Part One - DRACULA VS DRACULA
Well to get this all off to a start to an appropriate start, I took things back to the first, and most illegal version of Bram Stokers novel, Nosferatu. I quite like the name, and that of the Count in this which 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? I kid, 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 Harker... no sorry 'Hutter'. These are totally standout moments, but I also really like what special effects they created, they're just simple animated techniques to show the supernatural powers of a vampire but they have a charm. My issue is that when he's not involved the rest of the film is a bit lacking, particularly the part where Renfield (or whatever he isn't called in this version) escapes, and some of the 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, 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 take on Dracula is a melancholy and sympathetic take on the mythos who 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 a 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 when 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 with this one 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 plot into specifically being 3 boxes they never show up again. Why not leave them in the castle? Lucy still becomes a vampire but after being reported in the newspaper as attacking children she vanishes from the plot - no staking here. Renfield after eating bugs the whole time creeps towards a maid as if he will now hurt a person, but nothing is shown - does he do anything? This might have been forgivable if the ending wasn't so neutered but the weird anti climax is just limp and toothless. It makes it seem like the Count just illogically went to sleep knowing Van Helsing had found his lair when his helper had betrayed him in the last scene. Maybe the Spanish version (filmed in the same sets after dark) is better or at least less censored? Maybe next year.
But moving on it's time for a burst of 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. 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)