Dracula AKA The Horror of Dracula
This is a very important, milestone review for The After Movie Diner website. This represents the 50th review by The Bloke Down The Pub, who has been writing under this alias and persona for the website for almost 3 years. As this was the 50th review we thought we’d do something special. At the bottom of this review we will reveal, once and for all, the author of these reviews! Yes we are lifting the veil of secrecy and putting out the truth behind ‘The Bloke’ once and for all. Read ont…
I can’t say for certain what the best Hammer horror is, I still have quite a few left to see. I’m not even sure which my favourite is; that one changes day to day. Sometimes it’s Scream of Fear, sometimes Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, sometimes it’s something else entirely. As with so many things in our fickle old world, the answer depends on my mood, on the day and, if I’m honest, who’s asking. For example, for a perfectly reasonable and down-to-earth example, should I be invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and the Queen wants to know what my favourite Hammer is; I probably wouldn’t plump for Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. But if anyone, including the Queen, wants to know which Hammer horror I think they should watch if they’ve never seen one before? That one’s easy, ma’am. Dracula, every time.
It has absolutely everything that’s great about a Hammer movie (Cushing! Lee! Pub landlords keeping schtum!) as well as being a bona-fide bloody horror classic, something which I’m sure Her Majesty would appreciate. This film is one of the reasons Hammer is still talked about more than fifty years later. Alright it might have all ended in boobs and bankruptcy, but it began with one of the best vampire movies of all time.
Christopher Lee is maybe the best Dracula of all time. He does something that I’ve never seen any other Dracula manage. He’s able to transform from the acme of sophistication and class (entirely at home at a Buckingham Palace garden party) to an unholy ravenous demon using only a bit of makeup and a pair of fake teeth. He can make his whole face and body change from aristocrat to hellspawn in the blink of an eye. And it’s not just a masterful bit of acting, it also goes to the core of who Dracula is supposed to be. Before people started mucking around with vampires in the name of fresh takes and goofy riffs, Dracula was an untouchable member of the aristocracy who would manipulate and abuse whoever he liked to sate his bottomless appetites. In other words, this is not a metaphor that has to do a lot of work. So Lee doesn’t need loads of makeup or special effects because Dracula doesn’t transform into a whole other creature. He is already a man without a soul, a demon not in appearance but in deed; and it’s Lee who sells the whole thing. His rage and impotence as he cowers on the floor beneath Cushing’s cross renders what is pretty silly in other movies, hissing and drawing away from a crucifix, brutally effective in this one because what weakens the vampire is exposure, people seeing who he really is.
And Cushing! Oh Cushing; the suits, that voice, those graceful leaps over obstacles as he chases down the monster. He is the hero here not because a backstory demands it, not because he has issues that need resolving, not because he is young and ridiculously good-looking. He is the hero because he knows what needs to be done to defeat evil, and doesn’t intend to stop until it is. He understands that it’s easy to reason yourself into inaction, to justify cowardice, to stand by and do nothing as if keeping yourself safe is the highest calling. He is a hero because he arms himself with nothing more than knowledge and determination. He wasn’t born to be the saviour of a world, he hasn’t been taught how to fight better than anyone else since he was a child, he’s not even an everyman blessed by fortune and wit to make a difference by being in the right place at the right time. Because it’s really hard to be any of those; practically impossible actually. But you know who can arm themselves with knowledge and determination? Bloody anyone mate, ANYONE. Now that is a flipping hero. I had also forgotten how gentle Cushing is. He even looks compassionate when he holds the cross up to Dracula for God’s sake. Honestly, if I aspire to be anyone, it’s Peter Cushing in Dracula. So, you know, there’s that.
I also really like the way it’s not a globe-trotting story, where a faraway horror comes to London. As if the the problem with Dracula is that he’s, well, foreign. Instead it’s set in and around the famous Hammer town of Karlstadt, a relatively small piece of fictional Europe, which not only makes everything nicely claustrophobic, but also means it rollocks along at a very good clip. No long montages of endless miles being crossed. It’s ‘Quick! Dracula went that way!’ and then jumping onto a carriage and giving chase.
And that right there is Hammer horror in a nutshell; Peter Cushing on a horse-drawn carriage racing towards a thrilling denouement in a terrifying castle. With proper bam-bam-baaaaam! sort of music playing too, which might be a little dated, but in a way that says: you are in the hands of craftsmen now, we know what we’re doing.
And that’s why I’d recommend someone start with Dracula if they’ve never seen a Hammer horror, because it’s a well-crafted movie that does everything right using its own unique rhythms and styles. I don’t know if it’s their best, but it’s a terrific way to find out just how great they can be, and I would be more than happy to say that to the Queen, should the opportunity arise. After all, I’m sure Her Maj appreciates things that represent the very best of what Britain has to offer.
Speaking of which, another pint?
So here it is then, the BIG REVEAL, the writer behind The Bloke is…
None other than After Movie Diner podcast co-host, published author and all-round great chap J.E.A. Wallace! AKA Jim.
This review is not the last you’ve heard from The Bloke, he will be back, you’ll just know who’s behind the words!
Jim or J.E.A. Wallace has recently published an excellent book of poetry which we can’t urge you enough to go and purchase. He is also going to be an interview guest on Booth Talk this Thursday, so if you have any Hammer Horror, writing or random questions for Jim - comment below!!