christopher Lee Dracula movie. He is by far the most terrifying of all screen versions of the Count.

And that leads me to the next movie on the list, one that is chock full of interesting and compelling characters. Up next, Let Me In.