(ca) wrote: When it comes to "Dracula" films that don't have Bla Lugosi...I actually prefer the 1979 version starring Frank Langella. It's really well-made and overlooked. But that's not what we're talking about today; fresh off their roles in "The Curse of Frankenstein," Christopher Lee sinks his teeth into the role of Count Dracula, while Peter Cushing plays Dr. Van Helsing in "Horror of Dracula." It was called "Dracula" in England, but the title was changed in America so it wouldn't be confused with the 1931 film, even though that didn't stop the 1979 version, but now I'm going off-topic. This isn't exactly a spooky chiller in the manner that the Universal film was; it makes more use of its extravagant sets and characters, and is more enjoyable to watch than being particularly frightening.If you thought the 1931 film strayed from its source material, then you ain't seen nothing yet. It's even apparent from the opening scenes that this movie is taking a different route. Instead of Renfield going to Dracula's castle to transfer his estate, it's Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) going there to be his librarian; Renfield is entirely absent. When Harker gets there, he meets a young woman (Valerie Gaunt) who claims to be Count Dracula's prisoner; Dracula then appears, and as you expect, he is charming and polite towards Harker. But then it turns out that Harker actually is already aware that Dracula is a vampire, and has come to kill him. How on Earth did he find this out? Did he know someone who met Dracula before? Anyway, he meets the woman again, as she begs for help, but then bites his neck; it's then we see Dracula burst in, looking deranged and psychotic--not something we've seen before. His fangs are bared and there's blood all over his lips; it's one heck of a scene.Sometime later, Harker wakes up and discovers bite marks on his neck, which ends up not even being that important, and goes into the castle's crypts, where he finds the woman (actually credited as "Vampire Woman") and Dracula in coffins. He kills the woman with a stake but Dracula wakes up immediately after. Why he didn't just kill Dracula first is anyone's guess. By now, I should mention how Lee is in this role. It's a totally different performance than Lugosi's. He's still charming and smooth when he needs to be, but when he acts like a vampire, he's not exactly mysterious and creepy; he's more like a violent predator in how he hisses at his victims and lusts after women. It's all a matter of preference, but you still feel threatened when watching this guy. I also really like how when he appears, the music goes into these three shrill notes that basically let you know that he's bad news.After this scene is when Van Helsing enters the picture, and basically takes over the movie. He discovers Harker's diary and then Harker himself lying in a coffin, now a vampire. He stakes him and relays the news of his death to his future sister-in-law Mina Holmwood (Melissa Stribling) and her husband Arthur (Michael Gough). His fiance Lucy (Carol Marsh) is sick, so she's kept in the dark about the whole thing. It's around this time that the film becomes rather unfocused. I wouldn't call it bad or anything, but it just seems like a lot of stuff that happens feels slightly sporadic. For one thing, the roles are all switched around. In the original movie, Mina was John's fiance, while Arthur, whose character is only in the novel, is engaged to Lucy; now she's his sister. I'm not sure I understand the point of this jumble, but let's move on.We see that Dracula has bitten Lucy as well, and she eventually becomes a vampire before long, thanks in part to a stupid maid for opening a window. Then Lucy lures a small girl towards the crypt...for some reason, but is stopped by Van Helsing and Arthur. This is when we first see how thoroughly bad-ass Peter Cushing is as Van Helsing. I love how he just stares Lucy down with such ice in his eyes as he holds a cross near her face. He brings his usual conviction to the role; he wants to get this vampire.Then Mina gets taken in by Dracula too! Does he have nothing better to do than just go after these random people? Well, eventually, they discover that Dracula's coffin has found its way into the cellar of Arthur's house; I don't quite know how it got there, or who put it there. It becomes a chase back to Dracula's castle, starting with Van Helsing ever-so-coolly placing a cross inside the coffin, in a race against time before the sun rises. Once Dracula gets to his castle, he tries to bury Mina alive. Why not just take her to the crypt or kill her? And shouldn't he be more concerned with getting himself inside so he doesn't die? Well, Arthur stays with Mina while Van Helsing chases Dracula inside, and this is where we have one of the most epic final confrontations you'll ever see. It's a great, if sometimes a tad clumsy, fight, with plenty of suspense and tension. Eventually, Van Helsing takes a running leap at the curtains and rips them open as the sun comes up. Then he takes a pair of candlesticks to form a cross, forcing Dracula into the sunlight as he crumbles into dust in spectacular fashion. It's a great ending, any way you look at it.It's strange because when I think of this movie, I really want to love it, for its casting, its scenery and its various scenes. But the execution feels awkward at times, like they're just stumbling around through various recycled plot points until they get to the climax. The Holmwoods are slightly irritating at times, and I feel like there are possible subplots that just die out without getting much development. I think the opening sequence with Harker and the final battle between Dracula and Van Helsing are the best parts of the movie; the rest is pretty much okay, with the exception of Cushing.As far as I can assume, this was probably the only "Dracula" film in the Hammer series that Lee was satisfied with. He played the role of the Count six more times but became very dissatisfied with how the filmmakers utilized the character, saying how they seemed to be writing the story first and then shoehorning Dracula in there later. I've heard he only kept reprising the role because they basically told him if he didn't, he'd be putting people out of work. He hated the typecasting, but Cushing embraced the notoriety. No matter how weird the stories got, he always played the role straight, a consummate professional. He played Van Helsing four more times, although only twice after this movie with Lee.The Hammer Horror films aren't perfect films, but you can tell that everything that goes into them is an attempt for high quality. There are a lot of really good performances, the scenery is very authentic and the music is dark and epic. I have my issues with "Horror of Dracula," but it's still a solid re-imagining of the Bram Stoker story.
(ag) wrote: One of the most aesthetically pleasing cinematic masterpieces I've ever seen. The dialogue was sharp, witty and bad-ass -- it is endlessly quotable. Clint Eastwood is at his most gritty and menacing, and his relationship with Tuco develops in an unexpected but satisfying way. The plot itself, if written down, isn't too long, it's Leone's steady pacing that intensifies each scene along with Morricone's amazing, and epic score. Each character arc is an adventure worth watching.