It had been so long since I’d seen Horror of Dracula that it was like my first time. The only things I remembered were parts of the ending, and I can’t talk about that in case some of you haven’t seen it. In fact, I’m not sure what to say about this today, so I’m just going to make a list of observations. Do you realize Horror of Dracula is 60 years old? And yet, to me, it feels much more relevant and modern today than a lot of vampire movies made in my lifetime, and certainly doesn’t feel as alien and antique as the Universal horrors. Apologizes to Universal marks, but I never could get into most of those other than as a curiosity, however Hammer just swings.
Can I start with my love of Michael Gough? He did so well playing baddies but on the occasions he wasn’t the killer he’s not hamming it up and really showed why he was one of the most prevalent character actors of the 20th century. We all remember Cushing and Lee but Michael Gough is the glue that holds this film together, running the gamut of emotions. I just re-watched the second episode of Inspector Morse last week, “The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn,” in which he plays a small part as a suspect and Morse’s favorite crossword setter, and I think the big interview scene between him and John Thaw is absolutely one of the highlights of all the guest star scenes in that whole show.
Yesterday I mentioned the impoliteness of the screaming demon possessed woman in Noroi, and conversely the aggressive politeness on display here strikes me again and again. It begins with the conversation between Dracula and Harker when he shows him to his room. Oh, I’m so glad to be here, no I’m the one who is honored to have you here, blah blah blah. When they both know good and well that they’re about to try to kill each other! I mean, why would a vampire need to organize a library? Or have a housekeeper for that matter, remember, Dracula says he apologizes that the castle is messy because the housekeeper is out of town? He lives off the blood of women and is 500 years old, does he really have a housekeeper? Or does he just wave his hand and the dust bunnies voluntarily commit suicide? I mean, do vampires use the toilet, which then needs cleaning? Then when Michael Gough throws Peter Cushing out of his house by saying to his servant, “Please show Dr. Van Helsing to the door, he is leaving.” I wish I could afford to hire someone just so I could say to them in flowery language that I wish to tell people to fuck off, right in front of the person I want to tell it to. Etiquette is the most amazing invention of humanity. I know this because I live with three cats, and they don’t have any.
OK, maybe etiquette is the second best invention, because in this movie Van Helsing just willy nilly gives the mesmerized Mina an at-home blood transfusion. I was like, it’s 1885, can he do that? I had to stop the movie and look it up. Turns out blood transfusions were invented in England in the 1600s. Who knew?
I don’t mean to gush about Michael Gough so much that I don’t gush about Peter Cushing enough. I could watch him on a loop as he jumps onto the curtains at the end of the film, and I’d probably cheer every time. Also, his accent slays me.
Finally, and I know this is the whole point of the film, but I can’t finish this review without going on about what a dick Dracula was. First he attacks Harker for getting bitten, then he symbolically rapes both his fiance and future sister-in-law as revenge. And then there’s the whole “the calls are coming from inside the house” plot point, which really takes some balls on his part. Watching Christopher Lee stride around in that cape with those long legs is legitimately terrifying even now that we’ve experienced all the undead movie villains from Cthulhu to Sadako. Movies from the 1950s usually feature something you want to laugh at like a walking carpet or a thing with a mouth full of hot dogs, and here’s this murderous aristocrat from beyond the grave….I mean, I wouldn’t want human Christopher Lee mad at me. I saw him get a little bit snippy with the also terrifying Oliver Reed on an episode of This is Your Life and I’m still cringing.
The best part is that my first encounter with Lee was in a comedy called Serial starring Martin Mull in which he played his evil boss and the leader of a gay motorcycle gang, and I didn’t see as a kid why my dad thought that was such an amazing comic turn because I had no context. Now, I can confidently say that Horror of Dracula is, in my opinion, the highest quality Hammer film, but my personal favorite is The Devil Rides Out, and it’s because of Lee playing the hero. I’m just now wondering if that’s because of being introduced to him in a comedy.
Come to think of it, I didn’t see any Hammer films until way after I’d seen them sent up by Rocky Horror. And I’m pretty sure my first Peter Cushing Hammer film was Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, so I tend to think of him as the bad guy. It’s weird how we live our cultural lives in reverse sometimes. Do you have any personal examples of seeing the parody before the original? Leave me a rambling comment if so.