When I set out to do this blog, I gave myself the deadline of one article per week, alternating between NITRATE FROM THE GRAVE and the Classic Hollywood Blog STARDUST and SHADOWS. I said I would write what I thought would be interesting in each on that time frame. Sometimes I had half formed ideas. Other times I thought I would be regurgitating what others had said regarding a film or an idea. Since some of the best monsters are patchwork being I thought I would settle this instalment into fragments that had crossed my mind.
I recently sat down one evening and enjoyed a wonderful print of WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) with Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy. I saw this picture years ago in what I recall as a very poor print, possibly 16 mm. The moment when Lugosi (in what I think is one of his best roles; although some will say it is little more than DRACULA different eyebrows and beard) menaces the film hero by calling down his band of zombies, “For you, my friends, they are the Angels of Death.”
I was surprised by the quality of the print and the atmosphere of the sets; even if they were borrowed from Universal studios by the Halpern Brothers, later released by MGM. The scream of the ravens were piercingly similar to a human scream. The musical score was refreshingly different from other 1930s horror pictures. The closest parallel is the piano hypnotism scene in HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)in which the music becomes a seductive force between John Carradine’s Dracula and his possible victim.
There was a recent theatrical restoration of the WHITE ZOMBIE, which this print could had been a part or from the recently released blu-ray. Lugosi’s performance is full of grand theatrical gestures, all well and good as it was the acting style of the time especially for one from European theatre.
The end of the helpless zombies on the cliff stuck me as being quite sad and correct considering what was happening. I will not reveal any spoilers for those that want to see it for the first time. I would be interested to see this picture on the wide screen in a 35 mm print, not just a projection of a blu ray or DVD.
I find I am fascinated with the news regarding releases from HAMMER FILMS. I speak particularly of DRACULA (1958) and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1956) both of which have not been released in Canada yet I have viewed them both. Now much to my happy gnashing teeth on Blu-ray, we have THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, VAMPIRE CIRCUS and DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN released or soon to be on this planet.
A pleasure was to get “Dracula fangs’ if you were a boy or ‘zombie eye glasses,’ if you were a girl upon entering the theatre to see DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966). I was told that they were all gone when I went which is a tough thing for a young person to swallow yet I moved on. The film itself, featuring a dopey performance by Christopher Lee as a mute Count, reduced to hissing and gazing with vile glee, is stolen by Barbara Shelly. I had hoped that the mute Count would not suffer the fate of the mute Frankenstein Monster, as in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), and end up speaking in the voice of Bela Lugosi. That would have be interesting to hear as we get two Draculas for the price of one and a remarkable feat since Lugosi had been dead for ten years in 1966.
The transformation of Barbara Shelley’s character from prim, proper lady to lustful creature of the night is remarkable as she uses her wiles to be “invited in”.
The other aspect of this film for me is the wonderful opening sequence of the funeral procession, dramatic entrances followed by some snappy dialogue between the Kent brothers, their wives, and Father Sandor played by booming Andrew Keir. Good solid mix of personalities, body types and style make it a fun scene to watch with just enough dialogue to tell us who these people are. The resurrection scene in the crypt instigated by Klove the butler is simply not to missed . DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS is more story of the vampire’s effect on people and a village; which is a slightly new perspective. Urban legend has it that Lee refused to say the ridiculous dialogue as it was written and wanted more money so his screen time was cut.
BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) is actually the sequel to the 1958 version has been released on bluray is also in this same vein (yes, I said it) of the effect of vampires on a group of people. Peter Cushing did not battle Christopher Lee as Hammer found they could not afford both of them. The result was again a very credible if not more insidious film with darker subject and a truly suave deliciously evil Baron Meinster played David Peel. Take a look at Mr.Peel when you view the film and wonder where Robert Pattinson’s look got some inspiration. For my money while I find them all interesting I wait to see DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA on blu ray.
Finally as we enter this festive season of holidays for some and work for most of us I say that in spite of my enjoyment of things macabre in the Cinema, I say shut off your televisions and be with your family and friends if you can. If you are not able to do that by circumstance, then may I suggest you curl up with a good book of Ghost stories and your favourite beverage(s). Yes, it’s not technically cool, you can use a e-reader, it is still best to read the stories by candlelight or better still a Hurricane lamp.
Engage your mind in something that is not electronically pounding – the enjoyment of the simple printed word in paper form. Visit a second hand book shop or check your local library and watch the rich history that ghost stories have especially at Holiday time. Take in the likes of H.P Lovecraft, Sheridan La Fanu, Charles Dickens, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany and my personal favourite Algernon Blackwood. Invite them into your home for the holidays when the snow is blowing and you can’t see anything outside. When all is quiet and you are alone with your thoughts.
Curl up and be entertained.
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