NOVEMBER 12, 2011
Part of the fun of watching the Hammer Dracula series out of order is figuring out where the movie falls in the overall timeline, since I have trouble remembering the titles/years of release. For example, when Taste The Blood Of Dracula began with Drac at the bottom of a cliff with a cross through his chest, I knew I had seen the previous entry (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, as it turns out). But when this one ended with ("spoiler") him dying in a church, I thought it led to Dracula AD 1972, which I believe had him resurrected in one. But there's another in between (Scars Of Dracula), so I guess that one is very cyclical in nature.
That or it's just an odd coincidence. 1972 began with a flashback (?) to an entry where Van Helsing killed him after a fight on a wagon, but the good professor isn't even IN Scars, so I dunno. I do enjoy how much effort they put into tying them together, and even explaining how it's possible to continue after usually very definitive endings. Unlike modern horror movies, which always show the killer or monster opening his eyes or something at the end, Hammer films end usually the second that Dracula or whoever has been dispatched, without even an epilogue for the hero characters, let alone a set up for another go around. So how does Dracula come back after being dusted at the end of Grave?
Well, there's a fat guy sharing a coach with two weirdos, and after a scuffle over a snow globe, the fat guy gets tossed out of the coach, where he wanders around for a while and stumbles across Drac as he is shrieking and turning to dust. The character is far enough away to explain why we didn't see him before, and they don't change anything - the guy just inexplicably decides to take Dracula's clothes and ring (and some blood) before continuing on his way. Later, a trio of jerks and some pompous guy (Hammer regular Ralph Bates) obtain the items and, as the title suggests, use Dracula's blood in an attempt to resurrect him.
The weird thing is, Bates is killed in the process, and transforms into Lee - something the original script didn't reflect. They figured Lee wouldn't come back and had written the Bates role to be the movie's vampire, seeking revenge against the three guys who let him die during the botched resurrection. But apparently the American distributor demanded Lee, and he was coaxed back, prompting a "rewrite" (read: they replaced "Courtley" with "Dracula" for the 2nd half of the script and did nothing else). So the movie is kind of wonky - you have Lee/Dracula seeking revenge against three dudes who never did anything wrong to him; if anything he should be thanking him for bringing him back and killing some douche in the process.
Another odd thing is that he kills the most prominent (read: biggest asshole) of the group first, rendering much of his "revenge" rather uninteresting. Revenge plots follow a specific pattern - the one you should hate the most dies last! This guy was a total piece of shit: slapping his daughter around, hating on her boyfriend for no reason, not even seeming to like his friends, etc. The other two guys weren't interesting or memorable in any way; what reason do I have to want to see them dead? So once that first guy is dead, I lost interest in Dracula's already thin excuse for a storyline. As sick as I am of the usual Dracula story, I actually enjoyed the movie more when he was just doing his "Do my bidding" hypnosis stuff with a couple of fetching lasses.
And what's with Hammer's obsession with young male heroes named Paul? Grave, Scars, and this all have Paul characters in more or less the Harker role; you gotta wonder if Dracula ever found this coincidence a bit extreme. This one's a bore to boot, and certainly doesn't make up for the lack of Van Helsing/Peter Cushing. But it's not entirely his fault - the awkward plotting leaves him off-screen for large chunks of the film, so when he turns hero in the last 10-15 minutes it might as well be some random guy. It's actually a problem for most of the characters in the movie (even Dracula); it seems like I was thinking "Where the hell is he/she?" for just about everyone at one point or another. The focus will be on the trio of jerks for a while, then it'll be all about Paul and the daughter... even the guys in the opening scene seem like they should have been given more screentime (seriously, why's that guy so crazy about snow globes?).
However, all the above makes it kind of fun in a strange way. I can't say I ever knew quite where the movie was headed; for a while it seemed like the whole movie would be built TOWARD resurrecting Dracula, so when it happened like 40 minutes in I was kind of surprised. Throwaway characters kept reappearing, upping the body count a bit over what I was expecting, and given that the blood here was at its most ridiculous - you half expect to see the bucket of Benjamin Moore paint on the side of the frame - all of the kills were goofy highlights. And while Dracula isn't in it much, Lee makes the most of his appearance, particularly in the finale, where he randomly starts ripping pipes from the organ and throwing them "at" the heroes. I put that in quotes because he doesn't even seem to be aiming before he throws, just tossing them in their general vicinity. None of them even come close!
Speaking of the finale, anyone have a clue what the hell was going on? Dracula smashes a window and then suddenly the abandoned/decaying church looks brand new, bright and shiny and candles burning as if mass was about to begin. He howls, spins around a bit, and then falls to the floor and "dies" - huh? It's not a well shot/edited scene - the way it cuts together makes it look like he smashed the window and saw a perfectly good church on the other side. I assume it's a hallucination or something that exists only in his mind, but what caused it? Is smashing a stained glass window part of the vampire lore that they just never explained in the movies, like in that one entry where they brought in the running water weakness without any real setup? Either way it's another example of the movie's generally lazy and unsatisfying script.
As with most of Warner's hammer releases, the only extra is a trailer, though I should note that this is the full 95 minute cut, not the 91 minute one that had some cuts (and had been the most widely available here in the US until this disc came along). Was kind of weird to see topless women in one of these movies; I believe the others were all rated PG (even 1972 with all of its swinging 70s youth didn't have any nudity that I can recall). But it added to the movie's loose, strange charm, where they almost seemed to be improvising the plot and adding weird tics (there's a minor running gag about what time the trio of jerks was supposed to meet that killed me) just to give it some personality after four previous movies. Luckily for them I watched a pretty bad vampire movie yesterday so the fact that this had some fun action (and Lee is slightly more charismatic than Michael Paré) was enough to give it a pass.
Next up: Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, which is the 3rd entry. I could (should?) do Scars, but the idea of watching two connecting entries in a row just doesn't feel right.
What say you?