Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hammer Time! My Steady Diet of Dracula

Before last week, I had never watched a Hammer Horror movie. Meaning, that I had strangely never seen Christopher Lee in the role of Dracula. I know his version of Dracula is a classic and I really meant to get around to watching him at some point. I just hadn't. As you know, I liked Christopher Lee in his role as Willy Wonka's father in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I also liked him as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

So, I had only watched an older Christopher Lee in movies. It was interesting to see him as a younger actor, playing Dracula. He had some very graceful moves, which were accentuated by that huge cape. From just watching him on the screen, I could tell he was tall and had a strong presence. At times, a commanding presence. His Dracula was able to control people with just one look. You can see him work his magic on the ladies in this video, which is set to some nice Tango music midway through:

To return to where I began, I'm pretty new to Hammer's version of Dracula. The reason that I'm up to date now is that my Mom gave me a 4 DVD set of Hammer's Dracula movies for Christmas. I'm not usually one to watch a lot of movies, but I was sick last week. So it was a good time to lay on the couch and get a steady diet of Dracula. The movies in this set are: Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). I'm not going to review these in great detail, because four movie reviews would take forever to write. That, and watching four Dracula movies in succession while having a head cold sort of made them blend together.

To be brief.... Strangely, Horror of Dracula was my least favorite. I say strangely, because usually the first movie in a series is my favorite. I think the problem here was that I had already read Bram Stoker's Dracula. I felt that too much artistic license was being taken in this movie. As in the book, there were characters like Jonathan Harker and Lucy, but major parts of the story had been changed. It wasn't a bad movie, I just wish they would have left the original plot alone.


Dracula has Risen From the Grave had Dracula at his most violent. In all the other movies, he was able to seduce people and put them instantly under his spell. This time he was more frustrated, loud, and willing to slap people. Aside from Dracula's aggression, I enjoyed the movie. It has more religion in the plot, as a Monsignor attempts to exorcise Dracula's castle. There's also a cute little love story between the Monsignor's niece and a local baker.

Taste the Blood of Dracula was great. I actually cared about the characters in this one. The main plot revolves around a group of sleazy older men who are looking for cheap thrills. One of the meanest sleaze balls has a nice wife and daughter who he more or less keeps locked up and mentally abuses. Meanwhile, he's out visiting a bordello. Go figure. When the bordello is no longer providing enough fun for him and his friends, they decide to dabble in the black arts. This involves "tasting the blood of Dracula". This one is great fun and I liked how the story ended.

Dracula A.D. 1972... Oh boy. Well, this is the movie  that I was most looking forward to in the DVD set. After watching the trailer, I had low expectations but in the very best of ways. Meaning, I expected a cheese fest. It was actually pretty good! The movie was heavy on the silly dance moves, 70's clothing, hilarious lingo, and someone's weird interpretation of hippies. Just great. The basic plot involves the current Van Helsing's granddaughter Jessica, who is hanging around with a bunch of bad seeds. Her friends are sassy swinging kids, who party hard and think it would be fun to play around with Satanic rites. Of course, this does not go well.

(Jessica Van Helsing and her groovy hairdo)

Overall, Hammer movies have a definite style to them. I like the way the movies are filmed, sometimes at weird angles, or looking through trees and windows. There are shadows everywhere and great uses of light. One of my two complaints is that the fake blood could use a little work. It looked like bright red paint, red velvet cake batter, or ketchup. That and the blood seriously never dried! It could be days after the blood was spilled and it would still be sitting in the same neon red, unrealistic pool.

My one other complaint is that Christopher Lee didn't have many lines in these films. I was joking the other day about how he didn't even need to speak English to play this role. He has such an amazing voice too! Here's a little sample of his voice in an old interview from the 1980s. I always like to watch interviews with the actors who played Horror movie villains. It's fun to listen to them just being nice, normal people.

If you're wondering what Christopher Lee is up to nowadays, then this next video will answer that for you! At the age of 89, he is adventurously trying out something called "Symphonic Metal" music. You have to admire that!


  1. I don't get an awful lot of time to watch movies either, but with James on school holidays at the moment, we've been having a bit of a movie fest too. It's interesting because we've just watched The Omen 1 & 2 (watching the 3rd one tonight), and those movies have a lot of intense, close-up eye shots as well. It must have been the style of the time. (Oh... that sounded a little like Grandpa Simpson. Haha)

    As you know, I've just purchased this set myself. I'm really looking forward to watching all the films, especially the 'Dracula AD 1972' "cheese fest"! Haha.

    That interview with Christopher Lee was great. He has a fabulous speaking voice, but obviously he can sing as well. (The interviewer, Terry Wogan, is a blast from the past. I remember him from living in London.) He seemed quite wistful about not following a more musical path. Obviously his "Symphonic Metal" project is his attempt to finally achieve that goal. You're right, you've got to admire that. Just goes to prove that you're never too old to pursue your dreams!

  2. A lot of the reason for Lee having so little dialogue in these movies is that he was at times disappointed with the scripts. Lee liked the script for the first Dracula sequel, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, so little that he refused to speak in the film at all!

    I'm a big fan of three of these - strangely, my recollection of Taste the Blood is hazy, gonna have to revisit it soon - and can relate with many of your points. I've always liked Horror of Dracula a ton, but it was my fitst serious Dracula tale, as I saw it ahead of Lugosi's version and before reading Stoker's novel. And I'm with you abouy Dracula has Risen from the Grave, which has so much fun stuff in it and gives Dracula plenty of power. The scene where he comes into the lead character's room and seduces/bites her is one of my favorite Hammer sequences, primarily due to how well it was shot/edited.

    Good stuff!

  3. Cushing and Lee were great in those movies. Hard to believe the Hammer movies were X rated way back in the day.

  4. I love Christopher Lee! I really love the Symphonic Metal!


  5. If you want to see Lee in older movies, you'll have no lack of choices with Hammer! He's even played Frankenstein monster and the Mummy.

    A few years ago I had a Hammer summer. I went through all the Dracula, Frankenstein and all but one of the Mummy movies. The also have a lot of great stand alone films too.

    I just watched one recently called The Devil Rides Out (or The Devil's Bride in the US). Lee was actually the hero in this one battling a Satanic cult.

  6. Hi Justine, I'm glad you enjoyed Christopher Lee. He's certainly someone that you can have a lot of respect for. I haven't seen these movies in years but I'm going to order them on DVD along with Frankenstein and Lugosi-Dracula. And it's not that I think that these movies are soooo interesting to watch, it's just that I love the ascetic value, the props, the scenes, the sets, the customes, the lines, etc..etc..ok..the art! It's the "art" of Dracula. It's "gothic" in the design way.

  7. you have been tagged!

  8. As a small child I watched many of Hammer Films classics on late night TV... I loved Lee's portrayal of the Count ... he also does the voice-overs for some animated films... Great actor
    ......the Doctor

  9. Hahaha Charlemange! I remember Pyf showing me Christopher Lee's band a while ago. It is really quite funny but somehow with his voice it works particularly well.

    He had also been doing a lot of narrating for Rhapsody of Fire which is another Power Metal band after he did LOTR - the fact that he was in that film probably put him on the path of the genre of music he chose to pursue as Power Metal is all about medieval fantasy, dragons, pillaging, war and myth - it's very befitting!

    His stupid crown and cape are a bit much though..

    Old classic hammer horrors are great! I love the fact that the blood looks lame and that the women are all complete dithering helpless bimbos, it's quite entertaining!

    You should definitely watch The Brides of Dracula with a young Peter Cushing if your haven't already. xxx

  10. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Oh, I've never seen any of 'The Omen' movies. How are they? If you end up with the time, it would be fun to read your review of them! "The style of the time" :) Well, if it makes you feel any better, I've been saying "back in the day" all week.

    I look forward to discussing the other Dracula movies with you, once you watch the ones in your new set. I think you'll like them all. I know we discussed the first one already, and I think you'll prefer some of the later ones.

    I didn't know about Terry Wogan, but I got the feeling that he was a big deal in England during the 80's. He seemed like an upbeat talk show host. I know what you mean about Christopher Lee wistfully looking back. I did find some old videos of him singing, and now he has the Symphonic Metal to perform. The Metal sounded more like Opera to me. Although, all the samples that I found of Christopher Lee singing through the years sounded Operatic.

    It's true! I don't think anyone is too old to try something new and shoot for their dreams. He's proven that!

    The Mike ~ Wow! I wonder what lines he refused to say in 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness'? The script must have been terrible. I suppose it makes senses that he would get a little worn out with playing the same character again and again. So, I guess if the writers had had their way, Dracula would have had more to say!

    I'm the opposite of you - I'd already read Dracula, seen Bela Lugosi's version, and Nosferatu. This was pretty much the only rendition of Dracula I hadn't seen. This one was really different, because it was a more sexy portrayal. I never felt like Bela Lugosi was "seducing" anyone. Hypnotizing, maybe. Nosferatu was more or less just biting like some animal would. So, yeah I think Christopher Lee brought some sophistication to the role.

    Max Evel ~ Rated X? Seriously? Based on what? I barely saw any violence, except for that really fake looking blood splashing around. There was no bad language or nudity. Weird... I think some pretty extreme stuff passes for PG 13 nowadays!

    LuLu ~ Yeah, I've discovered a love for Christopher Lee too! He's just a classy guy. The Symphonic Metal was actually listenable. I was expecting something really hardcore and heavy!

    Dex ~ I'll have to check out the Frankenstein and Mummy movies. I did see some clips of him playing Frankenstein on YouTube. He was really made up to look like a mess in that one!

    A Hammer summer sounds fun. I did that one summer with the "Halloween" series of movies. I was sure burnt out after watching those! At least you had more variety with the Hammer movies. That must have been a lot of movie viewing for you. It seems like they made countless films.

    Little Gothic Horrors had mentioned 'The Devil Rides Out' to me too. It will be really different to watch Christopher Lee in the hero role after watching him as Dracula this many times in a row. Not that he isn't a completely pleasant man. I thought he was really charming in the interview I posted above.

    Matt-o-Lantern ~ I agree! There's a noticeable Hammer style. I think I could watch a movie now and know if it was made by Hammer or not. Like Hitchcock movies, you can tell by the way light and shadow is used. As you said, the sets and the props stand out too. They did great with the Gothic church designs in a few of these too. The way Dracula's castle was up-lit and filmed from an extreme angle really impressed me in 'Dracula has Risen From the Grave.' Short of the neon blood, and red contacts, the visual parts of these movies impressed me more than the plots!

    aw ~ Thanks for the tag. :) I never seem to have time for these things, but I appreciate it! I'll be sure to read the answers you posted on your blog.

    Dr. Theda ~ I like his portrayal as well. Which characters did he voice for animated films?

  11. VainGlorySinner ~ You must have been writing while I was! So, you're familiar with Charlemagne! I love his voice, but I'll agree that the costume seems a little silly. I'm not sure how. Something about that sword puts it all a little over the top. :) The band seems to actually have a good following from what I can tell.

    I agree that starring in LOTR probably had a hand in his getting involved with Metal music. I was noticing the medieval aspects to the Charlemagne video. There is something almost regal about Christopher Lee. For me, the problem was the quality of the crown. Maybe the band had a small budget for their video, but the crown seemed a little like it came from Burger King...

    Oh, you like the lame blood? I have a serious bone to pick with that! The least they could have done is make it less lumpy. I'm with you on the bimbos, though. I don't mind if the movie is mostly filled with vampire chow. I mean, I'd rather not get too attached to all the women who are about to get drained! They always leave one normal/innocent girl who manages to live. I think that's pretty standard as any Horror film goes! :)

    I haven't seen 'The Brides of Dracula' although I'm honestly starting to get confused. Dex suggested above that I watch 'The Devil's Bride' and all of this is starting to sound the same. There are lots of titles involving "Dracula", "Devil", and "Bride". It was also suggested that I watch 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' but I think that's something else, entirely!

  12. Those old Dracula movies remind me of when I was young and had my friends spend the night. We would have our soda pop and popcorn and would huddle around the TV waiting to get scared....great memories!

  13. I haven't seen 'The Omen' trilogy in a long time so it was interesting to revisit it. The first one has stood up incredibly well. I think it's still a truly great horror film. The child in it is so creepy, and there's a chilling and disturbing atmosphere throughout. In my opinion, the second and third installments aren't as good. They're okay, but they don't live up to the brilliance of the first one. I'd definitely recommend that you at least watch the first one some time. It really is a classic!

    I know what you mean about all the Hammer names getting confusing. I couldn't remember the other Hammer Dracula that I had seen when we were chatting on Twitter, but it was 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness'. I haven't seen it in a long time, but I think it did have its creepy moments. About Christopher Lee not having any dialogue, I found this on Wikipedia:

    "Dracula does not speak in the film. According to Christopher Lee: "I didn’t speak in that picture. The reason was very simple. I read the script and saw the dialogue! I said to Hammer, if you think I’m going to say any of these lines, you’re very much mistaken."[1]
    But screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, in his memoir Inside Hammer (Reynolds & Hearn, 2001), stated that "Vampires don't chat. So I didn't write him any dialogue. Chris Lee has claimed that he refused to speak the lines he was given ... So you can take your pick as to why Christopher Lee didn't have any dialogue in the picture. Or you can take my word for it. I didn't write any.""

  14. Adsila ~ Those sound like fun sleepover memories! So did you guys end up getting scared from the Dracula movies? One of the best parts of sleepover parties is trying to scare people/be scared. I remember watching spooky movies and sharing ghost stories at parties. That and those "Light as a feather, stiff as a board" sessions. :)

    Little Gothic Horrors ~ Cool, I'll check out 'The Omen'! It's a movie I've meant to see for some time. I've heard only good things about it!

    So you think 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness' might have been the one that was actually spooky? Does he sort of drift in through a big window with billowing curtains in that one? There's a certain scene that I know I've seen clips of, I just haven't seen it in an actual movie yet. It can't just be in my mind! Unless it was Bela Lugosi...

    Thanks for the interesting info from Wikipedia. So, it's a little like a breakup story. "I'm the one who ended things." "No I am." :) I tend to believe Christopher Lee on this one, because I want to. I have no reason to even have an opinion on this - I guess I've just been swayed by the powers of Dracula. ;)

  15. Christopher Lee is the radness personified. I've also loved watching you converse with Emma about this, in a perverse stalkerish sort of way.

    By the way- Tag! You're it! (Go check out my blog and you'll understand...)

  16. Pensive ~ "radness personified" I love that. Haha! Yeah, as you know, we've been going back and forth about Christopher Lee and Hammer films all week. It's been a lot of fun discussing all the movies I just watched. Oh, I think that by telling me you've been watching our conversation, you've kind of cancelled out your perverse stalker points. :)

    Thanks for the Tag! I'm afraid that I'm a bit of a party pooper as far as reciprocating these things. I still like to read other people's answers, though. I'll be sure to check out your blog post!

  17. I also saw Hammer's "To The Devil A Daughter" (there's that Devil again!) a few months ago which is another Satanic/occult type movie.

    It has Lee as a bad guy and Honor Blackman (Goldfinger's Pussy Galore), Nastassja Kinski and Denholm Elliott(Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies).

    I don't know how they did it but Hammer always has very beautfil ladies in their movies. Someday I'll get the book Hammer Glamour =)

  18. Dex ~ Ha! Now you're going to get me really confused. I think I'm all set on Satanic rites for a while. At least Hammer's style of them. I think I could actually script out every step in one of those rituals after watching all these movies in succession!

    It sounds like that one has an interesting combination of stars. There is a noticeable amount of beautiful women in the Hammer movies. I would assume that getting involved with these movies was a good way to get started in the industry. I always hear about famous people who got their start with Horror movies. So, maybe Hammer had the choice of many pretty young women who wanted to get started as actresses. I wasn't familiar with any of the girls I saw, anyway. Maybe they were somewhat famous, and I just hadn't been watching the right movies to know of them?

    I had to look up Hammer Glamour (catchy title) on Amazon to see what it was. Quite the cover! I would assume that this photo collection is artistically sexy, like Hammer's movie style. I think the Hammer women had a more subtle sexuality than the in-your-face sexuality women have in more recent Horror movies. Although, I feel like everything in modern movies is being shoved in our faces. Violence, gore, weird CGI stuff leaping out, etc.

  19. I think most of the women are only famous from doing Hammer movies! =) They also did a Hammer Glamour calendar this year but I wouldn't have any place to display it.

    But that's exactly what I mean, they are great looking women but not overly sexualized like today's movies.

  20. Hello... Well for one he was the voice of the "priest" in Tim Burton's "the Corpse Bride"... I am interested in the "Old Maid" cards the I saw featured on "Little Gothic Horrors"
    your friend ...the Doctor

  21. I can't really remember that much of 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness'. I think it had some fairly creepy moments, but not much of an ending. All I seem to remember about it is a group of travellers snooping about Dracula's castle until one of them is captured and his blood is used to bring Dracula back from the dead.

    You're not thinking of Frank Langella's, 'Dracula' when it comes to the billowing curtains are you? Although, Dracula coming in through the window is in Bram Stoker's book, so I guess we could have seen that scene done a number of times in different films. :) I'll email you a pic of Frank Langella.

    Haha. Yeah, I've decided I'm going to be on Christopher Lee's side too! You can't beat Dracula's thrall!

    In response to Dr Theda's comment, I'd completely forgotten Christopher Lee did one of the voices on 'Corpse Bride'. I love that movie so much!!

  22. Dex ~ Well, being in Hammer movies was probably enough to get some of those ladies a fan club! It seems that most of the guys I've been discussing these movies with have a favorite Hammer actress. Hmm... I don't know where men usually hang sexy calendars. In the garage or their man cave? :)

    Dr. Theda ~ Really? That's cool. I haven't seen The Corpse Bride in years. Next time I watch it, I'll be sure to listen to the Priest's voice. Tim Burton must be friends with Christopher Lee, because Lee turns up now and again in Burton's movies.

    Thanks for your interest in my cards! If you're ever looking for them, they're always for sale in my Etsy shop.

    Little Gothic Horrors ~ Oh, the good 'ol needing blood to bring Dracula back routine. Over the past few days I've watched Dracula brought back by his own powdered blood, his own ashes, other people's blood, and various rituals. He never gets a rest!

    After watching a few YouTube videos (one of which I sent you on Twitter) I'm pretty sure you're right about Frank Langella. The way he operates seems closer to the image in my mind. Hmm... He's rivaling Christopher Lee in attractiveness. Sorry Bela.

    Ha! I don't know who wouldn't be on Christopher Lee's side. When he isn't playing Dracula, of course...

  23. I love Hammer movies, and I'm so glad they're up and running again (can't wait for The Woman in Black). To me, the old Dracula movies are comfort food-horror. I put them in when I don't want to watch something scary, but to be transported by the atmosphere of the films.

    Also, thanks for putting up the links. The Symphonic Metal isn't exactly my thing, but Christopher Lee has a kick-ass singing voice!

  24. Marvin ~ I'm looking forward to seeing 'The Woman in Black' as well! I just watched a featurette of the movie as a refresh. It's so weird to see Daniel Radcliffe looking that adult! The movie looks so artistic with all those shadows and dark jewel tones.

    I know what you mean about comfort food-horror. There are some old spooky movies that I like to watch and rewatch, in part because I have them memorized. There's definite comfort in that! I have a feeling that a few of the Hammer Dracula movies will be added to my comfort food-horror collection.

    Yeah! Christopher Lee has an awesome speaking voice. I couldn't believe the operatic singing voice that came out of him. I have trouble with this music being in the Metal category, but whatever it is, I'm impressed. :)