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May 13th, 2018

4. Dean Owen (1960), The Brides of Dracula

This is a novelisation of the Hammer film Brides of Dracula (1960), which is bloody great and which I've reviewed in its own right here: LJ / DW. I've read and reviewed two other Hammer Dracula novelisations before – John Burke (1967), Dracula, Prince of Darkness (LJ / DW) and Angus Hall (1971), Scars of Dracula (LJ / DW) – and from comparing the Scars one in particular with a copy of the shooting script, I'm confident that it was normal practice for the authors to write them from these scripts. That makes them fascinating reading, especially in cases where I can't access the script itself, mainly for what they reveal about the creative decisions made during production but also to some extent because they can clarify and flesh out details which were intended by the original scriptwriter but didn't really come through in the final film. In addition, they can add extra details supplied by the novelist which I am at liberty either to incorporate into my personal Hammer Dracula head-canon or to reject (according to preference), and when they are well-written they are just good and enjoyable takes on stories I love anyway.

Unfortunately, this one isn't particularly well-written. In fact, it is a particularly egregious example of a male writer writing for a male audience without the faintest notion that women are sentient human creatures who might potentially pick up and read the novel as well, and wish not to be portrayed as male playthings within it. We're all familiar by now with the classic 'breasted boobily' caricature of such writing:

Breasted boobily.jpg

Well, here is Marianne, the main female character, being introduced on the first page as the carriage in which she is travelling thunders through dark Carpathian forests:

Novelisation Marianne introduction.jpg

Her trajectory through the story is largely the same as in the film, but at almost every step the extra detail which the novelist adds is utterly skeevy in tone. A series of male characters tell her that a girl as pretty as she is shouldn't be travelling alone in this part of the world, size her up to see if she actually is as pretty as they thought, and contrive to get their paws all over those curves we heard about when we first met her. Shockingly to anyone familiar with Peter Cushing's utterly gentlemanly performance in the actual film, this includes Van Helsing himself, who full-on shags her within two pages of bringing her back to the Running Boar after finding her unconscious and (again unlike the film) half-naked in the forest. Those who have any respect for women, and particularly those who are also Peter Cushing fans, may wish to skip over the following passage, but I feel compelled to share it nonetheless just to demonstrate that I am not making it up – although the absence of either character's name from the passage also rather suggests that it is actually a generic sex-scene which the writer had stored away waiting for next time he would need one.

Novelisation Marianne and VH.jpg

Don't get me wrong – Hammer also very definitely sexualised and objectified their female lead characters. But because they were British and had to respect the rulings of the censors in order to ensure a general release, they did it all with rather more decorum and style than this. So far as I can tell, this novelisation was written and published by an American company for an American market, and I would hazard a guess that the author had never actually seen a Hammer film. After all, they were only just establishing their reputation for gothic period horror at the point when he must have written it. So it is a bit of an oddity and comes across much less like a precious supplement to the film and much more like a badly-mangled version of it compared to the Prince and Scars novelisations. But then again it does have an awesome pulp fiction cover (again bearing no relation to the film), so there's that:

Novelisation.jpg

Meanwhile, somewhere beneath the surface of this misogynistic and off-tone novelisation still lies the shooting script that I'm really interested inCollapse )

Alas, of the Hammer Dracula films only this, Prince and Scars were ever novelised, so I have read them all now and it's a pity to have ended up on this one which is a) badly written and b) reveals at more or less every step of the way how much better the final film was than the pre-production shooting script. However, that's interesting to know and makes me appreciate what the production team did all the more. Apart from the slight weirdness of Marianne getting engaged to the Baron when she ought to know he's mixed up in some pretty weird business and might well be a murderer, the film is one of Hammer's strongest, and the characterisation of the Baroness, the existential threat posed by the Baron and the business with both Gina's coffin-clasps and what she says to Marianne after she has come out of it all contribute a great deal to that. Thank goodness for the creative drive towards perfectionism which everyone who worked at Hammer seems to have subscribed to at this point!


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