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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #1 Horror of Dracula (Candlesticks and Sunlight)

It's the perfect ending.

It’s the perfect ending.

Back at #5 I mentioned that it would have been asking a lot of director Terrence Fisher to achieve perfection twice, and here is where he achieved it.

I could go on about Horror of Dracula for days… in fact, I probably have, if one kept count.  Anyway, it’s not the most scrupulously faithful of the novel, but it’s probably the best cinematic version in existence (I’d all the 1977 BBC adaptation the best ever); the fact that it also stars Peter Cushing as Dr. van Helsing and Christopher Lee as the immortal Count doesn’t hurt it a bit.

The movie opens with Harker arriving at Castle Dracula– except this Harker actually knows the Count is a vampire and wants to destroy him.  Unfortunately, he’s no van Helsing, and is vampirized.  Later, his colleague has to drive a stake through his heart.

Because Harker destroyed Dracula’s wife, the vampire goes after Lucy Holmwood, his victim’s fiancee.  She becomes ill and eventually a vampire.  After reading his brother-in-law to-be’s diary, Lucy’s brother, Arthur, decides to aid van Helsing in his anti-vampire adventure– even though it means bearing witness to the destruction of his sister.  Undaunted, Dracula begins to bite Mina Holmwood.  After supervising a blood transfusion, van Helsing realizes that Dracula has set up his coffin in the Holmwood family cellar.

A terrific carriage chase follows this, all the way back across the border to the Count’s castle.  As the sun rises, Dracula abandons Mina and flees inside with van Helsing right behind him.  Almost to his hiding place, the vampire gives up on running and attacks the doctor.  They fight all over the room, with Dracula briefly gaining the upper hand by choking van Helsing until he seems to pass out.  However, he was only playing possum, and when Dracula relaxes his grip, van Helsing throws him off.  Realizing that the sun is rising, he leaps onto a long table, races across it and leaps at the window, pulling down the drapes to let in the light.

It catches Dracula’s foot, which disintegrates, and the vampire falls.  Van Helsing then forms a quick cross out of two candlesticks and forces his foe into complete sunlight, until all that is left of Dracula is dust and his ring.

Where do I begin?  The climax moves at lightning speed, and the resolution is also very fast.  The score also pounds relentlessly, further adding to the frenetic action, and by the time it’s all over, the audience is practically out of breath.  But it’s very satisfying and makes the Lugosi version look like a horse and buggy job, all without puppets, computers, animation, or other really sophisticated special effects.  But there I go, getting all “We didn’t need computers, we had faces” again.

At this point, I run the risk of sounding like Ed Wood by saying it, but no word other than “perfect” will do to describe this scene.  See for yourselves (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gBRe2XMljg).

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

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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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An Act of Vampiric Penance Part II

Bram_Stoker's_DraculaSo here I am, part two of my penance… trying to argue what’s wrong with Bram Stoker’s Dracula without getting too hysterical or only spewing venom.

Anyway, first and foremost– I don’t like the look of the film.  It’s a personal thing, and that’s an answer my film prof would never accept.  I guess I find the vivid color and id-black shadow combination rather distracting.  It worked in Batman the Animated Series, but not for a live-action movie.

Secondly, the premise.  Dracula does not need to be anyone other than Dracula– even dear old Vlad the Impaler.  (Making him Judas Iscariot for Dracula 2000 was even worse, but we’re not talking about it.)  He is the world’s most famous vampire and can, if you’ll pardon the expression, bloody well stand on his own without the Turks, Crusades, impalings, and other crimson disjecta membra that the old monarch was famous for.  Dracula the vampire was a person who led such a horrible life that he was cursed in death to become a vampire– sure, there’s plenty of room for imaginative backstory, but that’s not what the focus should be on.

Thirdly, well, I have to pick on my S.O. here.  His defense of the movie was that it was “an original take on a story that has become stereotypical.”  Well, he was right inasmuch as that the story has always been stereotypical, no matter who was telling it.  In 1931 the white actresses for the Lugosi version wore fairly high-necked, long-sleeved dresses, while the Latina actresses for the Spanish language movie wore slinky, low-cut numbers.  Going back to the original novel look at the “natives” of Transylvania– the peasants, the gypsies, the Slovaks.  Plenty of stereotype there, and the 1992 film is guilty of perpetuating it.

And speaking of stereotypes– let’s talk about the women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Yes, Dracula is looking for his lost love instead of preying at random; that trend started in the ’70s.  Yes, Mina finishes the vampire off.  Orson Welles already did that, admittedly for radio, in the 1930s!  Then there’s the quasi-canon Nosferatu movies– in both of which did the Mina character do the vampire slaying.  Don’t talk like Francis Ford Coppola was the first to do it!  And the vampiresses…. there’s a way to play up the erotic side of vampirism without turning it into porn, but this movie certainly forgot how.

Every female vampire is the most broad, disgusting, sexist stereotype of what a “slut” is… the brides, Lucy, and even Mina, with their heaving bosoms (which aren’t always covered), constant moaning and squeaking, making out with each other….

And now I come to van Helsing.  Now, in Coppola’s defense, comedy-relief in Dracula movies has a very checkered past.  In 1931, it was dreadful.  In most of Terrence Fisher’s Dracula movies (with the exception of Horror of Dracula) the comedy fell flat.   And I don’t even remember what was supposed to be funny in the 1979 movie– maybe just how repulsive Harker was.  I don’t know.  But back to van Helsing– making him the comedy relief in this movie was just a mistake.  When Mel Brooks says something like, “She was in pain, so we cut off her head.”  It’s funny.  Not necessarily so when the movie is meant to be all dark and serious.  Then there’s the matter of having van Helsing sniff Mina and begin waltzing her around when the first met, and do that weird undulation when he tells Quincy that Lucy is “the bitch of the devil.”  If it’s meant to show that he’s not so different from Dracula, it doesn’t quite work, and it rather undermines his position as the expert.  I won’t go into how Mina nearly seduced him.

Now for the Count himself.  This movie is just confused about what it wants to do with the old bat.  Is he young or old?  Is he a wolf-bat or human?  Is he evil or tragic?  Is he appealing or repulsive?  They never pick one.  Yes, he changed ages in the novel, but it was basically 50-50: old in Transylvania and young again in England– consistency that this movie lacks.

Finally, my biggest complaint.  Dracula is a rapist.  I mean, yes, we all sort of knew that (what else is biting someone on the neck and forcing them to drink your own blood), but this movie, I feel, crosses a line by having him, and his brides, sexually assault their victims, too.  We’re obviously supposed to feel repulsed when the wolf-bat creature rapes Lucy, but the other instances of that, like with the brides, or what Dracula does in human form, seem exploitative.  Hypnotism and magic do not equal consent, and I’ll return to my earlier porn comment.

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