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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #2 Dracula: Prince of Darkness (Stake Through the Heart)

Damn.

Damn.

A staking had to be here somewhere.  It’s such an essential method to dispatching the undead, that it would almost be a crime not to have it here, somewhere.  And once again, dear old Hammer Studios provided the occasion.  They knew what they were doing… up until they tried to bring Dracula to the 20th century, but that’s another story.

Unsurprisingly, this is another movie I’ve written about before… Dracula: Prince of Darkness— arguably the best sequel in that series.

The movie opens with the van Helsing stand-in, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), an abbot, interrupting a group of villagers about to stake the corpse of a woman who had died under mysterious circumstances.  He bullies the local priest and shames the villagers into going home.  However, he does show kindness toward the dead woman’s mother, and promises to bury her daughter with the appropriate rites.  After this is done, he stops at a tavern for his dinner and bumps into four English tourists: brothers Charles and Alan, and their wives, Dinah and Helen.  Sandor and Charles get along just fine, although the priest’s earthy manners (hiking up his habit to warm his backside before the fire) offend Helen.  They tell him some of their plans, and he warns them against going to Carlsbad but won’t say why.

They don’t listen, and wind up being abandoned by the coachman there just before sunset.  Seeking shelter for the night, they wind up at Castle Dracula, where the sinister Klove informs them that his late master left instructions that the castle must always be ready to receive guests.  Alan, Charles, and Dinah are charmed and drink to Count Dracula’s memory.  Helen, however, is terrified inside the castle and predicts that “there’ll be no morning for us.”  Indeed, Klove murders Alan and uses his blood to revive Dracula, who vampirizes Helen.

Charles and Dinah barely escape.  They find shelter with Father Sandor at the monastery.  Dinah, who was slightly injured, is put to bed, while Sandor introduces Charles to Ludwig, a craftsman whose experience with Dracula left him mad.  That night, Ludwig knocks out his caretaker and allows Dracula and Helen inside.  Dracula attacks Dinah, but the monks capture Helen, crazy with fear and trying to bite everyone near her.

Father Sandor explains to the distraught Charles that she is no longer the sister-in-law he loved, and, while a group of monks hold down her limbs, he stakes her through the heart (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOWYZhAXdP4).  It’s a rough scene, even though it isn’t particularly bloody.  The implications it brings to mind (a gang-rape, maybe) are disturbing, but so are the alternatives.  The monks couldn’t just let Helen go on as a vampire, and waiting until she was asleep during the day wasn’t really an option, either.

But when the staking was over, and Charles dared uncover his face, Father Sandor showed him the look of peaceful repose on Helen’s face, and blessed her.  We, the audience, understand that she– like the dead peasant from the first moments of the film– will have a proper burial.  This gives her more dignity than most cinematic vampires ever get to see– in only three minutes.  Female vampires are rarely more than lascivious stick figures, but Helen is a figure of tragedy– a Cassandra.  Her two deaths have weight– something filmmakers should strive for when they kill off a character.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #3 The Vampire Lovers (Decapitation)

NSFW.

NSFW.

If Dracula’s Daughter is up there with film noir in terms of great closing dialogue then The Vampire Lovers is up there with film noir in terms of its bleak ending– even though the vampire has been destroyed and the “correct” couple are together.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This movie is about Carmilla (or Marcilla or Millarca… she goes by all three), the famous lesbian vampire, of Sheridan LeFanu’s novel Carmilla.  It was the first and best of what became known as Hammer’s “Sex Vampire Trilogy.”  Naturally, such an association means that this film is grossly underrated.  In fact, I count it as one of the best representations of a lesbian relationship on film– even with the unhealthy vampirism element.

But plot recap.  Years before the main events of the movie, a Baron, who lost his sister to the vampiric Karnstein family destroys all the vampires except for the youngest daughter, Mircalla.  He was unable to find her shroud.

Peter Cushing plays General von Spielsdorf, a widower whose only daughter, Laura, becomes fast friends with Marcilla, the daughter of a friend of the General’s.  Marcilla’s mother, the Countess, imposes on the General to keep her daughter as a guest for a few weeks while she settles her brother’s estate in the north.  Laura then begins to suffer nightmares and anemia.  She dies with Marcilla’s name on her lips.  When the General notices bite marks on his deceased daughter’s neck– Marcilla is gone.

Now Carmilla becomes the houseguest of an Englishman (who also knew the General and Laura) and his daughter, Emma.  The same pattern follows, although more attention is given to Carmilla’s relationship with Emma.  The Englishman has to leave on business, and Carmilla decides to turn Emma into a vampire.  There is very little doubt that she does in fact love her victim, and is tormented by the losses she experiences over the centuries.

But now the General and the Baron have put their heads together and realized that Marcilla and Carmilla are really Mircalla Karnstein, and that Emma is destined for the same fate as Laura.  There is a ferocious chase (in the grand Hammer action tradition) to the ruins of the Karnstein castle, but this time they are able to follow Carmilla to her shroud.  The men take her body to the ruined chapel.

The Baron makes to stake her through the heart but the General states, “I will do it.”  Cushing is absolute icy determination, an implacable force out for revenge.  He drives the stake through her heart while, miles away, Laura screams in agony.  The staking done (with his bare hands, I might add– no hammer in sight), the General unsheathes his sword and lifts Carmilla’s head up by the hair.

To the shocked Baron, he says, “It’s the only way.”  And one blow is all it takes.  The portrait of Carmilla, hanging in the entrance of the castle, turns into a skeleton with fangs.

But that’s really an afterthought.  The “huh?” and elevator bars following “the, uh… stuff that dreams are made of.”  After seeing the General, who was such a lovely person in the first half-hour of the movie so changed… so brutal, nothing else matters.  And the characters really can’t go back to the way their lives were.  Things have been made right, but they aren’t right.

Laura is dead, and the General is alone in the world.  Emma will live, but the fact that she fell in love with a female vampire will probably cast a shadow over her relationships with her father and the young man she had been seeing earlier.

Hammer films aren’t typically regarded as being particularly deep, but The Vampire Lovers challenges that.  It’s not the ridiculous slasher-movie ending where the hero’s fortunes are reversed, but it’s no bed of roses, either.  Pleasant dreams.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #4 Dracula’s Daughter (Crossbow)

But she's dead.

But she’s dead.

Like my friend the author said, “Dracula’s Daughter should not work.”  But it’s one of the few sequels to surpass its parent film (like Bride of Frankenstein), and deserves a lot more love as one of the great Universal horror classics.

The movie started with little more than an idea, cost a lot of money even before work started (the price to the rights of Stoker’s other Dracula story rose exponentially following the success of the movie), the Hays Office was having fits over the Count’s implied polygamy in the parent film, and the contracted director’s genre was westerns.  Yet everything went wonderfully right.

Dracula’s Daughter opens with Dr. van Helsing being arrested for murdering Count Dracula (Mina and Harker, thank God, are nowhere to be seen).  Instead of a lawyer, he tries to convince his former student, Dr. Garth, a psychiatrist, to defend him.  While Garth considers this, he meets the Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who has stolen and destroyed Dracula’s body, hoping that this will free her from the curse of vampirism.  All her attempts, however, are undercut by her creepy servant, Sandor, leading her to begin killing again.  Meanwhile, she begins to fall in love with Garth.

Garth, not believing in vampires, tells her about treating alcoholics by making them confront their desire to drink with a bottle.  So she has Sandor hire a woman off the street to model for a somewhat undressed portrait.  She gives in to her cravings for blood and the model, Lily, later dies under Garth’s care.  Zaleska and Sandor kidnap Garth’s girlfriend, Janet, and return to Transylvania.  Garth, van Helsing, and a faceless official give chase.  At Castle Dracula, Zaleska gives him an ultimatum: free Janet by becoming a vampire himself.  He agrees.

Then we get the really good stuff.  Jealous that Garth will get the vampire’s kiss rather than himself, Sandor aims a crossbow at the psychiatrist.  The authority figure with van Helsing shoots Sandor, causing Sandor’s bolt to miss Garth and strike the Countess in the chest instead.  She staggers out onto a balcony and collapses.

While the lovers reunite, Mr. Authority turns to van Helsing and says, “Beautiful, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” the doctor agrees.  “As beautiful as the day she died a hundred years ago.”

Wow.  That line’s not up there with “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” and “It’s the uh, the stuff that dreams are made of” but it ought to be!

It also sets up the crossbow as a canon anti-vampire weapon.  It was used nicely in Scream, Blacula Scream, and into the present.  Really not bad for an underrated movie that started out with red ink and a premise.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #5 Brides of Dracula (Windmill)

Insert

Insert “sign of the cross” pun here.

The title “Brides of Dracula” is a tad misleading, since there is no Dracula in this movie.  Our dear, departed Christopher Lee would not agree to do a sequel to Horror of Dracula for a few more years.  But Brides also stars Peter Cushing as Dr. van Helsing, so it’s not so far off.

Instead of Dracula, this movie’s main vampire is the Baron Meinster (he also turns his mother into a vampire, but she asks van Helsing to stake her instead of continuing her existence as a creature of the night).  He’s blond, young, attractive, but not as spirited as Lee.  Nevertheless, he gets a magnificent sendoff, very much in the action-packed Hammer tradition.

The movie opens with a young French woman travelling to the boarding school where she will teach.  The Baroness offers her shelter for the night, to the dismay of the villagers, and tells the young woman, Marianne, that the Baron is a lunatic locked up in the tower.  Horrified by this cruelty, Marianne goes to the tower, where the Baron convinces her to unlock the silver chains holding him in place.  He then attacks Marianne and turns his mother into a vampire.  Van Helsing finds Marianne the next day and takes her to the school.  Returning to investigate the castle, he meets the tragic Baroness and does what she asks (see https://kathysghost.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/top-10-vampires-9a-baroness-meinster/ for details).  He then tracks the Baron’s trail of death to the school.

The Baron kidnaps Marianne and takes her to the windmill where he is keeping his two latest victims.  He overpowers van Helsing in a fight and bites him on the neck.  Van Helsing purifies the wound with holy water and a red-hot iron (you really believe the doctor’s agony, too).  The barn catches fire when the Baron comes back, and the two resume their fight.  The Baron takes the rest of the water in the face, which burns away his good looks.  He tries to trap van Helsing and Marianne in the windmill, but leaving it turned out to be his undoing, for the doctor noticed that it cast a cross-shaped shadow in the moonlight.  With very impressive maneuvering, considering the burn trauma he’d just put himself through, van Helsing moves the windmill sails so that they form a cross, trapping the Baron in place, causing him even more agony, trapped between the fire, the symbol, and the coming dawn.

It would be a perfect ending, if not for the fact that the plot kind of forgets about the women.  Marianne and the two vampiresses just kind of stand around and watch while van Helsing and the Baron fight, the doctor purifies himself, and everything goes up in flames.  In a slower moving climax, it would really throw everything off, but director Terrence Fisher keeps the action so fast, that it’s not too noticeable.

It’s also very hard to achieve perfection twice, but more on that later.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #6 Vampire Circus (Twin Empathy)

The sister, undoubtedly, had the better end of the bargain.

The sister, undoubtedly, had the better end of the bargain.

This is without a doubt, one of the most inventive ways of dispatching a vampire I have ever seen.  It’s set up cleverly in the movie, and is one of the few non-sunlight laissez faire methods shown in movies.

I’ve praised Vampire Circus before.  The movie isn’t perfect (but might have been had Hammer Studios coughed up the entire budget), but it provides plenty of thrills, chills, and leaves a ton of bodies strewn across the floor at the climax.  And believe me, they all got there in different, inventive ways– not everyone involved in the circus (such as the mute strongman played by Dave Prowse) is a vampire.

Anyway, the movie has a fantastic pre-credits sequence in which a woman named Anna has an affair with a vampire and feeds him children from her village.  Her none-too-pleased husband leads a mob of villagers to the castle, where they stake the vampire (he is a count but not Dracula) and flog Anna.  Her blood revives him enough to tell her to find his kinsman, Emil.

Sixteen years later the village is in the grip of a mysterious epidemic (which turns out to be rabies), though some of them think it is the Count’s curse.  The doctor sneaks through the quarantine to get help from the university, and somehow a circus sneaks in. The terrified villagers go night after night, eager from any escape from the cycle of death– amazed by the handsome Emil who turns into a leopard, the naked female acrobat painted like a tiger, the ringmistress’ twin children, Michael the clown, and the strongman.

The female twin, Helga, at one point sticks her hand in the actual tiger’s mouth, and her brother Heinrich, feels the bite.  And this sets up the climax.  People began dying in very unnatural ways after the circus came to town.  At first the ringmistress (who turns out to be Anna)’ animals were blamed, but at last people realized it was the supernatural, and the schoolmaster (the husband from earlier) tries his hand at vampire slaying, once again.

And here we get to the twins’ ingenious death.  They are the Count’s children from the affair with Anna years before.  Helga can be bitten by a tiger while her brother actually take the punishment.  So what happens if you drive a stake through her heart?

The last part of the movie is a terrific fight– circus against a handful of villagers.  Some of them are held at bay by garlic and crosses, but the clown, tiger-woman, ringmistress, and (most importantly) strongman are not.  But the villagers don’t know who is and is not until it’s nearly too late, or too late in the case of a few.  Then, at just the right moment, Helga takes a stake through the heart.  Heinrich, who had been about to kill someone else, falls down with a gaping hole in his chest.

Director Robert Young set this up earlier in a creepy but ultimately funny way (Chekhov’s gun), and now it goes off in a violent, shocking way.  And it winds up influencing the climax in another way.  While Anna might have been willing to let the revived Count have her daughter with the schoolmaster before, having lost two of her children at one blow, she sacrifices herself rather than let all her children be killed.  It might be a touch out of character, but she’s still crying for Heinrich and Helga, so it’s believable as an impulsive decision.

And it really sets off the resolution.  The vampires need Anna, and the fact that she is killed marks a turning point in the fight.  It also screws up the magic that was supposed to complete the Count’s revival.  All in all, very smart.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #7B Son of Dracula (Fire)

He sets the coffin on fire... take my word for it.

He sets the coffin on fire… take my word for it.

Directed by Robert Siodmak in 1943, released by Universal Studios, Son of Dracula is a very strange movie.  It is equal parts head-shaker and brilliant.  Lon Chaney Jr. (most famous as the Wolf Man) is badly miscast as a Transylvanian vampire, but the scene where he floats across the swamp, standing atop his coffin is breathtaking.  The hero is repulsive to the point that one wonders what the heroine/villain protagonist saw in him, but it can be argued quite strongly that she is just leading him on, which makes them both more interesting and complex.  And so on.  And I should mention that this film is very misogynistic, despite the director going on to make the arguably feminist film The Spiral Staircase, followed by sexist film noir in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Anyway, Son of Dracula takes place on a plantation in the south… I want to say Florida because of the swamps, but that is never really established.  Kay, the daughter of an old Colonel, has invited Count Alucard to be a guest at their plantation, the Dark Oaks, much against the wishes of her fiance Frank.  Count Alucard arrives, and as a bat, kills the Colonel.  Kay inherits the plantation, and goes out to meet Alucard who floats across the swamp towards her on his coffin.  They marry and return to Dark Oaks.  Their “honeymoon” is interrupted by Frank, who tries to kidnap Kay, insisting that she will have the marriage annulled first thing in the morning.  He tries to shoot the Count, but the bullets pass through him and mortally wound Kay instead.  Frank flees and turns himself into the police, except when the town doctor comes to investigate, Kay is up and walking around (a vampire).

Nevertheless, Frank is arrested and put in jail.  Kay comes to him, and lets him out on the condition that he destroy Alucard by burning the coffin.  Then they can be together, just as she had always planned.  She promises to turn him into a vampire, too.  However, he burns both coffins, rather than just Alucard’s.  By the time the doctor and police catch up to him, he looks ready for the institution (see the picture for details).

It’s a very desolate ending.  The scene with Alucard isn’t great, but the scene with Kay really packs an emotional punch, even as much as I dislike Frank.  In fact, it’s completely silent.  He sits and watches the flames engulf the old nursery, and would probably have stayed there, had the doctor not led him out.  The vampirism here is entirely without romance– just a spiral of death and betrayal.  The devastating noir ending tacked onto horror: the menace is taken care of, but no happy ever after.  And it’s entirely satisfying.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #7A House of Frankenstein (Betrayal)

Not to be outdone, Universal had Dracula reintegrate and disintegrate!

Not to be outdone, Universal had Dracula reintegrate and disintegrate!

House of Frankenstein doesn’t sound like a movie that would have vampires in it, but John Carradine turns in a lovely performance as Count Dracula (one that he would reprise in House of Dracula)– the sixth film in the Frankenstein series.

The count is a relatively unimportant character in the plot of this movie, although his scenes are very powerful thanks to Carradine’s acting and director Erle C. Kenton’s handling of the action.  There’s also a couple of hints that this Dracula wants a bit more than blood from his female victim, if you get my drift, but let’s leave that to the imagination.

The movie opens with Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) and Daniel the hunchback in an insane asylum, from which they escape and subsequently hijack Professor Lampini’s House of Horrors travelling show.  One of his exhibits was the skeleton of Count Dracula and the stake through its heart, keeping him dead.  Niemann removes the stake, returning the Count to life.  In a nice montage, we see his veins, flesh and so on regenerate before the audience gets a nice glimpse of John Carradine as vampire.  Niemann, stake levelled at Dracula’s heart, offers a bargain– kill the burgomeister who sent him to the asylum, and he (Niemann) will look after Dracula’s coffin for the rest of his life.  The Count accepts.

He drains the old burgomeister of blood, and, as a bonus for himself, hypnotizes the old man’s daughter-in-law, and takes her with him.  This, and the death of the old man, do not sit well with her husband, and who calls the police.  Soon he, and a handful of officers are chasing the stolen carriage containing vampire and victim, some of them are riding horses– and there’s another wagon.  Dracula is desperately trying to reach Niemann, who is trying his damndest to get out of town.  All the while, the sky is getting lighter and lighter.  Finally, the mad scientist gives up and simply throws the coffin out of the back of his wagon.  Dracula leaps out of the driver’s seat of his carriage and sprints to the box.

Too late.  The sun is up, and as the rays hit him, he turns into a skeleton, his arm falling over the lid.

Some people grump that Dracula was only active for about twelve movie hours, and maybe only fifteen minutes of actual running time, and therefore unnecessary to the plot.  This is incorrect.  It drives home the fact that Niemann will betray all he encounters: Daniel, Lampini, Dracula, Lawrence Talbot…. And the scenes with Dracula are great.  Carradine is suitably intense, but one also gets a sense that he’s having fun with the part.  And the carriage chase is superb.  Everyone is chasing someone else, and the sudden ending is very rattling.  But not unsatisfying.  It really shows how far Universal had come since the stagebound Browning Dracula.  But, even better, House of Frankenstein is not yet over.  This most excellent scene does not outshine the rest of the movie.

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