Halloween Horror Fest 2020

Good evening, guys and ghouls! Enter, my friends, sit down near the fire and warm yourselves from the cold outside. It’s dark, and many strange things are afoot this night. Listen closely, and I will tell you of them…

Yes, it’s October – and time for another Halloween Horror Fest! Many of you may be feeling that 2020 has been horrible enough, but I’m going to press on anyway. Regular readers will remember that every October, I try to watch a load of spooky or creepy films. Not all of the films may be true horror, but there will always be an element of the bizarre or supernatural that will make them appropriate for this time of year.

Here we go with the first Horror Fest movie of the year…

Dracula (1958)

What could be better than starting the proceedings with a Hammer classic? Titled Horror of Dracula in the US to differentiate this film from the 1931 Universal version, Hammer films followed up the success of The Curse of Frankenstein with another venture into Gothic horror.

Sadly, the plot of this film veers away from the original novel a great deal, something that always bothered me from first viewing many years ago. I guess the viewer just has to accept that this isn’t a faithful rendering of Bram Stoker’s tale, rather a condensed and re-engineered take on the story.

We still begin with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), arriving at Castle Dracula, where he is to take up employment as the Count’s librarian. In reality, Harker is there to destroy Dracula (a superb Christopher Lee) and end the counts reign of vampiric terror. Sadly this is not to be, and Harker meets his end at the fangs of the vampire count. Shortly thereafter, Harker’s vampire hunting colleague Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing – also excellent) is on the trail, and realises that Dracula is on his way to Harker’s home town, to enact revenge and turn the heroes friends and relatives into the undead.

Despite changing the story and confusing characters from the book, this film becomes a hugely enjoyable accomplishment. The sets are superb, James Bernard’s score is iconic and Director Terence Fisher masterfully keeps the suspense and action mounting. Although the gore and erotic undertone were restrained by the censor (something Hammer would deliver more of in the future), it’s a lush colour production that is simply gorgeous to watch.

Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood, and Melissa Stribling as Mina Holmwood, provide great performances, as do all the cast. But Cushing and Lee elevate the film to mythic status – Lee in particular becoming the embodiment of Dracula with a power and menace that makes his role unforgettable.

Hammer’s Dracula may not be definitive, if you’re a fan of the source novel, but it’s bloody good entertainment.

8/10

Bram Stoker’s Halloween Horror Fest

Dracula (1992)

A difficult one, this.  Undeniably stunning to watch, this version of the classic tale from Director Francis Ford Coppola has many positives.  Unfortunately it also has some screamingly bad inconsistencies, too.

I won’t dwell too long on the plot, as the narrative manages to follow the source novel for the most part.  Suffice to say that Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is despatched to Transylvania to arrange some London real estate for a certain Count Dracula (a brilliant Gary Oldman).  Dracula then relocates to Victorian England, where his cult of vampirism is destined to grow.

Despite following many of the key scenes from Stoker’s original book, and indeed managing to correctly include most of the characters for a change, this isn’t the definitive movie version it claims to be.  Rather, Coppola’s film is scuppered by introducing a ridiculous love story between Dracula and Mina (Winona Ryder) that wasn’t in the book.  So for every brilliantly shot tribute to the novel that Coppola makes, there’s a stake through the heart thanks to the silly romance aspect. drac

The performances vary from superb (Oldman) to annoying (Sadie Frost as Lucy).  Then there’s Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, who can’t decide how far to ram his tongue in his own cheek.

Poor old Keanu always comes under heavy criticism for his work here, and yes, his British accent is truly abominable.  In his defence, however, I would say that he looks exactly as I always imagined Jonathan Harker to look.  So give him a break.  For me, Winona Ryder is much worse – her acting and accent are both wrong, and she also looks totally out of place.

Thank heavens for some authenticity with appearances for much loved characters Dr Seward (Richard E Grant, great job); Arthur Holmwood (perfectly cast as Cary Elwes) and the vampire hunter who was always my favourite, Quincey Morris (Bill Campbell).

If I ignore the stupid desecration that is the Oldman/Ryder romance, then there’s plenty to enjoy.  The sets, costume designs and cinematography are simply beautiful.  There are some ingenious ideas where the laws of physics just do not apply – such as shadows roaming randomly – which create a supernatural world.  And there is enough respect for the novel in various other ways that Coppola’s Dracula is irresistible to watch.  Not to mention plenty of blood and dismemberment, and some true horror.

So despite holding my head in my hands and screaming “WHY?!” to the heavens, Dracula is still a must see.  But please folks, read the book.  Repressed Victorian sexuality and fears of the outsider may be present there, but “Dracula” is no love story.

8/10

Halloween Horror Fest of the Dead

The Wolfman (2010)

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home of Blackmoor in order to investigate the disappearance of his brother.  Reunited with this estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), it soon becomes apparent that something wild is stalking with the full moon.  When Lawrence is attacked by the werewolf, he too falls victim to the curse – destined to become the Wolfman when the moon is full… wolfman2

This remake of the classic Universal monster movie is something of an under rated treasure.  It was never going to have the charm of the Lon Chaney Jr original, but there’s a lot of craft and reverence gone into this movie.  The Gothic atmosphere is absolutely top notch and there’s enough blood and shocks to aid the spectacle.  It takes a while for our hero to get to his transformation, but it’s worth the wait.

My only criticism really is the werewolf versus werewolf showdown at the end.  Silly and unnecessary, at least this scene isn’t dragged out too long.

Otherwise The Wolfman is a great horror film in the classic tradition.  It really should have been much more successful.  The film is a much better revisit to the Universal vaults than the disastrous Van Helsing.  The only things they got wrong with this movie was not setting it in Wales, unlike the original.  Especially when you have the magnificent Anthony Hopkins in the cast!

8/10  

Hallowe’en Horror Fest AD 1972

Dracula AD 1972 (1972)

1872: Count Dracula is locked in mortal combat with arch enemy, Lawrence Van Helsing.  The Count (Christopher Lee) is destroyed, though Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) also perishes from his wounds.  A disciple of the vampire collects some of the ashes, and Dracula’s ring; burying them at the site of a church.

1972: A group of young London groovers are persuaded to take part in a satanic mass “for kicks”.  Amongst the group is Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), grand daughter of Lorrimer Van Helsing (Cushing again) and descendent of the original vampire slayer.  Little do they know that one member of the group, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), is himself a disciple of Dracula – and intends to resurrect the Count.  dracula_ad_1972_poster_06

Following a bloody ritual in a deconsecrated church, Dracula (Lee) is revived, and he begins to plan his revenge against the House of Van Helsing…

With this film Hammer attempted to drag their Gothic horror films into the modern era.  So in Dracula AD 1972, we’re presented with a Dracula in (then) modern day swinging London, complete with cars, rock’n’roll bands and hip young kids out for a good time.  It’s for this reason that the film is most often derided as silly, if not damn near sacrilegious.

The young hippies are given a look and slang that most surely must have been out of place by 1972.  Viewed now, the dialogue is sometimes hilarious.

Despite the harsh opinions held by many about Dracula AD 1972, I love it.  As a confirmed fan of all things from the seventies, I find it outrageously good fun to see Dracula in this anachronistic setting.  What we lose with the lack of traditional Gothic period setting, we gain in a campy, retro London with funky Blaxploitation style music and cool sets.Yes, the kids’ dialogue is ridiculous, but it’s also great fun if the audience just accepts it.

Draculaad1972

My VHS and DVD copies

As a glimpse of an imaginary 1970’s London, I find this film really enjoyable.  Part Hammer and part The Sweeney, if you will.  That it was an inspiration for Tim Burton on Dark Shadows is well documented, and hopefully means that Dracula AD 1972 is finally getting some recognition for it’s attempt to inject new blood (haha!) into the Count.

There are some bloody moments, but nothing too shocking for a modern audience.  What we do get is a great performance by Peter Cushing, who really embodies his role as occult expert with authority.  Lee, too, is imposing and majestic as Dracula, truly menacing and physically powerful.  It would’ve been great though to see the Count stalking around London for victims at night more, certainly a missed opportunity.

The youngsters give it a good go despite the atrocious (or funny) lines – Beacham and Neame are both great.  Plus Michael Coles as the Inspector gives us a character that is actually believable.

My personal favourite element of this film though is the wonderful, bewitching Caroline Munro.  Here Ms Munro appears in one of her most iconic roles as Laura Bellows, and she has never looked lovelier.  Good performance too, though it would’ve been great to see Caroline resurrected as a Bride of Dracula.

So despite some utter ridiculousness and a couple of wasted opportunities, I can only recommend Dracula AD 1972 as not only one of my favourite Hammer films, but one of my favourite films ever.  Cool soundtrack, too.

“Dig the music, kids!”

10/10 for me

9/10 for everyone else