Monday, May 19, 2008

"VAMPIRES LURKED IN THE WOODS!" May I draw my erudite readers' attentions to a new article on the always enjoyable SENSES OF CINEMA website by John Potts entitled "WHAT I OWE TO HAMMER HORROR" (click here to read it). Potts, associate professor and head of the Department of Media at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia does a lovely job of comparing the lush and shadow-haunted Europe depicted in Hammer's Dracula movies to his extremely flat, hill-less suburban Australian town of 35 years ago. This contrast led to a certain sense of "otherness" which captivated the young John Potts as he sat through Saturday matinee after Saturday matinee of these great Hammer Horrors.
The Dracula/vampire films were the main vein that ran through the entire Hammer output in much the same way as the Frankenstein movies were the backbone of Universal's golden age of monsters during the 30's and 40's. When I think of Universal horror, I always flash on black and white images of stony Frankensteinian castles and Karloff's monster lumbering about in asphalt-spreaders boots. Whereas, when I think of Hammer Horror I always, without fail, flash upon images of bright red (unusually red) blood, Christopher Lee's fangs and blazing red contact lenses. Professor Potts, in his article, evokes himself at the age of 10 in 1970 at the old, rundown Empire cinema (since demolished, of course) watching second runs of these Hammer vampire films (particularly DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and SCARS OF DRACULA -- films not usually singled out for comment). It was these Dracula films which, Potts reveals, taught him about Europe (in a backhanded but no less important way). He tells the all-too-familiar story of all horror fans when he talks about the lasting impact these films made upon him in a marvelously descriptive passage:
  • "We saw other films, of course, but none made an impact on me approaching that of the vampire films. The lurid technicolor: the unnatural red of the blood; the lushness of the forest;the atmosphere of the village inn; the mystery of the castle on top of themountain; the wolves and bats; the mist; churches and buildings made of stone; the villagers' fear; the thrilling power of the Count; his lure of the village women; his fangs sinking into their throats; the climb up the mountain to confront him; the grim-faced man of God battling the arrogant Count; the ritual elements deployed in battle: garlic, holy water, fire, wooden stakes, ice, crucifixes; the superstition, the dread; the social order; the ancient customs of the village; the fearsome majesty of the castle; the thick woods at night."
All these facets of Hammer vampire movies and more are gone over by Professor Potts. Particular contrast is made between the "evil aristocracy descending upon the helpless lower classes" and Potts' own egalitarian "level playing field free of class system" that was his boyhood suburban home town in Australia. This was one of the intriguing things about the vampire films of Hammer and Potts' examination of them makes an absorbing read. So, I heartily encourage you to take a stroll on over to the forests of the Senses of Cinema website and read John Potts' throroughly enjoyable article. Just make sure that you don't go strolling through it after dark. For vampires lurk in those woods.

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

And a happy belated birthday to Christopher Lee!