Review Roundup - HALLOWEEN 2014

BLOODSUCKER FEST 1st-31st October


Well to get this all off to a start to an appropriate start, I had to take things back to the first, and most illegal adaptation of Bram Stokers novel, Nosferatu. I quite like the name, along with the name they gave the Count in this. Both were chosen to (unsuccessfully) avoid a lawsuit at the time. Though A Symphony of Horror is a bit of an odd subtitle for a silent film surely? The film is of course iconic and the moments with Count 'Orlok' are impressively creepy considering its age, particularly the scenes on the boat and where he first attacks Jonathan 'Hutter'.

These are totally standout moments, but I also really like what few special effects they created. They're just simple animated techniques showing the supernatural powers of a vampire but they retain a lot of charm. My issue is that when he's not on screen the rest of the film is a bit lacking, particularly the part where Renfield (or whatever he isn't called in this version) escapes, as well as some of the usual period over acting. Still, it's good to revisit your roots.

Now there are other versions of the story but first I have to mention the direct remake of this one, Nosferatu: The Vampyre. Like The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing, it's another example of 70s and 80s remakes actually using their imagination to bring something new to the table. Kinski's version of Dracula is a melancholy and sympathetic take on the mythos. He comes across as lonely, but he is also explicitly a bringer of disease and the scenes with rats are greatly expanded.

The stark horror moments from the black and white original are lost here, but instead there's an uneasy atmosphere to the whole thing and the last chapter throws in a lot of new material including some unsettling scenes of the aftermath of a plague. It also looks impressive since most of the film is shot on location with some great European scenery in both rural and city scenes. Towards the end things really divert from the original plot, and they throw in a few odd moments of dark comedy along the way. It's subtle, and overall it's an improvement for it me despite it lacking those original iconic moments.

Now going back the the 1930s, the first sound version of the story is another pop culture icon. After all, so many versions of the character sound like they are emulating this one when speaking. I found that I was kind of disappointed though after finally getting around to seeing it. After a great introductory build up with Lugosi who is definitely the star here with the film descends into wooden romance and stage drama. While Renfield is also a highlight - his raving 'rats, rats!' speech is great - the story has too many holes by the end. The 3 vampire women from the novel are here, but after changing the coffins containing Dracula's home soil into specifically being 3 boxes, they never show up again. Why not leave them in the castle or keep the invasion plot?

Lucy still becomes a vampire but after being reported in the newspaper as attacking children she vanishes from the plot - no staking here. It's been censored and you have to see the Spanish version (filmed on the same sets at the time) to see even a hint of it. Also Renfield is seen creeping towards a maid as if he will now hurt something bigger than an insect, but nothing is shown - does he do anything? This might have been forgivable if the ending wasn't also so neutered but the weird anti climax is just limp and toothless. It makes it look like the Count just illogically went to sleep knowing Van Helsing was right outside when he thought his helper had betrayed him in the last scene.

But moving on it's time for a burst of 1950s technicolour. In an apparent effort to do one over on Universal's first release, Hammer's version of Dracula (or Horror of Dracula) throws out the slow build ups in favour of pure speed - it's faster, gorier and sexier. Check out how quickly they get in Dracula's first lines in place of the slow intentional dialogue of Bela Lugosi. The way he bursts onto the scene when his female companion tries to seduce Jonathan Harker is great, he's all red eyed and hissing.

The cobwebs are totally blown away; even the opening has blood being splattered onto the screen when the coffin is revealed. Even the showdown is all running and jumping - it's weird to see this much action with Peter Cushing. The film itself isn't perfect by any means and they still never get into the meat of the original story, but it's entertaining and brightly coloured. Ultimately it's just fun to see how this has evolved over time through each iteration. Dracula will rise once again in this run down, but stay tuned as next up there will be a little more ... variety.

(Part two) (Part three)