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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 Dishonorable Mention Dracula (1931)

Norma Desmond would be proud.

A face like that needs to go out on a high note.

Time for another list, and this time I decided to take a leaf out of the book of a favorite YouTube personality– Calvin Dyson (he reviews James Bond media) and start with a “dishonorable mention.”  However, instead of listing the one I absolutely can’t stand, I’ll go with a movie that I otherwise like and was incredibly influential, but at the same time suffers from one of the worst endings ever.

Of course I’m talking about the original Universal Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

Given its origins… it’s amazing that the movie has the iconic status it enjoys to this day.  The movie was adapted from a Broadway play rather than the novel (Broadway adaptations are always watered-down and disappointing compared to the actual play).  The director was drunk most of the time and the cameraman did a lot of directing (luckily Karl Freund was a capable director, even if he never found his niche).  Aside from three standout performers (Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward van Sloan) the cast is wooden and forgettable, or worse annoying.  Luckily the aforementioned men keep the audience er, well… hypnotized, until the very ending.  And then the truly unforgiveable sin comes in.

Dracula strangles Renfield.  It’s a very well-shot scene, with great acting from both Lugosi and especially Frye.  But then the sun rises and Dracula retreats to his coffin.  Now we’re down two-thirds of the capable cast, and are left with just van Helsing (van Sloan) and Harker onscreen.

The two men look for Dracula and Mina, to drive a stake through their hearts.  They realize Mina is not yet a vampire, and the camera focuses on her (inexplicably clutching her breast) while van Helsing drives a stake through Dracula’s heart offscreen.  All we hear is a sort of gasp when the Count is truly dead.  Van Helsing sends the lovebirds away (why is never explicitly said), and the movie ends.

The movie opened so powerfully in Transylvania, and the scenes with Renfield sparkled with intensity.  Bela Lugosi could always speak volumes with one look, so it really was a shame the film didn’t show the Count seeing that he would be destroyed after centuries of immortality.  That would have been powerful.  And the next year Freund would direct The Mummy, which featured a man being completely run through with a spear.  They could have shown more here.

But for some reason, director Tod Browning was compelled to end his horror films with an old man saying goodbye to a young woman.  Even when it was horribly inappropriate to the story.

But without this dishonorable mention, the rest of the list probably would never have been made.  I think that probably makes Browning’s gaffe worth it in the long run.

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What’s Up with Vampires?

batThis morning I watched Dracula 2000 as part of a study on Dracula movies.  It left me with a lot of questions, like “how should I categorize the vampire making the victim drink the vampire’s blood– plain old violence?  Sexual assault?  Or is it in a category all its own?”  But the main question is what is up with vampires, and why, for the love of God, is vampire sex such a coveted, lovingly photographed thing?

I don’t have a good answer, only speculations.  Maybe by the time my study is over, I’ll have sounder speculations.  Anyway, I can describe some of the actors who have played vampires in some of the most disgusting, objectifying terms available, but I’ll spare us all that.  The collective fascination goes beyond Ingrid Pitt’s bust, Louis Jourdan’s sexy voice, and Christopher Lee’s everything.

Apologies.  Contrary to my drooling, attractive actors are only part of it.  Given, Bela Lugosi made the vampire popular in a way that Max Shreck didn’t– probably because Lugosi, while no spring chicken, had hair, arresting eyes, a Cupid’s bow mouth, and elegant fingers.  He also had charm– enough for the baby Hays Office to get nervous and say “no onscreen bites.”  A lot of people today would argue that he’s not particularly attractive– that’s academic– but the censor board may actually have been onto something regarding bites.

People bite each other on the neck affectionately all the time.  Getting bitten on the chest is a little less common (at least in my experience), but love bites can happen anywhere.  And therein begins my speculation.

Maybe the thing with vampires is that the act of biting someone and drinking their blood has certain connotations already.  Especially since the image is of a maiden in a white nightgown falling victim to this act in her bedroom, during the night, at the hands of a swarthy man.  Bram Stoker wrote it in a very unromantic way, back in the 1890’s, and though vampirism is linked to sex in Nosferatu, it is also incredibly unromantic– a noble woman has to sacrifice herself by willingly letting the vampire have her blood.  In 1931 Dracula looked like a prime catch as opposed to the utterly repugnant John Harker, though his attacks on Mina were meant to be frightening rather than alluring.

Changing attitudes regarding sex may have something to do with the portrayals of vampires, although now the pendulum doesn’t really seem to be swinging back as the country seems to be having another one of its Victorian fits (I’d say “puritanical,” but they Puritans so weren’t).  Well, except for Twilight, but it’s an anomaly.  And fans of the series don’t realize how creepy it truly is.

Is it just that Hollywood has forgotten how to be scary, so it’s peddling shock?  Possible, but some of the older vampire movies combined sex with scares very successfully.  Is it overused?  Quite probably.   Nosferatu have been in vogue for over 80 years now.  Maybe it’s time they took a vacation.  Or maybe filmmakers need to take a hint from Katherine Bigelow’s film Near Dark and have the vampires just walk up to their victims and start killing.  It’s hard to romanticize getting one’s throat cut by a stranger.

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