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Thursday, 6 October 2011

HAMMER FILMS: THE MISTRESSES OF DRACULA PART SIX BY BRUCE G HALLENBECK



Scars of Dracula suffered from poor distribution in the States when Warner Bros passed on releasing it. But Dracula wasn't dead yet. He would rise from the grave again, but in a different time period. Dracula AD 1972, released appropriately in 1972, brought Stoker's character into modern-day Chelsea. Hammer's Dracula series would never be the same again.


The good news was that Peter Cushing was back as Van Helsing, but the script left a lot to be desired. The film has, over the years, become something of a 'camp' classic with younger Hammer fans, but we older ones remain divided on its merits (or lack thereof). I am personally forgiving of most Hammer sins, and I find that I enjoy the film on a completely different level to that of the period Gothics. The high points are the casting and Dick Bush's photography. The low points are the 'hip' dialogue and the rather dreadful music score by Michael Vickers.



The blonde heroine this time was Stephanie Beacham, who had just made a spectacle of herself by appearing nude with Marlon Brando in Michael WInner's The Nightcomers (1971). In a later interview, she couldn't quite recall how she ended up being cast as Van Helsing's granddaughter Jessica: 'I don't know, I was quite hot at the time. I was offered a lot of things at that time… As Michael Winner said, "Everybody does a Dracula, and it's perfectly all right to do it!''



           

Beacham is very good as Jessica; unlike some of the 'debutantes' cast in some of the Dracula films, the lady can act. She definitely doesn't come across as the usual dumb blonde. Her character is somewhat naive, perhaps, and her dialogue is no better than that of the other young actors, but she comes across as sincere and rather sure of herself. She's also an unusual leading lady for Hammer during this period - especially in view of her provocative scenes in The Nightcomers - in that she keeps her clothes on throughout the film. It is well-nigh impossible, however, to ignore the fact that she doesn't wear a bra during the last third of the film and that it would be a futile - and foolish - exercise to keep one's eyes off her in that sacrificial gown.




One of the delights of Dracula AD 1972 is the first appearance of Caroline Munro in a Hammer film. Only twenty-two at the time, she was cast in the key role of 'Laura Bellows.' Her previous genre credit was in a cameo role with none other than Vincent Price in which she had played Victoria Regina Phibes, the late wife of The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971);  she merely had to lie in a coffin. She had quite a lot more to do in Dracula AD 1972, as she once told me in a radio interview: 'That was one of the ones I really, really did enjoy. I had done a few parts before, but this was the first time I felt that acting was what I really wanted to do. I quite believed in what I was doing.'



Of course, since she was a brunette, she became Dracula's first victim. She remembered 'really believing' in that scene: 'In the first reel, I think, he bit my neck and that was it… well, it was really pretty frightening because he was so believable as Dracula. Once he put those great red eyeballs in… and he's such a tall man. I'm quite tall, but he's six foot four. He really towers above you. Very, very professional and very good. So I really didn't have to do a lot, just look a bit scared, and I felt it too!'






NEXT TIME: THERE'S NO SHORTAGE OF MISTRESSES!

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA COMING SOON.

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