Halloween Highlights: Vintage Vampires

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There are few monsters more closely associated with Halloween than the Vampire.  Vampires have been haunting our nightmares even before Bram Stoker unleashed Dracula upon the world in 1897.  Since the first printing of the famous vampire novel, Dracula has been haunting our nightmares for over a century.  Most famously portrayed by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 screen adaptation, Dracula is the quintessential creature of the night.  Featured today are two vintage Halloween decorations featuring the undead count.

First is a vintage Halloween cutout of Bela Lugosi in his most famous role.  This Halloween decoration was released by the C.A. Reed Company in the early 1980s.

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Bela Lugosi Dracula Cardboard Cutout

 

Next up is a large, jointed Dracula from Eureka, originally marketed as “The Count – 55″ Jointed Halloween Decoration.”  This cutout was released in the late 1970s.

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Eureka “The Count” Jointed Cutout

 

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Sunday Matinee: ”Horror of Dracula” Revisited

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It had been two years since I last sat down to watch the Hammer classic Horror of Dracula (1958).  It is a film I owned on VHS and never upgraded — not because I didn’t like the movie.  Rather, because it was a film I always considered to be “just good enough.”  It was “just good enough” to replay at Halloween every year or so, “just good enough” to enjoy as a time-filler.  In other words, it never made my essential viewing list, quite unlike the original Dracula (1931) or Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).  Upon re-watching it, I am unsure why.  The film itself is rather well done.  It takes the main story of the novel, condenses it, and creates an enjoyable product that has some truly memorable moments —  to name one: the best Dracula death sequence in the history of film!

But there’s something about it that causes me to take pause, to not fully love it as many fans of the genre do.  Part of the problem is I had always viewed the title character in this version as little more than a glorified prop.  By now, some of you are shocked and ready to delete this site from your bookmarks.  But, allow me to explain.  I love Christopher Lee, and I love his interpretation of Count Dracula.  He is menacing, strong, powerful, and downright evil.  But, in this film, he has very little screen-time.  And while the main action revolves around him, we don’t see him that much.  This film is very much a Peter Cushing movie — and I love Cushing, especially as Van Helsing; but there’s just something about the uneven screentime given the Count that doesn’t sit well with my Dracula-loving heart.

After really thinking about it, the lack of Dracula actually makes this film closer to the novel than it would otherwise appear.  Bram Stoker never featured his main character all that much, so why should this second film adaptation be any different?  And I suppose that is why so many people give it a pass and automatically relegate it to “must see” status.  Don’t misunderstand.  Dracula is extremely effective the few minutes he is on screen – his fangs, his fierce expressions, the blood.  The whole characterization marked a new chapter in the monster’s history.  But with so little of him and so much of the rather bland Arthur Holmwood, the film had always been relegated to my stack of lesser-viewed films.

Another reason I disliked the film was because of its rather claustrophobic settings.  Nothing is grand or luxurious about this movie’s sets.  Nothing convinces me that this demon Count is at all wealthy or that he lives in a castle.  (The exterior shot of Dracula’s home doesn’t help change my mind.)  It’s as if the director, Terence Fisher, never wanted his audience to experience a delusion of the Count’s grandeur.  Nearly every scene has a very confined feel, and it is not to the film’s benefit.  Unlike Universal’s rather grand approach  to the material, complete with sweeping staircases and vast catacombs, Hammer’s version is small-scale in every sense of the word.  And while this sometimes works well in the visual medium (think TV’s Dark Shadows), the close quarters here detract more than they add.

So what made me change my mind about Horror of Dracula?  Two things:  First, the fact that this is virtually the first and  last truly decent picture where Lee and Cushing face off  in their most iconic Horror roles.  Second: the iconography the film helped to create.  This is the film in which Dracula sprouted his first real pair of fangs.  This is the film that added a whole new level of Horror to the vampire legend.  This is where blood and red eyes got their start.  Despite all of its drawbacks, this is the one vampire film since Bela Lugosi’s original Dracula that actually helped redefine the genre.  And so while my preference in the Hammer realm will always fall towards Dracula: Prince of Darkness (More on this in a week), Horror of Dracula has finally earned its rightful place on my “must-see” Halloween viewing list.

4.5 bats out of 5.

Toy Fair 2012 Monsters | Pictures of All the New Toys

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Any opinions expressed in the following article do not constitute an endorsement of any product or retailer.   The following is for information purposes only.

They have risen again.  Nearly 15 years ago, the Universal Monsters saw a resurrection from the grave with the introduction of Classic Monster Postage Stamps.  The stamp collection prompted the release of Universal Monster figures from a major toy studio – Hasbro – and eventually led to the impressive Sideshow Toy line of figures.Now, they’re back.

Two major toy companies have the license  and will be producing some great toys over the next few years.  The first, of course, is Diamond Select, which secured the license from Universal a few years back.  Since that point, Diamond has been issuing two Mego-style Monster figures in their “Retro-Cloth” series and three PVC Monster action figures every Halloween, along with a selection of Mini-Mates and alternative sculpts.  All of those lines are going to continue into the foreseeable future.

This year, Diamond will release two new “Retro-Cloth” figures:  The Bride of Frankenstein and the hotly anticipated Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The 2012 PVC figures include The Phantom of the Opera and Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth.   The 2012 Mini-Mates include The Mummy and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In 2013, Diamond will release  new PVC action figures:  The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Mole People and a Boris Karloff Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Diamond is also planning on releasing a Frankenstein Bust Bank.

This year, Mezco also secured a Universal license and will be producing some terror-ific looking pieces.  They will be releasing three stylized figures of The Mummy, Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  In addition, they will be releasing the Universal Monsters in their Living Dead Dolls series.  The first two will be Dracula and Frankenstein, both of which will be released in 2013.  The final product from the upcoming assortment will be a “Big Frankie” version of their stylized Frankenstein figure.

Let us hope that Mezco will also take on the concept of playsets and introduce all of our favorite characters as small action figures with accompanying “scenes” and “play environments”.  But time will tell…

Another exciting story out of Toy Fair 2012 is that the characters of Mad Monster Party will finally be released in action figure format.  This long-anticipated toy series will be coming from Diamond Select.  Wave 1 will include Boris Karloff’s Baron Boris von Frankenstein, the character of Count Dracula as well as that of the Frankenstein Monster.  Surely, all of our other favorite Monsters are waiting in the wings…

Finally, Diamond will also be producing new Munsters figures, in addition to “Silver Screen” versions of the first series.

Underrated Classics | Dracula’s Daughter

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It seems as if, in the world of Universal Studios Classic Horror, there is one sequel which gets all of the attention – The Bride of Frankenstein.  Granted, it deserves all of the admiration it receives – and more!  But, there are other follow-up films in the Universal canon that are wonderfully-made which also are owed a great deal of respect.  Perhaps the most under-appreciated is Dracula’s Daughter.

A direct sequel to Dracula, the movie begins just moments after the original ends.  Two bumbling policemen stumble upon the body of Renfield in the basement of Carfax Abbey, where they also meet a very much alive Professor Van Helsing (credited as “Von Helsing”).  Admitting to driving a stake through the heart of the evil Count, Van Helsing is arrested for murder and seeks the aid of a trusted friend, Jeffrey Garth.  Garth, a psychiatrist and former student of Van Helsing, must help the professor prove that Van Helsing did not murder anyone, that Dracula was indeed already dead for 500 years – a seemingly impossible task.  But, when the body goes missing and London is once again rife with bloodless corpses, proving Van Helsing’s innocence becomes a tad bit easier.

The film stars Gloria Holden in the title role.  Playing Countess Marya Zaleska, Holden definitely holds a candle to Bela Lugosi’s performance in the previous film, channeling his eerie presence in nearly every scene.  It’s hard to imagine any actress but Holden being able to utter, in such genuinely distant fashion, the famous line, “I never drink… wine.”  Like Lugosi, Holden commands the screen.  Everything about her is eerie, foreign, intriguing, seductive, and just plain creepy.  Her motivations are also the most complex of any early Horror character.  A reluctant vampire who loathes the control Dracula still exerts over her, even from the grave, Countess Zaleska seeks psychiatric “release” from the curse of the vampire, yet still embraces her father’s evil ways.

The film is very much in keeping with the style of the original, using the same sets for Dracula’s Castle, carrying over Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, referring frequently to characters and situations in the original, and even lifting lines (and a camera shot) from the 1931 classic.  Dracula’s Daughter really is a terrific sequel.  The intended parallels between this film and the original work wonderfully.  The only thing that drags the film down is its uneven pacing and its tendency to dwell too much on the comedic relationship between Dr. Garth and his secretary.

But, for every fault in the film, there are ten positive things which work to its advantage.  In addition to the great performances by Holden and Van Sloan, the film’s music is atmospheric, moody, and chilling.  The theme, used in the opening and during the climax, is one of the best, if not the best, in the Universal Horror repertoire, rivaling the main theme of The Wolf Man as the most sweepingly tragic, dark and elaborate piece of music in the early history of Horror.

While the sequel could have taken any number of directions, and it almost took a very weird one with James Whale helming the first efforts, this film is very enjoyable for what it is.  It could have starred Bela Lugosi.  It could have had Van Helsing be the main hero.  It didn’t.  And, as such, it should be judged on its own merits – and it has plenty.  Perhaps, one day, fans of the genre will come to realize this and bolster Dracula’s Daughter to its rightful place in the Universal library – not being nearly as good as The Bride of Frankenstein, but deserving a lot more credit than some of the later Dracula and Frankenstein sequels.  Overall, the film earns a solid  4 out of 5 stars.