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Posts Tagged ‘Veronica Carlson’

Oh, my friends, I feel a terrible sense of encroaching doom and rising dread. A dismal shadow is on the horizon, for I have inadvertantly made what feels like a deal with the Devil. The full details of this will become ineluctibly apparent in the fullness of time. For now, let me bolster myself and reaffirm my dedication to the right sort of genre movie, with a proper look at Freddie Francis’ 1968 Hammer offering, the arguably badly-titled Dracula Has Risen From The Grave.

Groovy psychadelic titles out of the way, we find ourselves in a familiar mittel-European setting, some time round about 1905. In a decent sequence, included mainly to establish the tone, a young altar boy discovers a buxom maiden stuffed into the local church bell – if there are bats in the belfrey, they are clearly of the vampiric persuasion. (This presumably happened off-screen at some point during Dracula, Prince of Darkness – not that inter-film continuity was ever Hammer’s strong point.)

One year later, the local Monsignor (Rupert Davies) visits the village to find the local priest (Ewan Hooper) is a boozer and church attendance has fallen virtually to nil: everyone is still living in fear of the King of the Undead, despite him having fallen into the lethal waters of the moat of Castle Dracula at the end of the previous film. Instantly winning himself a place on the all-time Counter-productive Stupid Ideas List, the Monsignor drags the priest off to the castle in order to exorcise it and plonk a crucifix in the doorway to stop Dracula’s spirit ever emerging.

Of course, what he is failing to take into account is that Dracula isn’t in the castle anyway: he’s frozen into the moat. The exorcism provokes a terrible thunderstorm (this is another quite well put-together sequence), during which the priest gets separated from his boss, falls onto the ice, and cuts his head: the blood conveniently trickling through the ice into Dracula’s mouth. (At this point Christopher Lee is dragged kicking and screaming onto the set to reprise his signature role.) Dracula is very annoyed to find himself effectively locked out of his own castle and, as usual, declares a terrible revenge on his enemies.

Completely unaware of what a total balls-up he’s made of his pastoral visit, the Monsignor heads home to the charming town of Kleinenberg: notable citizens thereof include his beautiful niece Maria (Veronica Carlson), her boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) and nice-but-trampy barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing). But Dracula is coming to town as well, and where he’s concerned beautiful nieces are always on the menu…

Well, as you can probably tell, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is not an especially accurate title, though it does score points for being evocative. Dracula Has Been Defrosted From A Moat would not look nearly so good on the poster. For a long time I was inclined to dismiss this film, coming as it does between the quintessential Hammer horror Dracula, Prince of Darkness and the fascinatingly different Taste the Blood of Dracula – and, to be fair, it’s not close to being as good as either of those.

The opening and closing sections around Castle Dracula itself are quite nicely done, even if the climax telegraphs its resolution in a painfully obvious way (my 13-year-old sister came across me watching this film, many years ago, and was able to accurately predict the denouement despite being a complete Hammer ingenue). However, all the stuff in town is bit ho-hum. This is not to say the film looks bad: the production values are strong and there is always James Bernard’s score to savour. And the script negotiates the stock characters and set-pieces of a Hammer Dracula with reasonable dexterity, helped by decent performances from nearly everyone in the cast. It just doesn’t have a single strong idea or really great piece of acting to make itself distinctive.

At least, not in what you’d call a good way. Barbara Ewing does sterling work making the Bad Girl something other than a total cipher, and the central young lovers are a bit less insipid than usual – but, by a cruel quirk of fate, Barry Andrews – both physically and in his performance – is astoundingly like Hugh Grant around the time of his rise to stardom. Hugh Grant Vs Dracula is a memorable idea for a movie, but not a memorably good one. And yet this is what Dracula Has Risen From The Grave turns into, for modern audiences at least.

Oh well – set against this we have a film which is doing interesting things with the concept of faith. The Church itself does not exactly emerge covered in glory – of the two ecclesiastical characters, one is an alcoholic thrall to the villain, while the other one is inadvertantly responsible for all the trouble in the movie – but, on the other hand, Hugh Grant Paul is an atheist and thus incapable of dealing with Dracula unassisted. The film’s most contentious scene has Paul staking Dracula, who is able to shrug it off and pull out the stake due to Paul’s lack of belief. An interesting idea – some people suggest that the climax shows Paul regaining his belief in God as Dracula is vanquished; personally I don’t think it’s that explicit. In any case it reminded me again of the irony that the only film genre which routinely accepts the existence of God is Horror – which, of course, is the genre actual believers are least likely to watch. Some moving in mysterious ways going on here, perhaps.

Anyway, this is not the greatest Hammer horror, nor even a particularly good Dracula film – but at least Christopher Lee has some dialogue. What the film doesn’t have is any new ideas about Dracula or new things for him to get up to. Later films would fix this, to considerable effect. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is really just marking time, but it does it in an atmospheric and very enjoyable fashion.

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So, it’s 1970, and you’re an award-winning and iconic British movie studio whose horror movies have come to define the genre for a generation. Unfortunately, critics have started to get a little harsh and audiences aren’t quite turning up in the numbers they once did. What are you to do?

Well, funnily enough, Hammer Films found themselves in that exact situation, and the option they went for was to reboot both of their main series for a younger, hipper crowd. First out of the blocks was Jimmy Sangster’s The Horror of Frankenstein, which dropped any pretence of continuity with the previous five Hammer Frankensteins.

So we’re back with the Baron (here played by Ralph Bates) at the start of his career as a student and then a mad scientist. Already having murdered his father to further his career, Victor Frankenstein sets about creating a hideous patchwork monster, a travesty of man… and so on. I think we’re all familiar with the main thrust of this story, and this film adds nothing to it in terms of actual plot twists. The monster himself is embodied by a pre-Darth Vader Dave Prowse, while filling up the necessary Hammer-glamour slots are Veronica Carlson as the good girl and Kate O’Mara as the bad one.

It sounds a bit formulaic, but you would be wrong in thinking this film makes no demands of its audience. It does. Mainly when it comes to the suspension of their disbelief. Very early on, there is the following exchange –

Old Baron: ‘It’s not natural for a boy of your age to be so interested in all this scientific twaddle!’

Young Frankenstein: ‘It’s no less natural than a man of your age being interested in a sixteen-year-old housemaid!’

– which on paper doesn’t sound unreasonable, but the fact that both Victor and the housemaid are visibly in their thirties doesn’t help the film in any way. The production values are up to the usual high standard for a Hammer film, but it’s slapdash in virtually every other department. Supposedly set in Austria (with stock footage of somewhere appropriately Alpine turning up for establishing shots of Castle Frankenstein), the local church appears to be in the Borehamwood area, and Frankenstein’s housekeeper has an accent from somewhere on the Ireland-Somerset border. Historical realism, particularly when it comes to things like class distinctions, isn’t even a factor.

Instead, Sangster seems to think the way to entice a younger crowd is to channel the spirit of late-period Carry On films and other softcore comedies (not that there’s any of your actual nudity in this movie). The first fruit of Frankenstein’s researches is a severed arm that gives the V-sign to order, for example, and the Baron himself seems as obsessive a womaniser as he is a scientist – none of which is strictly relevant to the plot.

And in including all of this stuff, the essential things you actually want from a Frankenstein movie get pushed aside. This story should be about obsession, and hubris, and arrogance. When Frankenstein’s first major success comes from resuscitating a deceased tortoise, it sort of lacks the blasphemous energy the film really requires. And rather than being a misguided obsessive, he’s an out-and-out ruthless bastard from the opening scene, with no real reason for this being presented. One way or another he murders half-a-dozen people in the course of the film, including his best friend, his father, and his mistress, and we’re never given any sense of why he feels so strongly about his work that he’s driven to do this, or how he can function the rest of the time if his brain works that way.

(Three of the murders occur following an exchange along the following lines –

Soon-to-be-victim: ‘You’re an evil man, Baron Frankenstein! I have proof and I’m going to the police about it!’

Frankenstein: ‘Very well, you have that right. But before you do that, would you like to come down into my dark and mysterious cellar all alone with me and my dangerous scientific equipment?’

Soon-to-be-victim: ‘Er – yes, all right.’

– which is jaw-droppingly lazy scripting.)

What’s worst of all is that there’s no sense of transgressiveness or moral outrage anywhere in this film, almost as if the viewer is supposed to empathise with someone who appears to be a complete psychopath. The resolution of the film – there isn’t an actual climax – has a disgruntled-looking Baron experiencing an admittedly major setback, but otherwise with his health, wealth, and freedom fully intact. There’s no sense of real punishment or the moral order being restored.

What makes this even more irritating is that, very rarely, the film stops trying to be arch and fashionable and takes itself seriously, and in these moments we get glimpses of what a fantastic performance Ralph Bates could have given if he’d had a decent script. Groomed by Hammer as a successor to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Bates appeared in a number of movies, most of which were sabotaged by weak scripts or low budgets. But his performance as the obsessive title character in Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde shows just how good he could be, given the right material. Someone like Lee or Cushing, might, possibly, have had the sheer charisma and wit to make this film work, but Bates seems to be trying to play a ridiculous character straight (his first words to the monster are ‘How do you do?’) and he just can’t carry it off.

Aside from those brief flashes of could-have-been, there’s not much else to get excited about in Horror of Frankenstein – even Kate O’Mara’s extraordinary wardrobe loses its fascination quite rapidly. Dennis Price has a cameo as the local grave robber and displays the sort of droll wit that the rest of the film is sorely lacking in, while Veronica Carlson has the most elaborate hairstyles this side of the planet Naboo, but the rest is extremely forgettable.

So, it’s 1972, and you’re an award-winning and iconic British movie studio whose attempt to reboot its Frankenstein series with a new continuity and a new actor turned out to be a bit of a disaster. What are you going to do?

Easy peasy. You sack Ralph Bates, re-hire Peter Cushing and go back to the old continuity…

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