24. Rasputin: the Mad Monk (1966), dir. Don Sharp
I never got round to seeing this one even at the absolute height of my Christopher Lee fandom, so it was nice to fill in the omission. Lee's Rasputin shares a neat trick with Dracula, not to mention the Master - being able to mesmerise people by starting intently into their eyes. Otherwise, though, it's quite different from his usual suave roles. Rasputin likes to stomp around the place, quaffing wine, bedding women and shouting things like "It's nothing a couple of litres of wine won't cure!" I like Christopher Lee better without facial hair, but he is good at being forceful and imposing and menacing, so he played the role pretty well, and looked suitably like the real Rasputin, too.
The story follows the rough outlines of Rasputin's life and death, but I noticed that it steered well clear of any political context. The Russian royal family could have been any generic aristocratic family, really, while we saw absolutely nothing of the brewing political tensions that were about to lead to the Russian revolution. Instead, the story was purely about personal ambitions and personal grievances, with Rasputin's murderers seeking to avenge injuries rather than being worried about his political influence. So basically it ended up as a fairly straightforward 'monster' parable, much in line with the other films Hammer was making at this time. I thought it was OK, but if that's what you're going to do, you may as well have proper monsters and a properly fantastic setting, rather than dabbling uncertainly in realism.
25. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), dir. Terence Fisher
This one, on the other hand, I first saw when I was about 10 years old, and have watched so many times since that the dialogue is engraved forever into the deepest levels of my brain. It's the second of Christopher Lee's Dracula films, though the third which Hammer made - Lee had refused to reprise the role for eight years, so they'd had to make do with a fill-in number in the meantime. He doesn't actually speak a single word through the entire film, apparently because he thought the dialogue written for his character was a load of melodramatic old tripe. But in my view, it's a good call - he absolutely smoulders in the role, the lack of dialogue makes him all the more animalistic and mysterious, and he pulls off some brilliant contemptuous sneers and evil grins which seem to be engraved in my memory in much the same way as the dialogue is for the rest of the cast.
There are some brilliant characters in this film. I especially enjoyed rediscovering Dracula's creepy man-servant, Klove (played by one-time Lord Borusa, Philip Latham), last night, but no-one is a spare wheel, really. Helen (Barbara Shelley) is bloody annoying until she turns into a vampire, but to be fair that is the point - her character arc is meant to be a shocking / tragic transition from buttoned-up kill-joy to rampant uninhibited monster. And once she's made the transition, she really is one of the best full-on voluptuous vampire temptresses the Hammer studio ever turned out. We particularly enjoyed her hissing out delicious lesbotic double-entendres such as "Sister - let me kiss you!" and "You don't need Charles" in her attempts to seduce the other main female character, Diana.
Hammer were definitely trying pretty hard to recreate the success of their original Dracula with this film. There's an extended flash-back to the exciting end of the previous film at the beginning to bring the audience back up to speed, and then many of the same motifs: guests arriving at a seemingly-deserted castle where dinner nevertheless awaits them, shots of Dracula awakening in his coffin and grinning maliciously, the noble hero turning aghast to the wall while a female vampire is staked, carts containing coffins full of earth rattling at high speed across the countryside and so forth. They also seem to have taken the opportunity to mop up a couple of ideas from Stoker's novel which they hadn't had room for in the first film - for example the character Ludwig, who is basically Renfield, and a very sexy scene in which Dracula slits open the front of his chest using his own fingernail, and tries to get Diana to drink his blood.
This isn't my favourite of the Hammer Dracula films - that honour goes to Dracula AD 1972 (and no, I am not being ironic), while I'd probably also rank both the original and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave higher than this one. But it's a remarkably solid middle-ranker, and I'm glad to have caught up with it again.
Meanwhile, watching the two films back to back gave us the perfect opportunity to devise and refine a suitable list of Hammer horror clichés for the purpose of drinking games, bingo cards, etc. ms_siobhan wrote down the master list on paper as we went along, but has kindly already posted it to Another Social Networking Site, so I can also replicate it here as follows:
- Fainting lady
- Proper set-piece scream
- Lady tossing and turning in a flimsy night-dress
- Inn scene complete with check or gingham table-cloths
- Any peasants
- Speeding carriage sequence
- Close-up of the villain's eyes
- Snorting horses
- Tolling church bells
- Bubbling pseudo-scientific equipment
- Day-for-night filming
- Obviously fake scenery
- Obvious painted backdrop
- Bad fake severed body-part
- Rag doll falling to its doom
- Red poster-paint 'blood'
- Coloured water 'wine'
- Glycerin 'sweat'
- Prop also used in any other Hammer film
- Set also used in any other Hammer film
- Music also used in any other Hammer film (bonus points for timpani)
- Actor who has appeared in any other Hammer film
- Actor who has appeared in any other British film or TV that you can name
That should be plenty to get you rolling blind drunk on the floor - but do, of course, feel free to add further suggestions of your own!
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