Thursday, January 6, 2011

I’ve Come To Suck Your Blaaaaaaaaah

Now, when I say Dracula, there is any number of actors that you may think of – Bela Lugosi should be the first that would spring into any long time film fan’s mind. But you might also think of Frank Langella, Klaus Kinski, Gary Oldman, Leslie Neilsen or arguably even Max Schreck. However, the one name that springs to my mind is the man who wore the cape a total of nine times – Christopher Lee. Mostly working the role through Hammer Studios, Mr Lee first donned fangs in 1958 in their version of Dracula. The film I’ll be looking at today is his third outing as The Count, 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Interesting aside, this was the first Hammer Studios film to be passed by the Australian censorship board, making it through with only minor edits.

Opening with proof that, yes, that pesky fellow Dracula is still up to that old game of Slaughter The Villagers and just a little bit of stock footage, the film just reminds me of how awesome the Hammer films have always been. There is just something that has always “popped” about the use of technicolor, especially when it is used for horror films. Nowhere in the film is this more evident than in the scene where the Monsignor (the Van Helsing of this film) arrives at Castle Dracula, in which the shot, and all subsequent shots set at the castle, have been overlayed with an awesome yellow filter that gives the shot a strange semi-magnetised look (at least, I hope it a filter, because the rest of the film doesn’t look so bad as to have been magnetised). Thankfully, as the film moves along and Dracula regains his power, this filter style gets used more and more and continues to look great, changing from the yellow to a more red based fill.

Another good thing about this film, especially given that it is a sequel of sorts, no dicking around with bringing people up to speed. Nope, just a scene or two and a couple of sentences saying that Dracula is up to no good, and we move right into the plot. In a nutshell, and because the title is the plot, the long-thought-disposed-of Dracula comes back from the dead, and engages in all the standard Dracula activities: mentally enslaving villagers, fighting members of the clergy, surviving things that would kill a mortal man and being killed off.

Dracula, in plotting his revenge against the Monsignor who tried to exorcise his castle at the beginning of the film, enslaves several people to help him, including the priest from the village (who makes for a fairly lame Renfield, looking at times more like a midget Peter Boyle than anything else), the token buxom bar wench and even tries for the Monsignor’s niece.  That not only doesn’t sit well with the Monsignor, but also her boyfriend, the surprisingly fey Paul. Along the way, as said, we get all the standard Dracula trappings, to the point that it is basically the traditional Dracula story, only with different characters in place of those we know. Were it not for the prior films (at least in the Hammer series) being acknowledged, this film could have easily just been called Dracula.

As a film, it breaks no new ground for a Dracula tale (even back then), but it’s just such an entertaining watch. As I mentioned above, the technicolor is always pleasing to the eye, moreso in horror films I have found; and it is no different here. I think it could be because the bright palette put forward with that style of colourisation works really well with the stylised sets that Hammer used. I have always had a soft spot for the sets in Hammer films; they almost always look like they could just as easily be the inspiration for centuries old woodcuts instead of from decades old films. And it continues through to the set dressings and costuming – one of the great things about these films being shot on almost totally self-contained sets, is the fact that you won’t accidentally have someone wearing a wristwatch or driving a sports car through the back of a shot.
Now, I mentioned above that Christopher Lee is my favourite Dracula, and he shows why once again in this film. His Dracula is both otherworldly and human at the same time; his body work (or lack of) is very stiff and stylised, giving for a very monstrous  image; while his eyes do all the acting, running from terror and anger through to sadness, loneliness and acceptance – sometimes even in the same scene.

All in all, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is a worthy addition to both the Hammer and overall Dracula catalogues. It has all the action, horror and romance one could expect in a classic horror film.

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