So It Begins, Again

brides-of-dracula-1960-07

Let’s try this again, shall we? I re-booted this countdown last year and only got halfway through it. Hopefully, this time I’ll make it through like the “final girl” in so many horror movies.

Anyone who knows me understands that my chosen forms of entertainment usually involve the macabre. I wrote a post for my official web site awhile back that described where the fascination with horror came from. It was Dan Curtis’ Dracula, a made for TV movie starring Jack Palance as Dracula. The first time I saw it I was four years old. Last year, I watched it for the first time in 45 years and found it to be surprisingly good.

As a published author of horror fiction, my inspiration and influences have come from books, comic books/graphic novels, TV shows and movies, especially movies.

I started this countdown several years ago as a Facebook thing and brought it to my blog in 2015. Several new films appear on the list and several didn’t make the, ahem, cut. Remember, these are my favorite horror films, not the “best.” You’ll find that I tend to lump certain franchises or original/re-makes together. Invariably, there will be more than 100 films on this countdown.

In the 1930s, prior to select showings of the titular Frankenstein, actor Edward Van Sloan would give a bit of a speech to the audience. I will borrow a line.

“Mr. Jerry Knaak feels that it would be unkind to present this countdown without a word of friendly warning … I think it will thrill you, it may shock you, it might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to, uh, well, we warned you.”

So, without further ado, here are the first three films.

MV5BYTQ0YTg2ZWEtYTI0My00YWNlLWFkMTAtN2M3MzAwNzJiNTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQzNzQxNzI@._V1_100. Brides of Dracula
1960

The follow up to Hammer Studio’s Horror of Dracula didn’t even have Dracula in it. Peter Cushing reprised his role as Van Helsing, but Christopher Lee and Dracula are absent. Instead, David Peel takes a turn as the bloodsucking Baron Meinster. The plot is absolutely ludicrous, but Hammer was trying to find their footing as a major player in the genre. The ease with which the main character falls in love with and agrees to marry the vampire antagonist is laughable at best. Martita Hunt plays Meinster’s mother and captor. She is tormented as a tragic figure who tries to keep her son’s evil from the world.

But it is a Hammer vampire film and the cinematography and rich set design make it a very watchable film. Plenty of fangs and blood. The set pieces are gorgeous, something Hammer would  become known for during their run as the top horror film studio of the time.

Once again, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy combine on the screenplay. Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directed. I would have this higher on the list if the plot wasn’t so ridiculous.

99. Horror of Dracula
1958

Terence Fisher directed Christopher Lee’s first outing as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing’s first turn as Van Helsing. I do love the Hammer horror films, but this is my least favorite of the Lee Dracula films. Not because of the performances. Both actors set new standards for both characters as Lee emerged from the shadows to put his own spin on the Prince of Darkness after Bela Lugosi had set the bar in 1931. Many find him to be the definitive Dracula, or at least their favorite. Michael Gough, who would go on to play Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton’s Batman films, also stars.

What I don’t like about this movie is the plot. It strays too far from the source material. Although Tod Browning’s Dracula in 1931 didn’t adhere to Bram Stoker’s original novel either (it follows Hamilton Deane’s stage play), this film features an all-new screenplay. Characters are mixed up or blended or omitted.

Don’t get me wrong, it is stunning to see Dracula in technicolor for the first time and Lee is commanding as the Count. The film stands on its own with Jimmy Sangster’s original screenplay but I would have liked to see a more faithful adaptation for Lee’s first turn in the cape. The funny thing is, when Dario Argento made his Dracula 3D in 2012, he used Horror of Dracula for inspiration for the screenplay and not the source novel.

MV5BNWY4N2ViZDAtMGU0MS00NDliLWE1NjktN2UyNGEyZjA0YzNhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_98. Sleepwalkers
1992

I am usually not one for genre bending when it comes to vampires. However, in the opening credit sequence of the first Stephen King adaptation on this list, a slate appears that connects the origin of the vampire myth to ancient Egypt. Anne Rice explored this connection deeply in the Vampire Chronicles. As a published author of vampire fiction myself, I am fascinated by the origin of the vampire legend.

Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks, American Horror Story) and Alice Krige (Carnival Row) star in what almost plays as a dark comedy. What I find interesting is the use of cats in the folklore. The antagonists fear and can be harmed by cats, which are revered in ancient Egyptian culture. King is a master at scratching the surface of a myth or a legend, peeling back the curtain and letting you see just enough beyond the veil to terrify you. You get just enough folklore and mythology to understand the pathos of the mother and son “vampire duo.”

I enjoy this because it is corny and cheesy, but it also has a certain charm. Released in 1992, it plays more like a a solid mid-1980s horror film. Krige adds a gravitas to this, as she does in all her performances. However, Krause has a tendency to overact. Ladies, if an attractive young man in a blue Trans Am invites you to the cemetery to do some gravestone rubbings, you might want to say “no.”

The venerable Mick Garris directed this one.

 

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