Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

AKA Disciple of Dracula, Dracula 3, Revenge of Dracula,The Bloody Scream of Dracula       DRACULA-PRINCE-OF-DARKNESS                                                     Directed by Terrence Fisher                                                                                       Starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews                  90 Minutes                                                                                                                     United Kingdom

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is the third entry in Hammer’s Dracula series. The original entry, from 1958, reintroduced the count to a new generation of movie goers in the guise of the late, legendary Christopher Lee, updating the precedent set by Universal and James Whale with vivid Technicolor, vivid blood, and a more explicit focus on the sexual aspects of the story than before. A bone-fide Horror classic from Hammer’s go to Gothic auteur Terrence Fisher, it was followed two years later by The Brides of Dracula. Fisher was again in the director’s chair, however, Christopher Lee’s Dracula was nowhere to be seen in the film, with Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing this time going up against David Peel’s Baron Meinster, described in the film as a ‘disciple’ of Dracula. Though an entertaining film in it’s own right and a worthy entry in the series, it sticks out like a sore thumb due to it’s absence of the titular Count. Christopher Lee was reluctant to reprise the role due to fear of typecasting, which had cursed previous Dracula, Bela Lugosi, to roles primarily in the ‘exotic villain’ mold. Finally, six years later, Hammer convinced Lee to return in Dracula: Prince of Darkness. This time, it’s Cushing’s Van Helsing who is the absent party, and though he’s a loss, the film makes up for it with it’s tight Gothic atmosphere courtesy of Fisher, and some interesting additions to the vampire mythology which help keep the story feel fresh.                                   

The plot this time involves a group of British tourists traveling in the Transylvanian mountains, where Dracula has been considered dead for the past ten years. When holed up in a tavern they meet the emphatic Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) who warns them not to travel to Karlsbad. Naturally, they ignore his advice, and as night approaches find themselves thrown to the side of the road by their coach driver who refuses to travel any further. A coach without a driver then appears in front of them, and upon boarding it they are taken to a castle, wherein they find the dining table already set out and ready for them. Seemingly the only occupant of the castle is Klove (Philip Latham), who explains that his deceased master Count Dracula left orders that any weary travelers be put up in his abode. Later that night, one of the travelers hears a noise from somewhere within the dwelling and goes to investigate, only to be lead to Dracula’s crypt by Klove, who then proceeds to kill him and mix his blood with the ashes of Count Dracula, resurrecting the count and leading him on hungry rampage, picking off the holiday makers one by one.

Dracula-Prince-of-Darkness-chris lee Dracula: Prince of Darkness comes at an interesting time in Hammer’s history. They had already rebooted and revitalized many of the famous Horror icons in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and their subsequent success led to the revival of the Horror genre and arise of many usurpers to Hammer’s throne. Over in America, Roger Corman had began his extremely successful series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, which added a distinctly psychedelic flavor to the Gothic sensibility of the Hammer pictures. In Italy, directors like Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda were imbuing the Gothic Horror genre with a Dracula-Prince-Of-Darkness-020distinctly Italian operatic style, and more liberal approach to graphic violence and sexual perversity. Clearly the cinematic landscape was already a darker and bloodier place, and Hammer needed to up the ante in order to stay relevant. You certainly get a sense watching Dracula: Prince of Darkness that Terrence Fisher was aware of this. Dracula’s resurrection scene in particular, with it’s graphic bloodlet and vivid metamorphosis of Dracula’s remains, is one of the more grisly scenes of Hammer’s cannon up to this time.                                          

In addition, the film adds some new elements to the Vampire Mythology which help keep the age old Count interesting. The whole business with the driver-less carriage, the tourists arriving at the castle with the table already set out and the lone servant, feel more like something out of a Grimm fairy tale than anything Stoker ever wrote. Almost a Dracula version of Hansel and Gretel. In addition, the fact the focus is on a group of initially happy go lucky, young tourists whose fates vary from bad to worse, seems to be an omen of the Slasher film format which would emerge over the coming decades. Then there is the fact that Dracula is a completely silent character in this version. Depending on who you believe, this is either a result of Christopher Lee’s refusal to speak dialogue which he thought terrible, or a genuine creative decision on the part of writer Jimmy Sangster. What is does in effect, is move Dracula even further away from the charismatic portrayal of Bela Lugosi, and more into animal, predatory territory. More reminiscent of Max Schreck’s work in the classic Nosferatu while retaining Lugosi’s sexuality. There’s also the addition of water as a new addition to the list of a vampire’s weaknesses. This comes seemingly out of nowhere, and is little more than a set up to the way that Dracula is dispatched in the film’s climax. I feel the climax could have worked just as effectively without the need for them to bring a new vampire weakness which makes little sense.

Dracula-Prince-Of-Darkness-042 Dracula: Prince of Darkness is quintessential Hammer Horror. Though not the best of these films, it’s iconography of Lee in the Dracula role and the tight confidence of Fisher’s direction make it both essential viewing for fans of the genre and a perfect starting point for those looking to get into it.       

Advertisements

Zombi Holocaust (1980)

zombi_holocaust_ian_mcculloch_marino_girolami_001_jpg_wvue

AKA Island of the Last Zombies, Medical Deviate, Zombie Death Cult, Zombie Holocaust,Doctor Butcher M.D., Zombie 3
Directed by Marino Girolami (pseudonym Frank Martin) Starring Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchanan, Peter O’Neal, Donald O’Brien and Dakar
84 Minutes
Italy

This movie should have been the Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Freddy vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator of the Italian Exploitation cycle. Zombies and Jungle Cannibals together in one film, how could you possibly go wrong? One’s alive and wants to eat your flesh, and the other’s dead and wants to eat your flesh. We know the zombies will want to eat the cannibals but will the zombies be too gross for the cannibals to eat? Boy that’s a viscous cycle. Well, what we get isn’t quite the clash of titans that gorehounds might have been hoping for, but it is a film with enough grisly gore and camp silliness to make it worthy of the time of any genre fan.

As with many Italian gore-fests the action begins in New York City. Late at night a mysterious person sneaks into a morgue and cuts the hand off a cadaver. The next day that same body is being used to teach a class of Medical Students about the functions of the stomach. The missing hand is immediately noticed and for some reason this group of students find it hilarious (“didn’t you say you needed a HAND to help you study!?”). The doctor giving the class finds the students mocking of the carcass’s missing limb highly inappropriate and he gets in a huff, dismissing the class. What follows is a brief exchange between the doctor and his assistant about the relationship between ‘savages’ and our so called ‘civilised’ society. “Something like this would make sense in a society of primitive savages, but today in New York city?” asks the doctor. “But doctor, do you really think we are that much different from savages?” his assistant asks, to which he replies: “I don’t know”. Such a discussion is nothing new for the Jungle Cannibal sub-genre, which a number of times used this argument over who is the real ‘savage’ as a justification for the horrific sights shown on screen, most famously in Cannibal Holocaust. However, whereas in Cannibal Holocaust that thread runs throughout the whole movie, here it is brought up abruptly minutes in and then never mentioned again! Again we see another hospital worker sneaking around the morgue in the middle of the night, only this time he extracts a heart from a cadaver and proceeds to feast on it, only to be discovered. He responds to being caught in a ridiculously over the top the way, by running and jumping out of the nearest window. Morgue assistant and 1018_ALEXANDRA_DELLI_COLLI_ZOMBI_HOLOCAUSTAnthropologist Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli) recognises a tattoo on the body of the cannibal as being a symbol from the Asian Molucca islands where she grew up. Together with Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch), she discovers that similar incidents have occurred in hospitals all over east coast of America where immigrants from the islands are working. Peter and Lori mount an expedition to the islands to investigate, along with Peter’s assistant George (Peter O’Neal), George’s aggressively eager journalist girlfriend Susan (Sherry Buchanan) and native boatman Molotto (Dakar). They are put out by Doctor Obrero (Donald O’Brien), an American professional there seemingly to help the natives. It isn’t long before the group begin to be hounded by the local cannibals, and it transpires that Obrero is hiding something equally sinister.

Zombi Holocaust is not a very well directed film. The film’s director is Marino Girolami, Enzo G. Castellari’s father, here going under the pseudonym of Frank Martin. I haven’t seen anything else that he’s made, so either his son turned out to be a much better director than he was or he just didn’t have the passion for a zombie meets cannibals meets mad doctor film. I’m gravitating towards the latter since, even though his wikipedia page tells us he has “gained a cult following for his Horror Movies”, he seems to have worked more in the Poliziotteschi and Sex Comedy genres. Anyway, this is one of those movies where when the characters enter a building, the camera watches them enter said building, and then very slowly and stiltedly pans upwards to give us a full view of that building. Quite an awkward way to pad out the running time, but it must be said that moments like this do lend the film a certain atmosphere. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s the kind of detached, absurd, ultra violent while simultaneously ultra ridiculous aesthetic that can only in be found in low budget 60s/70s/80s Horror of this ilk. A prime example of what I’m talking about occurs about 50 minutes into the film, when the titular zombies at long last make their first appearance. They just stand their in the bushes and stare at the characters, but their sub-Fulci appearance and the haunting groaning noise they seemingly without opening their mouths evokes a low budget terror atmosphere that the modern zombie craze could never emulate. It should be noted that Nico Fidenco’s score is one of the better aspects of Zombi Holocaust, especially the atmospheric theme song with it’s sinister droning.

drb_35

It would be amiss to talk about Zombi Holocaust without mentioning the infamous re-titling and deceiving advertising campaign that the film was given for it’s American release. I suppose it’s logical when the Slasher genre was beginning to ZombieHolocaust19gain steam, and you have a film that features not only Zombies, Cannibals and a mad doctor, that you focus on the mad doctor aspect and describe him a “depraved sadistic rapist” on the poster. In one of the most iconic grindhouse titles ever, Zombi Holocaust was known in it’s North American release as “Doctor Butcher M.D.“. The fact that they did this is probably a testament to the performance of Donald O’Brien as Dr Obrero. The sincerity with which he imbues such delirious lines as “I could easily kill you right now, but I’m determined to have your brain!” makes me believe an actual Doctor Butcher M.D. focusing solely on him would have been a lot more entertaining then the half baked hybrid of Zombi 2 and Cannibal Holocaust that the film actually is.

Despite some good gore and effectively atmospheric moments, Zombi Holocaust never manages to live up to it’s title, though it could be said that the twenty minutes with Doctor Obrero’s crazy science and scenery chewing lives up somewhat to the Doctor Butcher M.D. retitle. Still it’s a must see for fans of Video Nasties, Italian sleaze and all that good shit.