Thursday, June 14, 2012

THE IMMORTAL COUNT:  DRACULA ON MY SILVERY SCREEN. 

 Since Bram Stoker published his blockbuster novel in 1897, Count Dracula has been a permanent fixture in the world consciousness.  He's been a pez dispenser and a luscious comic book illustrated by the late great Gene Colan (above).  He's also been a protaganist in countless novels from Robert Lory's wonderful early 70's Dracula paperbacks to Fred Saberhagan's revisionist telling of Stoker's novel "THE DRACULA TAPES" to Kim Newman's superb "ANNO DRACULA".  And perhaps most prolifically, the king of the vampires has certainly lurked amongst the silver screen for much of cinema's history . . . despite his personal distaste for silver!  A recent, sudden taste for Dracula has resulted in three new acquisitions to my hoary vault of three old, dimly-remembered Dracula movies I've now finally gotten around to grasping on DVD:  the Jesus Franco "EL CONDE DRACULA" starring Christopher Lee, the Dan (DARK SHADOWS) Curtis TV version of DRACULA starring Jack Palance and the BBC-TV production of "COUNT DRACULA" starring Louis Jourdan.  All three of these I watched when I was a wee lad or else a teenager but never owned until now.  And this sudden Dracula surfeit has coaxed me into taking a look through my vault to determine just how many movies and telly programmes in my possession feature Count Dracula.  And it's quite a list! Eliminating archival footage in documentaries which come from films I already own in their entirety, these are the Dracula appearances that lie coffined in my video vault:
  • NOSFERATU (1922)  -  played by Max Schreck.  He may call himself Graf Orlok for copyright reasons but we all known this rat-fanged, pointy-eared baldy is really Count Dracula himself!  Florence Stoker's attempts to destroy all copies of F.W. Murnau's silent classic thankfully failed and we can watch this waking nightmare anytime we want.
  • DRACULA (1931)  -  played by Bela Lugosi.  The movie that saved the studio and ushered in the golden age of Universal horror.  Whatever your opinion of the film itself (I actually love it's dream-like somnolent quality), Lugosi's performance is epoch-making and every subsequent screen Dracula must be measured against it.  The phonetically-learned dialogue Bela speaks are like a favourite song to the ear.  Listen to Bela intone them.  That child of the night.  What music he makes!
  • DRACULA (1931)  -  played by Carlos Villarias.  The long-thought-lost Spanish version of the Lugosi film made at night on the same sets is in some ways superior to Tod Browning's version and in some ways inferior.  Villarias is no Lugosi.  But it's fascinating to compare the two film versions.
  • HOLLYWOOD ON PARADE (1933)  -  played by Bela Lugosi.  The delightful short subject in which Betty Boop (Mae Questel) is singing in a deserted movie studio and is accosted by a wax figure of Dracula come to life.  The priceless one liner delivered by Lugosi before he puts the bite on Betty's throat:  "You have booped your last boop!"
  • DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936)  -  Played by a wax dummy.  Universal's sequel to DRACULA was originally supposed to feature Bela Lugosi reprising the role; however, at the last minute this plan was axed and we have a wax dummy standing in for the actor as Gloria Holden performs the funeral rites/exorcism over her father's corpse.  No doubt the best scene in the film.
  • SON OF DRACULA (1943)  -  Played by Lon Chaney Jr.  Despite the film's title, Lon Chaney Jr. certainly plays the Count himself under the guise of the slightly over-fed Count Alucard.  Despite Lon's miscasting, this film is actually quite excellent; especially in the morbid performance of Louise Allbriton as the vampire-wannabe who makes good (or is that bad?).
  • HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)  -  Played by John Carradine.  The first of the real Universal monster rallies (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN only had two monsters, natch).   This rather weak entry in the Universal canon contains the memorable scene of mad scientist Boris Karloff pulling the stake out of Dracula's skeleton causing him to reconstitute as John Carradine in top hat and tails.  Dracula sadly departs the film midway before he gets to romp with Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man.  That pleasure would have to await the sequel.
  • HOUSE OF DRACULA  (1945)  -  Played by John Carradine.  Universal's second monster rally is better than the first IMHO.  John Carradine is back once again seeking a cure for vampirism (he says) but actually trolling for babes with talk of spectral music from the beyond.  The Count can't help himself as he backs up his own vampire blood back into the tube to contaminate Onslow Stevens who is trying to help him become cured.  Oh, that wily Count!  You just can't trust 'im!
  • ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)  -  Played by Bela Lugosi.  The swan song of Universal monsters as a comedy may first seem ignominious but in fact is a fine way to bow out gracefully.  The A&C comedy is funny and the monsters are treated with respect and scary dignity!  A classic in every way and a lovely coda to the golden age of Universal horror.
  • DRAKULA ISTANBUL'DA (1953) -  Played by Atif Kaptan.  The first sound film to feature a Dracula with fangs.  This quite early Turkish film is actually fairly dull throughout but features a scene here and there well-worth seeing.  Unfortunately, my copy is from a snowy television broadcast on Turkish TV and is barely viewable!  English title:  DRACULA IN ISTANBUL.
  • THE REVENGE OF DRACULA (1958)  -  Played by Donald F. Glut.  When author Donald F. Glut (creator of one of my favourite horror comic books THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR) was a teenager he made this amateur home movie in which he played the king of the vampires.  A true celebration of what it meant to be a "monster kid" whose parents gave him a movie camera.
  • THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958)  -  Played by Francis Lederer.  What would happen if Universal's SON OF DRACULA and Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT had a baby?  THE RETURN OF DRACULA, that's what.  The count assumes the identity of a milk-fed American family's European cousin and moves into their white picket fence-enclosed home.  Not much fireworks but a solid, enjoyable little B&W film.  The fireworks would have to await a little British company on Wardour Street...
  • HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)  -  Played by Christopher Lee.  Is this my favourite Dracula movie?  Most probably.  Is Sir Christopher my favourite Dracula?  Very probably.  Terence Fisher's nearly flawless (very loose) adaptation of Stoker's novel done the Hammer Horror way!  After the phenomenol success of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Hammer hit their creative peak with this film.  Hopefully my British cousins will forgive my using the American title for "DRACULA" but I prefer it (unlike MOST American re-titlings). 
  • HOUSE ON BARE MOUNTAIN (1962)  -  played by Jeffrey Smithers.  The first appearance in my vault of the King of the Vampires in a nudie cutie!
  • DOCTOR WHO:  JOURNEY INTO TERROR (1965)  -  Played by Malcolm Rogers.  During the William Hartnell era storyline known as "THE SEARCH", The Doctor and his companions are being chased through time and space by the evil Daleks; they end up in a spooky old castle where they encounter the Frankenstein Monster and Count Dracula.  Or do they?
  • DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS  (1966)  -  Played by Christopher Lee.  After the Sir Chris-less sequel BRIDES OF DRACULA, Lee returns to his rightful place as the Count in this rather good Hammer Horror in which the Count battles Andrew Keir's fighting monk Father Sandor instead of the missing Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.  This film still has the magic!
  • BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA (1966)  -  Played by John Carradine.  This one definitely does NOT have the magic.  Ultra low budget goof fest featuring Carradine's return to the Dracula role somehow ending up in the Old West.  I'd call this a priceless bit of camp but the price is obviously fixed at $1.98!
  • MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)  -  Played by Allen Swift.  At least that's what imdb says but I always thought it was voiced by Paul Frees!  Anyway, the folks at Rankin-Bass who gave us those timeless Christmas classics ventured into Halloween territory with this wonderful feature-length claymation movie featuring the summit of all monsters presided over by King Boris Karloff voicing his own doppleganger puppet!
  • ZINDA LAASH (1967)  -  Played by Rehan.  This rather overlong film from Pakistan is nevertheless quite interesting.  English titles are the rather literal DRACULA IN PAKISTAN or else THE LIVING CORPSE (the title of the print I own).  This B&W epic not only has the undead vampire but also dancing!
  • DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)  -  Played by Christopher Lee.  Hammer's still doing a pretty good job with the Dracula movies even though a perceptible decline can be detected.  Still very worthwhile.  But still no Peter Cushing!
  • MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION:  DRACULA (1968)  -  Played by Denholm Elliot.  Yeah, I know.  Who'da thunk it?!?  However, Elliot does a fine job playing against type and his sunglasses are fabulous!  This TV production of the British horror series has some quite racy vampire bride romping and some rather impressive ghastly special effects for the time.
  • SANTO EN EL TESORO DE DRACULA (1969)  -  Played by Aldo Monti.  Still in black and white at this late date, SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA finds the famed Mexican masked wrestler and fighter of evil monsters travelling back in time to encounter the vampire count himself.  Another fun entry in the Santo series.
  • MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS:  YOU'RE NO FUN ANYMORE (1969)  -  Played by Graham Chapman.  Unbelievable as it may seem, the king of the vampires once appeared in an episode of Python.  It was only a blackout of about 5 seconds or so in length.  Graham Chapman attempts to put the bite on a nubile young lady when his fangs fall out of his mouth into her cleavage and the girl delivers the punch line:  "You're no fun anymore" - a running gag throughout the episode.  Horror motifs were practically non-existent in Python so this is a rare treat.
  • THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN (1969)  -  Played by Christopher Lee.  Hammer's reigning Dracula makes a brief cameo in this anarchic comedy.  During a delirious, trippy scene Lee appears in full Dracula regalia offering a toast to the POV camera thanking us for joining his little party.
  • LOS MONSTRUOS DEL TERROR (1970)  -  Played by Manuel de Blas.  Not very good Spanish monster rally starring an aging Michael Rennie.  Also goes by the name ASSIGNMENT: TERROR or DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (one of many films that go by that title).
  • EL CONDE DRACULA (1970)  -  Played by Christopher Lee.  Still spoken of very highly by Christopher Lee himself, this Jesus Franco film was meant to be the most faithful filming of Stoker's original novel.  It's certainly not; even if Lee looks more like Dracula's physical description than at any other time.  Klaus Kinsi naturally burns up the screen.  English title:  COUNT DRACULA.
  • TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)  -  Played by Christopher Lee.  Back in Hammer country, Lee appears once again as the Count but is becoming more and more a bystander in his own movie.  Hammer's new "flavour of the month" Ralph Bates has much more to do (and does it extremely well) as the demonic instigator of wayward gentlemen.
  • SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) - Played by Christopher Lee. Undoubtedly the nadir of Hammer's Dracula series, this one has practically nothing to recommend it. Not even Doctor Who can save it; Patrick Troughton, that is.
  • NIGHT GALLERY: THE DEVIL IS NOT MOCKED (1971) - Played by Francis Lederer. One of several segment in a single episode, this one features Lederer reprising the role of Dracula he played in 1958's THE RETURN OF DRACULA. This one is the old saw of the Nazis going up against the king of the vampires. Not much of a surprise here (we're not supposed to know Lederer is playing Dracula until the big "twist" ending).
  • NIGHT GALLERY: A MATTER OF SEMANTICS (1971) - Played by Cesar Romero. Fittingly, television's Joker plays this unfunny funny blackout sketch favoured by the show's producer Jack Laird. He was the only one who found them funny. Dracula makes a withdrawal from a blood bank. OK, you can start laughing now.
  • DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) - Played by Christopher Lee. This much maligned updating of Hammer's now-anemic Dracula series brings the Count into the present day (1972) and does it very well, I think. This is actually my second favourite Hammer Dracula film after HORROR OF DRACULA. I think the thing that sunk this film is many viewers' eyes is the opening post-credits scene featuring the ghastly hippy-dippy rock band; if you skip completely over this scene (which adds absolutely nothing to the plot and will never be missed), I think you will find a very good Dracula film. Cushing is back once again as Van Helsing's descendant, Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Munro shine on through and the film is a total winner . . . as long as you skip THAT scene!!!
  • BLACULA (1972) - Played by Charles Macaulay. Another film which has a bad reputation but is actually quite a fine vampire movie. Dracula himself only appears at the beginning (rather poorly played by Macaulay, I'm afraid) as Prince Mamuwalde and his bride go to see the Count in his castle. Sadly, Drac imprisons Mamuwalde for eternity and curses him with the name "Blacula"; obviously foreseeing his eventual release in the early 70s just in time for the blaxploitation boom and thinking this new name might get him some work. It did. Shakespearean actor William Marshall is regal and powerful and this is a terrific film that plays it straight.
  • DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1972) - Played by Howard Vernon. Another of those grade-Z movies known as "DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN", this one features a somnambulent performace by Howard Vernon. And you too will be comatose when watching this stinker!
  • THE MAD, MAD, MAD MONSTERS (1972) - Played by Allen Swift. This sorta sequel to Rankin-Bass's MAD MONSTER PARTY? is animated in cartoon fashion as opposed to the claymation of the original. Much inferior to the aforementioned feature, this cartoon was originally aired on "The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie" and I actually remember watching it as a child on the TV in my father's camper!
  • SANTO Y BLUE DEMON VS. DRACULA Y EL HOMBRE LOBO (1973) - Played by Aldo Monti. This latest installment of the Mexican wrestler/monster fighter Santo's movie series (in colour this time) finds Monti once again reprising his role as the Count. Why? I dunno because he's not terribly good at it. However, two masked wrestler battling Dracula and the Wolf Man is not to be sneezed at. ESPECIALLY if you're wearing a full-face Mexican wrestler's mask. Yucchhhhhhh. Need a hanky???
  • THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) - Played by Christopher Lee. Sir Chris' swan song as Hammer's Count Dracula, we're once again in modern-day (1973) London as motorcycle gangs race around, Joanna Lumley replaces Stephanie Beacham as Van Helsing's granddaughter and Peter Cushing searches for an enigmatic, reclusive millionaire named D.D. Denham (guess who!). Dracula seems to be suicidal in this one and I wonder if he realizes it. I mean, if he eliminates all human life on earth by unleashing a deadly plague, what's he gonna do for dinner??? Not as good as DRACULA A.D. 1972 but still eminently watchable.
  • DRACULA (1974) - played by Jack Palance. There's just something that looks so right about Palance as Dracula; his Saturnine, satyr face makes one really believe he's the ancient Vlad Tepes come to life. Also, he's the most "Gene Colanesque" looking of any actor whose ever played Dracula. That's gotta count for something, right? This one was brought to our telly screens by Dan Curtis of DARK SHADOWS fame.
  • EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA (1974) - played by Paul Naschy. Spain's horror icon takes time out from playing his beloved werewolf character to assay the vampire Count in this rather lush film which finds Dracula crushing on a bevy of beauties. English title is the rather appropriate "COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE".
  • LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974) - Played by John Forbes-Robertson/David de Keyser/Shen Chan. Coming at the fag-end of Hammer's productivity as a world-beating movie-making entity, the house of horror enters into a co-production with the Shaw Brothers combining Hammer Horror with the then white-hot genre of kung fu movies. Forbes-Robertson actually bears more than a passing resemblence to Christopher Lee when dolled up in his full Dracula gear; however Dracula himself appears in three separate guises. The film benefits greatly from the presence of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing for the final time.
  • IN SEARCH OF DRACULA (1975) - played by Christopher Lee. Just when you thought you saw the last of Christopher Lee's Dracula, out pops this documentary film originally entitled "VEM VAR DRACULA?" which is actually quite splendid. Lee narrates as well as appearing both in the traditional Hammer Dracula cape and fangs as well as portraying the historical Vlad Tepes. All aspects of Dracula and vampire lore are covered in this thoroughly enjoyable documentary I originally saw on a Saturday afternoon in the early 80s on Atlanta's Super Station after a showing of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. Bliss for this teenaged monster fan!
  • THE ELECTRIC COMPANY (1977) - played by Morgan Freeman. Believe it or not, many episodes of this children's educational programme on PBS featured a pre-fame Morgan Freeman appearing multiple times as Count Dracula!
  • COUNT DRACULA (1977) - played by Louis Jourdan. This BBC-TV two-parter is one I remember watching shortly after it was made; it was broadcast on our local PBS station Channel 12 and I remember squinting to watch it on my little portable black and white television (quite a few scenes are very dark and hard to see on a postage stamp-sized B&W telly, folks)! Quite sombre and sedate; nevertheless I don't find it boring at all despite it's length. Jourdan as Dracula is quite impressive once or twice.
  • LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979) - played by George Hamilton. I actually saw this in the movie theatre when it first came out! Then I got the "Fotonovel" of the film (if you don't know what a fotonovel is, google it. . .hopefully you'll find something). This is actually a first rate horror comedy with wonderful support from Susan St. James, Arte Johnson and Richard Benjamin. And the casting of uber-tanned Hamilton as the pasty vampire count is priceless!
  • DRACULA (1979) - played by Frank Langella. I resisted seeing this movie because I didn't think I'd like it. Too much romance and not enough horror. Well, that's certainly how I felt when I caught it circa 1981 on HBO. However, decades later I watched it again and it ain't half bad. No great shakes, of course, but acceptable. Give it a shot if you've been avoiding it. Langella is always terrific and Olivier hams it up a treat. Then, of course, it has the exquisite Kate Nelligan (now sadly largely forgotten) who was the tragic Mercedes in my favourite TV production of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO.
  • THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) - played by Duncan Regehr. Terrific 80's kids flick with monsters which asks the age-old question: Does the Wolf Man have nards??? Quite a loving tribute to those old monsters we all love.
  • BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1992) - played by Gary Oldman. In no shape or form Bram Stoker's DRACULA but more like Francis Ford Coppola's DRACULA. Incredibly campy but with ravishing visuals and knowing silent film homages, this Baroque confection has to be seen to be believed. Quite a lot of style but I'm not sure about the substance. But seriously . . . Keanu Reeves?????!!!!!!
  • ANIMANIACS: DRACULEE, DRACLAA/FRANKEN-RUNT (1993) - played by Dan Castellaneta. Halloween episode from the first season of the cartoon series. You've got Dracula. You've got the Warner brothers and their sister Dot. What's not to love?
  • THE CREEPS (1997) - played by Phil Fondacaro. Full Moon Video was great, wasn't it??? In the early 90's these direct-to-video horror films kept me going to Blockbuster for years! And here we have them at their canniest: let's make a movie with the classic film monsters Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy . . . but played by "little people". Ah yes, a mad doctor conjures them up with a machine which poops out and creates the monsters at . . . well, slightly LESS than usual size. Dracula's stunned query that he remembers being slightly taller is a gem!
  • DRACULA (2006) - played by Marc Warren. Yet another BBC-TV adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel; this time for the 21st century. I'm still not really sure how I feel about this one.
  • SUPERNATURAL: MONSTER MOVIES (2008) - played by Todd Stashwick. In this episode of the continuing spooky adventures of the Winchester brothers, a shapeshifter who has a penchant for impersonating classic movie monsters gives Dean & Sam more than they bargained for.
  • THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW: THIS MAN-THING, THIS MONSTER (2011) - played by David Boat. In this episode of Marvel's super-hero cartoon, Iron Man finds himself plopped into another dimensional world where horror/supernatural characters flourish. Shellhead teams up with Marvel Comics' horror characters Man-Thing and Werewolf By Night in order to thwart the evil Count Dracula.
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    And that, my fiends, is that . . . so far. Of course, I hope (and anticipate) there will be many more Dracula additions to my vapid vault of video before too many more sunsets go by. If only they'd put Mark Gatiss' HISTORY OF HORROR series on dvd (which they probably never will sadly enough), I could list horror film scholar Jonathan Rigby's turn as Dracula too! Ah well, while one is lying in a coffin with a layer of earth from the Carpathians, one can dream, can't one???

Saturday, June 02, 2012

AND NOW . . . COMFORT RADIO. 
In times of stress and upset (which is occurring right at this very moment in time), I usually veer towards comfortable viewing of movies and TV programmes which I fit into like an old glove; the telly version I mentioned in a post not that long ago.  However, in this particular time of trial, I have recently found myself immersed in that peculiar British radio institution of the BBC known as "DESERT ISLAND DISCS".  While not a newcomer to the programme, I have only recently dug seriously into the archives and listened to dozens and dozens of them.  First broadcast over BBC radio on January 29, 1942, DESERT ISLAND DISCS was the brainchild of Roy Plomley who hosted the show until his death in 1985.  Each programme would feature a celebrity guest or "castaway" who would be marooned on a desert island and would have to choose 8 records to take with them; the castaway would also be asked to choose one book to take along (the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare would be provided for them on the island as well) and one luxury item.  Each broadcast would last around 30-40 minutes during which the castaway would be interviewed about his or her life story while interspersing excerpts from their 8 musical choices along with explanations as to why each selection was chosen.  Also at the end of the programme, the castaway would be asked which selection means the most to them if they had to save only one.  Always an interesting programme, DESERT ISLAND DISCS has become something of a compulsion with me during the last week or so.  There is just something soooooooo soothing about that "light classical" music at the opening of the programme (Eric Coates' "By the Sleepy Lagoon") layered with the sound of seagulls.  I don't know when the show is broadcast in the UK but it's got a completely "Sunday afternoon" vibe to it as far as I'm concerned.  After Plomley's death, legendary TV interviewer Michael Parkinson hosted from 1985-1988, followed by Sue Lawley (from 1988-2006) -- Lawley even had a cameo on an episode of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS in which Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) was her guest and Edina chose 8 Lulu songs!  However, my favourite host of all is the current one:  Kirsty Young not only has the most soothing-sounding voice but also is the most sympatico interviewer, I think.  Some of the castaways' choices are quite predictable (Christopher Lee's "all opera" selections or TOP GEAR's Jeremy Clarkson choosing 70's rock with the Who, Pink Floyd and Bob Seger) while some others are quite surprising (Michael Caine's fondness for disco dance music or Helen Mirren complacently announcing "Pass the Dutchie").  Then again some episodes are downright gob-smacking i.e. Jeffrey Bernard's very "near-the-bone" rawness or opera singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's legendary choosing of 8 of her own recordings!  And as for the most requested piece of music in the entire history of the show?  I have it on good authority it's Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" from the 9th Symphony.  All I know is DESERT ISLAND DISCS is a fascinating listen, always interesting and spectacularly soothing to yours truly's frazzled nerves.  

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And as for my own selections?  Should I be chosen as a castaway on the next episode of DESERT ISLAND DISCS, I should probably choose to take these 8 discs with me:  1.  George Gershwin's RHAPSODY IN BLUE conducted by Leonard Bernstein, 2. Arvo Part's MAGNIFICAT,  3. TIME AFTER TIME by Margaret Whiting,  4. Antonio Vivaldi's SPOSA SON DISPREZZATA by Cecilia Bartoli,  5. VON (LIVE) by Sigur Ros,  6.  EAST OF THE SUN (WEST OF THE MOON) by Sarah Vaughan, 7. WEST END BLUES by Louis Armstrong and 8. A LITTLE GREEN ROSETTA by Frank Zappa.  The book I would take with me would probably be Alexandre Dumas' COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and my luxury item would most likely be a huge four-poster bed with many pillows and comfy bedding.