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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 #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)

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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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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes Honorable Mentions

Surprisingly, I couldn't find a picture of the actual staking.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a picture of the actual staking.

As opposed to my pointedly lonely Dishonorable Mention (https://kathysghost.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/top-10-vampire-destruction-scenes-dishonorable-mention-dracula-1931/), I have several Honorable Mentions– too many to fit into the title.

The first one is the Lugosi Dracula’s Latinx cousin, Draculá (1931).  Same script, different cast, different language, different (mostly better) cast, better movie.  Oh, also some racism. That’s not good.  The two films have almost the exact same ending as the English language version, but the Spanish version makes it much more dynamic.  Van Helsing and Harker don’t flounder so much.  And though they’re still saddled with the anti-climactic dismissal of the lovebirds, it is explicitly states that the doctor will drive a stake through the heart of Renfield, to make sure he doesn’t rise the next night as a vampire.

Next… well, we’ll see Horror of Dracula again on the main list, but it had a ton of good destruction scenes, and I didn’t want to double dip on the top 10.  However, on the Honorable Mentions list, I can.  So first up is Dracula’s bride.

We meet her in the first scene of the movie, where she puts herself next to Harker quite boldly.  Later, she tries to bite him, and winds up having a terrific fight with Dracula, who doesn’t want her bitten.  Harker wakes up (Dracula knocked him out) right before sunset and decides to try and destroy the vampires anyway.  He starts with the woman, who, we see, had succeeded in biting him.  He drives a stake through her heart, and she turns into a crone.  Unfortunately, while Harker is transfixed by her transformation, the sun sets, and… let’s say Dracula is none too pleased by the staking of his bride.  It’s a powerful scene, but still pales in comparison to the next instance.

To replace the woman staked by Harker, Dracula turns the unfortunate man’s fiancee, Lucy, into a vampire.  She tries to bite the maid’s daughter, but the child is rescued by van Helsing, who burns her forehead with a cross (this is one of the few movies to not use a crucifix, the other one, interestingly, being Draculá).  He and Arthur Holmwood, Lucy’s older brother, return to the grave at dawn and drive a stake through her heart.  Her staking is a good deal more graphic (she screams a lot) and bloody than the other vampire woman, and we see Arthur’s agonized reactions to what his sister is enduring.  However, when the vampire is destroyed, van Helsing shows Arthur, and the audience the look of peaceful repose on her face.

The final runner-up comes from The Vampire Lovers.  The movie opens with narration from the Baron, who wiped out most of the Karnstein vampire clan– all but the youngest daughter.  He lays a trap for one of the vampires, Carmilla’s mother, I would imagine.  He steals her shroud and makes her approach him in order to get it back (the Karnsteins rest in their shrouds rather than coffins).  He very nearly is seduced by her (clearly he wasn’t expecting his quarry to be a beautiful woman), but she burns herself on the cross he was wearing around his neck.  This gives him the opportunity to reclaim his wits and decapitate her (the special effects are quite good).  It’s a powerful scene and perfectly sets up the tone of the rest of the film.

Now onto the countdown!

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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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An Act of Vampiric Penance Part III

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this whole penance thing.  It’s hard work, as much as I want to carry it out.

In Part II I explained why Bram Stoker’s Dracula upset me so much.  Now I will rhapsodize about the people I had the urge to light candles for during the movie– Bela Lugosi and Peter Cushing.

Norma Desmond would be proud.

Norma Desmond would be proud.

There is no doubt that Bela Lugsoi is the iconic vampire– even the iconic Dracula.  The accent, the elegance, the slicked-back hair and intent eyes… he didn’t need buckets of stage-blood; he had his face!  And voice– that was a quintessential part of his characterization, but it would have worked had the movie been silent.  Lugosi had a wonderfully expressive face, and when he looks at a character, the audience always knows whether he wants to simply drink their blood, kill them in a particularly messy way, or make them Bride #4.

He also managed to simultaneously be menacing and appealing.  One can see why Lucy would be drawn to him (especially compared to the English men around her), but also why Mina would be nervous from him from the start.  Even if we hadn’t already seen what he had done to Renfield in Transylvania.

Moreover, he was consistent in that characterization.

And that was the end of the Count.

And that was the end of the Count.

Now to Cushing.  As van Helsing, he brought a new level of energy to the part that many try to emulate, but few could match.  He was also very serious, even harsh, but was just as capable of calming the little girl that vampirized Lucy had taken– giving her his coat and telling her it made her look like a teddy bear.   Like any good doctor, he knew how to use the bedside manner. This version of Dracula’s nemesis could even make a joke (telling the hotel valet that the voice on the dictophone was just him talking to himself), though one got the impression that van Helsing had little time for such things and preferred to be slaying vampires.

Admittedly, the physicality Cushing brought to the part proved problematic for the series, as the studio felt it had to “outdo” each installment, and the results quickly became preposterous.  However, that is not his fault, nor does it take away the power of his performances in Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula.  Both reveal a man of great intellect, strength of character and body, willpower, yet still some fallibility (see Top 10 Vampires #9 A Baroness Meinster).  He wasn’t a cloud cuckoolander, nor was he a nightmare-fuel attendant.  He juggled the very difficult task of ridding the world of monsters while still being able to function in polite society.

His presence is still quite large.  It’s the pictures that have gotten small.

And that’s that.  Now for that Coppola wine.

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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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