Tag Archives: dracula

Cushing/Lee ’72

Cushing/Lee ’72 is a ticket that would have gotten my vote.

A couple of days ago, I decided to dive into my immense backlog of DVDs to find some blog fodder. I was planning to watch through some Hammer films to compare with Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow”, based on an interesting theory I came across on “The Nostalgia Critic” last week.


That “Sleepy Hollow” theory is something I may get into at another time.  In any case, I pulled a couple of Christopher Lee / Peter Cushing combos out of my collection, and popped them in for an evening of British horror. I honestly assumed from the casts that both would be Hammer films, which I don’t think was an outlandish assumption for a film from that time period. Interestingly enough, only one of them was Hammer, but both films came from the good ol’ year of 1972.  Also, they were both thoroughly delightful. So, here they are!

Horror Express

First up is a delightful international flick called “Horror Express.” A couple of months ago, this was recommended to me based on some of the outrageously ridiculous science in the film, so I decided to pick it up when I spotted it in the bargain bin.  What they didn’t mention is that the film is an absolute blast, and the cheesy pseudo-science in the plot is just icing on the cake.

There is a mad monk, a snarky Soviet commander who takes over the train (played by Terry Savalas, who is awesome), pale-eyed zombies, a possessed defrosted neanderthal, and an alien adversary that kills people by staring at them with glowing red eyes. It is a delightful time, and the whole thing is hanging out on YouTube.

Nearly the whole movie takes place on the Trans-Siberian Express, which gives the movie an interesting claustrophobic vibe (one of many things that reminded me of “The Thing” in this movie). Cushing and Lee play rival anthropologists who coincidentally wind up on the same train, but they learn to cooperate fast when things turn bad. Lee’s character has discovered a corpse he believes to be the “missing link” in the history of human evolution, and tries to hide his cargo for the first section of the film. Of course, things go wrong when the ancient corpse wakes up and starts killing people. It winds up being dispatched pretty quickly, at which point Lee and Cushing poke at its eyeballs a bit during an autopsy. After looking at images of dinosaurs and space in the creature’s eyeball fluid under a microscope, they come to the brilliant conclusion that the missing link was possessed by a parasitic alien, and that the parasite has found a new host on the train. Spooky!

The rest of the movie involves some great alien possessions, care bear stare deaths, a train explosion, and some generally delightful practical make up effects. Here are a few stills:

I can’t recommend “Horror Express” highly enough. It dances along the line of being a good-bad movie and being just a good movie, but it is a train-load of fun either way. It might actually be my favorite Cushing / Lee movie, though there are a lot of good ones out there. Including the next flick…

Dracula A.D. 1972

“Dracula AD 1972” is one of the later Hammer films Dracula movies, and probably the most ridiculous of the bunch. It starts with the supposed final battle between Cushing’s Van Helsing and Lee’s Dracula in 1872, which ends with both men dead (Lee is notably impaled to death by the spokes of a broken buggy wheel).

The movie then hops to the modern setting of 1972 (100 years to the day), where a young man named Alucard is dead set on reviving Dracula. He is played very hammily by Christopher Neame, who went on to have a successful career as a television character actor. Honestly, he is most of the reason why I like this movie so much. He goes over the top and beyond as Dracula’s #1 fan.

Coincidentally (or not?), Alucard is in a friend group that includes the great-great-granddaughter of the original Van Helsing. Cushing of course plays her protective grandfather (the identical grandson of the original Van Helsing), who is an aging expert on the paranormal. In fact, there isn’t any perceptible difference between this Van Helsing and the original at all, which I honestly didn’t mind so much. No need to mess with a good thing.

Through a particularly silly string of events featuring a plethora of 1970’s slang, partying, and astounding British-ness, Alucard successfully resurrects Christopher Lee’s Dracula via a blood sacrifice (of a Bond girl, no less) in an abandoned church. Dracula immediately makes it clear upon his reconstitution that he has come back specifically to wipe out the Van Helsing clan, but doesn’t do a whole lot to see that goal through. Most of the actual vampiric antics are left to Alucard and his goon, during which time Dracula presumably just hangs out in the abandoned church, mostly satisfied to let others take revenge for him.

“Hey, you. Go do my revenge plot.”

Most of the movie plays out kind of like a cop drama, with Peter Cushing offering advise to a somewhat skeptical police investigator who is digging into the string of clearly vampire-inspired murders of the Van Helsing granddaughter’s friends. My favorite piece of advice Cushing gives to the cops is that they should look into Alucard as a prime suspect, because his name spelled backwards is “Dracula”. That is some deep detective work.

“I think the guy with the teeth is the bad guy”

As you might expect, the young Van Helsing girl is ultimately kidnapped by the Dracula gang, leading to a pretty underwhelming final battle between Cushing and Lee that involves a tiny spiraling staircase. More notably I think is the fact that Alucard is dispatched by Van Helsing via a shower.

so, do vampires just not bathe?

“Dracula AD 1972” isn’t quite as fun or as good as “Horror Express”, but it was still a pretty good watch. The Alucard character and all of the 70’s youth slang are hilarious, and the Satanic blood sacrifice scene is delightful. Really, the first 30 minutes or so has most of the best parts, between the wagon chase battle opening, the Satanic sacrifice, and the 1970’s youthful partying. I’d recommend giving it a watch if you want to see a campy Dracula movie, or just need an emergency dose of the early 70’s in your life.

I empathize with the characters on the left

Ah, and last but not least, “Dracula AD 1972” has a theme song for the ages. It is just amazing. Nothing says Dracula quite like funky french horns and saxophones. Give it a listen:

 

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IMDb Bottom 100: Die Hard Dracula

Die Hard Dracula

diehard

“Die Hard Dracula” is an incompetently made movie on every level. The editing is jerky and feels devoid of continuity, the writing is bizarrely inconsistent in tone, the costumes and makeup are ridiculous, the effects are garbage, and all of the acting is either cartoonishly over-the-top or non-existent.

An interesting thing I noticed from digging around on the web is that “Die Hard Dracula” is clearly one of those movies that no one knew how to market (and not just because it is horrible). If you look at any of the posters or covers for the movie, they all portray a typical vampire horror movie. However, the tone of the movie is oddly light-hearted, and at times is a full-on spoof of “Dracula” and vampire movies in general.

diehard9At the same time, it doesn’t go quite so far as to be a “comedy”, so it would be deceptive to market it as such without acknowledging the attempt at horror. I’ve noticed this same trend with other movies that mix styles (whether they are good or not). It is difficult to easily pitch or sell something that has both genuine horror and comedy elements. In this case it didn’t matter all too much, because the movie is astoundingly horrible all-around and fails to blend the genres successfully. However, this problem does affect good horror-comedy movies of recent years like “Cabin in the Woods” and “Drag Me to Hell”.

diehard10
Managed to drag both Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi into this.

I can’t say for sure, but some of the comedic moments in “Die Hard Dracula” seem forced enough that they might have been added in after the fact, perhaps once everyone realized how bad the final product was going to be. In particular, the ending feels very unnatural, jarring, and improvised. Then again, most of the movie feels oddly edited and confusing, so the ending almost blends in. I’m not sure if this is a case where the sudden, whiplash-inducing tone shifts between horror and comedy were intended from the original script, or if they are the results of a flubbed attempt to salvage/redirect the movie. In any case, the writing and editing crash together to turn the film into a complete cinematic wreck. Even if all other elements were average or better, this film would have been a failure due to those aspects alone. Fancy trim on a poorly constructed house isn’t going to make for a good home, after all. Unfortunately for the film, not even the trim-work looks good in this mess.

If you are going to make any kind of horror movie, you absolutely must be able to do makeup and practical effects (unless your name is Uli Lommel and you don’t have standards). “Die Hard Dracula” not only has horrible makeup on Dracula, but it fails to be even remotely consistent with his appearance. The closest thing I can liken Dracula’s ever-changing appearance to is how Jason changes his appearance under the hockey mask from one “Friday the 13th” movie to the next.

diehard1 diehard2 diehard3 diehard4As you should probably expect, the acting in this movie is generally horrible. There is one notable exception: Bruce Glover (“Diamonds Are Forever”) plays Dr. Van Helsing, and is the one saving grace of the movie. He chews the scenery like he is sucking life force out of the props, and actually makes the movie watchable while he is on screen. His performance is perhaps the only reason I might consider recommending this movie. He is at the very least a breath of fresh air next to the fellow playing Dracula. Ugh.

I have really only scratched the surface of the landfill of garbage that is this movie. There are flying special effects worthy of “Pumaman”, and a flying coffin sequence that will make you cringe. Dracula even shoots lightning out of his hands like Emperor Palpatine at one point for some reason.

You may notice that I have managed to avoid the plot of this movie so far. That was quite intentional. Honestly, there isn’t an easy way to sum it up sensibly. There is a young man who watches his girlfriend instantly drown in a water skiing accident, after which he goes backpacking in Europe to grieve. He makes a vague wish upon a star that resurrects a drowned woman in eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Dracula exists and starts creeping out the drowned woman’s town. Protagonist-man shows up in the town while back-packing, falls in love with the formerly drowned woman, and volunteers to help Van Helsing kill the local vampire menace. Shenanigans ensue as Van Helsing repeatedly fails to vanquish the vampire to comedic effect. Ultimately, Dracula turns everyone into vampires and they live happily ever after for eternity.

 

It is all pretty much nonsense.

The thing that really gets me about this movie is that I can’t decide if I hate it or love it. It is incompetent on every possible level, and fails miserably at everything it sets out to do. The pacing slows down quite a bit, and there isn’t much entertainment value to be had, but I can’t help but enjoy it in retrospect. I feel similar about this movie as I do about “Leonard Part 6” I suppose: it is a rare case where I enjoy a failed comedy, in just how miserably it fails to be comedic. I also just love Bruce Glover’s performance, which is probably the tipping point for me. I definitely recommend checking out the trailer above: if that seems like something you might enjoy, then check it out.