There is always something about behind-the-scenes footage that reminds me of my childhood. It’s perhaps the memory of those holiday movies the slightly-posh-neighbors-along-the-road used to show after spending a fortnight in Fuengirola or Benidorm, sometime in the 1970s. The invited guests would be entertained with “Viva Espana” on the record player, a fondue set, a bottle of Rioja and a selection of dips, before the overly-tanned holiday-makers talked through their 8mm films: “That’s Pedro, oh he was nice, and there’s Auntie Jean, look, pink as a lobster.”
I suppose it’s the commentary, which is here supplied by Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews, who all get similarly excited when recognizing old friends and past pleasures: “Look, there’s Bert.” “There’s Roy.” “We’re doing the crossword!” The main difference here, of course, is that this home movie is something far more special: a 16mm-reel of behind-the-scenes footage from Dracula—Prince of Darkness, and it’s all good fun.
Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966) was essentially Hammer Films’ sequel to their classic interpretation of Dracula from 1958. Indeed DPOD opens with archive of Peter Cushing, as Professor Van Helsing, using candlesticks to despatch the Christopher Lee’s Count.
It’s interesting footnote that while previously Lee’s Dracula had spoken in the original film, in DPOD he only hissed. Christopher Lee claimed this was because he read the script.
‘I didn’t speak in that picture. The reason was very simple. I read the script and saw the dialogue! I said to Hammer, if you think I’m going to say any of these lines, you’re very much mistaken.’
However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster disagreed with this version of events in his autobiography Inside Hammer wrote:
‘‘Vampires don’t chat. So I didn’t write him any dialogue. Chris Lee has claimed that he refused to speak the lines he was given ... So you can take your pick as to why Christopher Lee didn’t have any dialogue in the picture. Or you can take my word for it. I didn’t write any.’
Whichever version you choose to believe, we can all agree that Dracula—Prince of Darkness is a classic Hammer Horror.
Happy Birthday Sir Christopher Lee, actor, singer and cinematic icon, who celebrates his 91st birthday today.
I can still recall the fabulous thrill of seeing Lee’s performance as the gruesome “Creature” in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), where he managed to make the brutally disfigured creation both pitiful and terrifying. He achieved greater success as the Count in Dracula (1958), a performance that established him as an international star. Lee made the role of Dracula his own by bringing a charm, sophistication, intelligence and sexual attraction to the role.
In both films, Lee played against his friend and colleague Peter Cushing (who would have been 100-years-old yesterday) and together they dominated the box-office from the late 1950s-to mid-1970s, with a range of classic Horror movies, including The Gorgon, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, Scream and Scream Again, The House That Dripped Blood, Dracula 1972 A.D., Nothing But The NIght, The Creeping Flesh, and Horror Express.
Of course, there were also his solo turns with The Devil Rides Out, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Wicker Man, The Three Musketeers and The Man With The Golden Gun.
But unlike Cushing, or Vincent Price (whose birthday is also celebrated today), Lee wanted to be more than just a Horror actor, and therefore moved to America in the 1970s, where his starred in a variety of films—some good, some not-so—which ranged from Airport ‘77, 1941 and Gremlins 2.
Most careers would have finished there, but not Lee’s. He return to form and greater success with roles in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999) and then the BBC TV-series Gormenghast (2000), all of which led onto Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and episodes 2 and 3 of Star Wars.
At 91, Sir Christopher is making 2-to-3-films-a-year, and has just recorded and released a Heavy Metal album, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Happy Birthday Sir Christopher and thanks for all the thrills!
Behind the scenes with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on ‘Dracula 1972 A.D.’
A preview of Christopher Lee’s heavy Metal album ‘Charlemagne: The Omens of Death’
The Gentleman of Horror, Boris Karloff is the focus of this episode of This Is Your Life from 1957.
Few actors have such long and successful careers as had “Karloff the Uncanny”; or have thrilled so many different and disparate people across the world with his performances as “The Monster” from Frankenstein, Imhotep in The Mummy, Professor Morlant in The Ghoul, all the way up to TV series, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Michael Reeves’ The Sorcereors and Peter Bogdanovich‘s Targets.
The Hallowe’en season seemed pretty drawn out this year. That’s fine with me though, ‘cos I love it! What other chance to do we get to celebrate all those freaky and ghoulish things we normally hide under our beds and in our broom cupboards?
If you want to keep the chills running down the back of your spine, check out this excellent, BBC-produced documentary looking back over the last century of European horror cinema, taking in works by major directors from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, the UK and Belgium.
Presented by comedian Mark Gatiss (of The League Of Gentlemen and Nighty Night infamy, and thus no stranger to the dark side himself) it is a follow up to his series A History Of Horror, which was originally broadcast on BBC4 in 2010.
Although Horror Europa has been liberated from behind the BBC server wall and uploaded to YouTube for all to see, here is what the official website has to say about the show:
Actor and writer Mark Gatiss embarks on a chilling voyage through European horror cinema. From the silent nightmares of German Expressionism in the wake of World War I to lesbian vampires in 1970s Belgium, from the black-gloved killers of Italy’s bloody Giallo thrillers to the ghosts of the Spanish Civil War, Mark reveals how Europe’s turbulent 20th century forged its ground-breaking horror tradition. On a journey that spans the continent from Ostend to Slovakia, Mark explores classic filming locations and talks to the genre’s leading talents, including directors Dario Argento and Guillermo del Toro.
I have to say that there are A LOT of spoilers in this show, but if you can deal with the ending of some films you might not have seen being given away, then this is a real treat for horror hounds:
There are people who love Halloween. Then there are people who LOVE Halloween. Like, really, really LOVE Halloween.
Brooklyn-based photographer Krys Fox is one of the latter. To show how much he loves the witching season, Krys has just completed the mammoth feat of of shooting 31 different photos shoots in 31 days—one for each day of October—with each shoot based around one of his favourtie horror movies. Now THAT is dedication to the Halloween spirit! I sent Krys some questions to find out what had inspired him to undertake this epic task, why invert the gender roles in these photos, and what got him in to photography in the first place…
THE NIALLIST: So, how are you handling Hurricane Sandy? That seems like a real horror movie. Has it affected your shoots?
KRYS FOX: Hurricane Sandy scared me last night. It got violent out there. Our building in Brooklyn was shaking and swaying. It sounded like a monster was out there in the wind. Very much like a scary movie. Luckily, we didn’t lose power. Just internet and cable… and I own a LOT of movies so we just had a movie marathon. Halloween, The Mist, Hide & Seek and Sleepy Hollow were our films… As far as my shoots go, I shot four on my last day, I finished the last shot for the series at 9pm on Saturday night. The subways and buses were already shut down by then (and still are) so, I walked a half an hour back home (with all my props, equipment and camera on me) while Sandy started getting windy. It was a bit freaky, but also pretty cool. It was eerie outside and fun to be in it before it got too serious. So, I lucked out. If the storm had started a day earlier, I wouldn’t have finished this epic project.
More photos, and questions with Krys, after the jump. Let’s see, can you name the horror movies referenced in his work?
Mercedes and the Monster (photo illustration by Todd McNaught)
It inspired an ocean of imitators and aspects of it seem quaint in the context of the age of digitally effected gore. But almost 40 years after its release, The Exorcist remains a chilling classic that transcended the horror genre due to both William Friedkin’s masterful direction and Linda Blair’s stellar acting.
Andy Votel is one of the UK’s most renowned crate diggers and DJs, as well as boss of the Finders Keepers record label.
Last year Finders Keepers printed up a limited run of a mix compilation called Hindi Horrorcore, which, as the name would suggest, compiled the best of Bollywood’s creepy film score music. The mix was given away free with Finders Keepers purchases, and this year Votel has kindly uploaded the full mix for punters who missed out the first time round.
Yes, we are fans of niche, Halloween-themed mixes here at DM, and this one is a beauty, taking an old trope (“spoooky sounds”) and giving it a fresh twist that will appeal to fans of obscure psyche rock, world music and film soundtracks.
There is no track listing for the mix, but there are some names connoisseurs of Bollywood music will recognize. This is taken from the CD’s Discogs page:
Subtitled: “From The Bollywood Bloodbath: the B-Music from the Indian horror film industry”.
“A bewitching hour of pre-vamped vintage Hindi horror from the Desi-Dracula’s music cabinet featuring rare tracks from Bappi Lahiri, R.D. Burman and Sapan Jagmohan” - butchered by resident werewolf Andy Votel. Available with all orders over £25 from the Finders Keepers webshop.
Get this mix now, before it disappears like a vamp in the daylight, from this link.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula has never been out-of-print, since it was first published in 1897.
Stoker spent 7 years researching vampire tales from European folklore, including some of the myths and history surrounding Vlad Tepes Dracul, the infamous Prince of of Wallachia, who impaled his enemies on stakes and allegedly drank their blood.
As for the character of Dracula, Stoker captured much of his friend, the actor Henry Irving, in his description of the Count. Later, it was thought Irving would make the perfect stage Dracula, but when asked to read an extract form the book, Irving pronounced it, “Dreadful!”
Since then, there have been many great actors who have portrayed the Count, most notably Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman and Louis Jourdan - who made a memorble TV version back in the 1970s.
Dracula is the most portrayed literary character on film, with 272 films, as of May 2012. The closest rival is Sherlock Holmes with 254 films.
Christopher Lee regarded the character of Dracula as “heroic, romantic, erotic. Irresistible to women. Unstoppable by men.” When cast as the vampire, Lee “played him as a malevolent hero.”
“I decided to play him as a man of immense dignity, immense strength, immense power, immense brain…he’s a kind of a superman really.”
Dracula, and vampires, are re-interpreted by every generation. These days, the vampire is a hormonal bad boy who wants a suburban life. But when I was child, I used to ponder: can vampires lose their fangs? And if they did, what happened?
‘It is often believed that a vampire cannot lose his or her fangs, but I can assure you vampires can, and often do, lose their fangs.
‘The loss of such essential teeth leads the vampire to use various utensils to start the flow of blood: a knife, a cutthroat razor, a bottle opener. Unfortunately, this means the death of the victim, which is generally to be avoided, as the last thing a vampire wants is to attract any unnecessary attention.
‘Such toothless vampires are messy eaters, and are rarely invited to dinner parties, as they waste more than they can drink.
‘Another misconception about us nightwalkers is our fear of garlic. We love garlic – well, most of us do – as it adds flavor to our diet. This is quite understandable when you consider our native homeland is Transylvania, where the local diet is rich in garlic that infuses the blood with a very delicious tang. It also purifies, lowers cholesterol and aids digestion.
‘It is a commonly held superstition that vampires are terrified of the crucifix. Well, while some vampires are Christian and some Jewish, most are agnostic. This is because we are the living dead, or undead. We are the creatures of the night, the residents of limbo, who have not quite died and have not gone to wherever-it-may-be. If at all. We therefore find it hard to believe in an after-life, unless it is this one. Which I suppose means, we are more like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
‘You may be surprise to hear that vampires do date and have various courtship rituals, just like you day-walkers. I can still recall my first date with my dear wife – we dined out on some winos, and got pleasantly drunk. As you can imagine, my future father-in-law was not best pleased when I returned his tipsy, giggling daughter back to their crypt.
‘And let me be clear, once and for all – no we cannot turn into giant bats, dogs or any sort of ethereal mists. Which is a pity, I know. No, sadly, we have to get around on foot or by car. In fact, it was another creation of the industrial revolution, trains that allowed vampires to move away from our overcrowded homeland.
‘As for sleeping in coffins, there is much conjecture about this. Some vampire historians believe we may have slept in coffins, mainly to escape detection. Remember it would have been rather strange in the olden days to get up at night and sleep during the day. Therefore, sleeping in a graveyard became the ideal place to hide out.
‘Or, perhaps, living and sleeping in a coffin is much cheaper than maintaining a house, a castle or a condo on the upper-eastside.
‘Yes, daylight is bad for us, just as it can be for you – it gives us skin cancer, something we are highly susceptible to, as our flesh is undead and has no elasticity or protection from the sun’s harmful rays. But, thanks again to changes in society, we have been able to find work as night watchmen, town criers, long distance lorry drivers, sewer workers, or just generally the night shift workers, who stack shelves or keep garages open, you know the sort. These days, most of us are in IT, where we can work to our own flexi hours.
‘As soon as we started working we made money. And as we made money, we found that we were buying houses, moving into nice neighborhoods, raising our families.
‘Oh yes, we do have families with all that this entails. We start junior off on mother’s blood before weaning them onto small insects, rodents, then medium sized animals.
‘And as for drinking blood, well it is the world’s fast food, a kind-of McDonald’s. Just as easy to pick up, but more filling, and nutritious, and there’s always plenty of it to go round. What amazes vampires is why humans waste so much of it – murder, suicide-bombers, muggings, knifings, gunshots, slaughterhouses, funeral homes, and war.
‘Of course, our kids do all the rebellious - feasting on winos blood, or sucking on a junkie to get high.
‘As for disease, we try to be careful about this, as too often you can catch a dose from some late night snack. That’s why we tend to stick to nice, clean, straight people, middle class people, who go to church, say their prayers, look after their health and work hard for a living. And yes, stakes can kill us. As can silver bullets, regular bullets, knives, and lots of other things too. That’s because we are not, as you say, immortal, we are the Undead.
‘We live to about one-hundred-and fifty or two hundred years of age, but that’s only because our metabolism is slower than yours. Our heartbeats approximately at one beat an hour. As for reflections – you can see us, we’re physical after all not ethereal.
‘So, how can you recognize a vampire?
‘We look like you. A bit pale, maybe. A bit more lethargic. The best way to recognize us is to look out of your window tonight, some time long after dark, and just see how many people are up and about. You can take my word for it, that at least one in ten or one in twenty of the people you can see is a vampire.
‘And don’t be fooled, not all of them have fangs - some of them wear dentures.’
A fine selection of false teeth are on display here, in this short video history of Dracula. Presented by Christopher Lee, who tells Dracula‘s history from novel, to the first theatrical productions and on to the Count’s life on film. With contributions from Bela Lugosi jnr, Peter Cushing, Jimmy Sangster, Freddie Francis and Caroline Munro.
Bela Lugosi was often depressed performing the role of Dracula. He dreamt he was dead, and woke in the morning exhausted, he tells Dorothy West in this episode of Intimate Interviews from 1932.
Lugosi explains how after the First World War, he participated in the Hungarian revolution, but soon found himself on the wrong side. He therefore left the country and arrived in America, where he continued his career as an actor.
His first success was in the title role of the stage production of Dracula. This led him to starring in the classic film version, directed by Todd Browning in 1931. Thereafter, he made a series of Horror films for Universal Studios, most notably starring against that “King of Horror”, Boris Karloff.
Lugosi jokes with West telling her is learning slang and knows how to say “okay”, “baloney” and “the cat’s whiskers”. He also goes onto say he likes living in America as people know how to mind their own business - which is more a reference to the way sections of Hollywood society ostracized the actor. Lugosi ends the interview pretending to be one of the Undead.
Bonus clip, Lugosi interviewed leaving the sanitarium in 1955, after the jump…
To ensure he made a return on his investment, Alfred Hitchcock created a set of rules for watching his 1960 classic horror film Psycho.
We won’t allow you to cheat yourself. You must see PSYCHO from the very beginning. Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture. We say no one — and we mean no one — not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!
In foyer’s across the States, a Pinkerton guard was hired to bar any late comers.
Hitchcock had invested $806,947.55 of his own money, via his company Shamley Productions, into Psycho, after the Hollywood studios denounced it a sick film which would most likely destroy the great director’‘s reputation. It didn’t. Instead it made Hitchcock a lot of money, a generation of younger fans, and inspired a whole range of psychotic slasher movies.
Johnny Depp doesn’t float my boat. There is something too mannered, too knowing, dare I say, too cartoonish, about him. His performances seem plastic and make me think of Ken’s Barbie, or G.I. Joe, or Palitoy’s Action Man. The worrying thought that should any fan ever get Depp’s knickers down, would they be confronted by a Ken’s lack of genitals? Of course, Depp is probably hung like a horse with balls down to his knees, but his performances often seem to lack any. It’s perhaps why so many young girls like him.
His recent portrayal of Barnabas Collins may have been well meant but it left me cold, and he looked more like an updated Dr. Orlando Watt, than any cursed vampire. Indeed, the whole film was, as Kim Newman wittily noted, almost a Whitespoiltation version of Blacula.
When Jonathan Frid played Barnabas Collins he brought a depth of emotion and experience Depp is either afraid, or unable, to emote. Listening to Frid on these recordings, taken from the first Dark Shadows soundtrack album, only confirms the quality of Frid’s Barnabas.
A behind-the-scenes report on the making of The Horror of Frankenstein, Hammer Film’s seventh Frankenstein movie, and their first without Peter Cushing playing the eponymous Baron. This time the role was taken-up by Ralph Bates, who added a certain amount of loucheness to Victor. The film also marked, what has lately been described (see The Ultimate Hammer Collection) as a “bold departure into comedy horror”, which it is, and therefore slightly misfires, undermining the films more horrific elements. But still, there is much to enjoy in The Horror of Frankenstein - Bates’ performance, the always watchable Dennis Price, and great supporting roles portrayed by Kate O’Mara, Jon Finch (soon to be Polanski’s MacBeth), Veronica Carlson, and Dave (Darth Vader) Prowse, who looks as if his make-up as the monster inspired the Kirgan’s in Highlander. Even Cushing makes a cameo on the doctor’s slab.
I am great fan of Cushing, who could be both polite and menacing, a rare talent, and he was never less than convincing in any role he played. Here in an interview Cushing discusses his thoughts about Baron Victor Frankenstein, while Bates discusses his approach to the role. First broadcast on the BBC April 28th, 1970.
O, Vincent Price - wasn’t he fab? He had this terrific ability to sound both menacing and amused at the same time. It was part of the reason why his performances were always so enjoyable to watch, he brought a dark humor to the most chilling of horror, as seen in Theater of Blood, Tales of Terror, or House on Haunted Hill. No matter how gruesome the thrill (pet dogs fed to their owner, a puppet skeleton scaring a victim into an acid bath), one instinctively knew that at heart Price was fun, guaranteed to always be good company. As can be seen from this short interview from French TV in 1986, where Mr Price talked about working with Roger Corman, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, James Whale, reminiscing about past successes and unmitigated failures.
Michael Reeves was just twenty-three when he wrote and directed Witchfinder General. It would prove to be his most critically acclaimed and successful film, and would also be his last. For Reeves died not long after the film’s release from an accidental overdose - a tragic demise for a director of such immense talent, who had proven himself with three distinct horror films: Revenge of the Blood Beast, The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm).
Reeves’ precocious talent and early death led to a mythologizing of his life. The film writer David Pirie likened him to the Romantic poets Shelley, Byron and Keats, and as his death came at the end of the sixties, there was the inevitable twinning with the untimely deaths of troubled rock musicians, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. Add to this the belief that Reeves may have killed himself, then we have the beginning of a cinematic legend - which is all good copy, but sadly removes the man from his art.
Reeves was precocious, he made his first film at the age of 8. Whether the resulting home-movie was good or bad is irrelevant, for what is important here is the realization of Reeves’ youthful ambition. At school he met and became friends with Ian Ogilvy, who went on to become an actor and star of all his films. From school, Reeves traveled to Hollywood at 16, where he door-stepped Don Siegel, director of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Siegel was Reeves’ favorite director, and let’s be frank, it takes balls to turn up at someone’s door and convince them, then and there, that they need to employ you. Siegel was convinced and gave Reeves a job as his assistant - now, there’s a lesson here we all can learn from. Working for Siegel gave Reeves the opportunity to make the contacts and raise the cash for his own first feature film, Revenge of the Blood Beast, which starred Ogilvy and horror queen Barbara Steele. The film was well regarded and if not exactly brilliant, it marked the arrival of a new and original cinematic vision, and as with all young film-makers, there was soon the predictable murmur of Reeves being the next Orson Welles. Nice thought, but not exactly correct.
Two years later, in 1967, Reeves made his first important horror film, The Sorcerers, a trippy slasher which starred Ogilvy and film legend, Boris Karloff, who was at a stage of making many strange and often dreadful films, but had this time, as he did later with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, made a wise choice by agreeing to star in Reeves’ film. While Post-Modernism has made it easy to intellectualize anything, it is fair to say that in this case there is enough meat on this film’s bones to justify a more rigorous examination. The Sorcerers is more than a horror film, it has a subtext about voyeurism and cinema, and questions the cultural obsession with youth. The movie, and especially Karloff’s association with it, propelled Reeves into the top rank of British film directors, which saw him listed as the-man-most-likely-to, alongside the older and more experienced film-makers Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson and Ken Loach. Don’t forget, at this point, Reeves was just 22.
But it is Witchfinder General that is Reeves most important and best film, a grisly horror that starred Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Hilary Dwyer and Patrick Wymark.
The film had depth as it was based on the true story of Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General, who carried out the torture and execution of alleged sorcerers/witches during the English Civil War, in the 1640s. Hopkins was a notorious figure who made a fortune out of his activities, being paid roughly two bucks for every soul he saved by hanging, burning or drowning.
Vincent Price was brilliant as Matthew Hopkins, for Reeves had coaxed a more measured performance from the usually “camp and hammy” film star. The story goes Price was so annoyed by Reeves continual directions to underplay that one day he turned on Reeves and said, “I have made 84 movies, how many have you made?” To which Reeves replied, “Two good ones.” Price laughed, and thereafter, did as he was told. Of course, this may be apocryphal for, as years later, Price talked about his unhappiness in working with Reeves:
Well he hated me. He didn’t want me at all for the part. He wanted some other actor, and he got me and that was it. I didn’t like him, either, and it was one of the first times in my life that I’ve been in a picture where really the director and I just clashed [twists his hands], like that. He didn’t know how to talk to actors, he hadn’t had the experience, or talked to enough of them, so all the actors on the picture had a very bad time. I knew though, that in a funny, uneducated sort of way, he was right in his desire for me to approach the part in a certain way. He wanted it very serious and straight, and he was right, but he just didn’t know how to communicate with actors.
Hindsight is a great thing, and Price has the upperhand here, able to score points after the director’s dead and the film has been highly praised. Whatever the disagreements between the two on set, Reeves got Price to deliver one of his best cinematic performances.
The film’s release captured the public’s imagination, as many saw Witchfinder General‘s barbarism as a damning comment on the Vietnam War. Despite criticisms of the film’s shocking, documentary-like violence, Witchfinder proved to be Reeves biggest commercial success.
Yet after it, Reeves seemed to lose his way. He became unraveled, started to drink heavily, medicated himself with uppers and downers, and started a slow spiral into depression. Those who were witness to this give different accounts: some, the strain of working with Vincent Price; others, a failed romance; others still, Reeves’ nihilism. When visiting the composer Paul Ferris in hospital, where Ferris was recuperating from his own failed suicide attempt, Reeves joked, which between the two would be first to succeed in killing himself?
In February 1969, Reeves returned home after a night’s drinking, and swallowed a handful of anti-depressants. Whether intentionally or not is open to conjecture, but what’s known is Reeves died in the early hours of the 11th February from an overdose of barbiturates - his death robbed British film, and the horror world, of one of its most brilliant and original talents.
Parts 2 & 3 on Michael Reeves plus bonus trailer after the jump…
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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