In case you need reminding, classic cinema is a Thing I Like. The cheesier, the better. The weekend I’m watching Dracula, the 1958 version starring none other than SARUMAN (Christopher Lee) as the Vlad the Impaler himself.
This is the shot at the end of the opening titles. The camera zooms in on a tomb, which is then spattered with this fake-ass prop blood. I’ve been in a college production of Macbeth than had more realistic blood than that.
Jonathan Harker, upon arriving at Castle Dracula, is standing outside the front door, and looks to his left, down a stairway, seeing:
Because every castle has a nice neat cell with an exit right next to the front door. When in Transylvania (Wallachia)…
Enter our host, the Count. Cordial and cape wearing. This version of the story appears to have changed Harker’s profession to that of a librarian, cataloguing the Count’s books? Documents? because he likes working alone. Long way to go from England for a bit of workspace, mate.
This mysterious babe in a pink grecian-style dress and immaculate hair begging to be helped couldn’t possibly have ulterior motives, could she?
I can’t remember now – did Jonathan get bit in the book? I don’t remember this happening. Potential lady-vampire foursome, but not actually getting bit. But as we will see, when this film says ‘based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, what it actually means is ‘uses a few of the same characters and tropes but with little regard for plot as Bram Stoker’.
Enter Van Helsing.
The set of Castle Dracula’s main rooms leaves something to be desired. I mean, what ARE those twirly things?
Van Helsing finds Harker laid up in a coffin with blood on his…er…fangs. He reacts the manly way.
Then he stakes Harker through the heart. Off camera, after a fade-out.
Arthur and Mina (who are married?) get the news of Jonathan’s death. All I could think about is how Mina must have been able to eat zero things and breathe only half as often as one normally would.
Lucy isn’t told straightaway, however, and we see here preparing herself to be visited by Dracula.
Interestingly, at this point we get to see Van Helsing poring over his notes, listening to a recording he’s made on his personal gramophone. He notes that it’s been confirmed to him that victims of the vampire detest their condition, but are unable to ignore it or stop it, much like those addicted to drugs. Um, way to give away your metaphorical underpinnings, scriptwriter?
Dracula’s (presumably second) attack on Lucy is carried out almost dispassionately, the act done behind a furled cape. It’s not wonder the vampirism metaphor in this movie has to be drugs, because it sure as hell ain’t sex.
THE CLASHING DRESS AND WALLPAPER.
Mina seeks out Van Helsing (who has become ‘Dr Helsing’) for help. He goes to visit Lucy, observes the marks on her neck, and cautions that the windows to her room must be kept shut and garlic flowers be put about everywhere. Lucy asks him, ‘Is Jonathan dead?’ and when he tells her the truth, she accepts it distractedly, unemotionally. The vampirism-as-drugs metaphor continues.
As Lucy is two-thirds vampire, she really, really doesn’t like garlic flowers.
The third attack isn’t shown. Lucy’s dead the next morning. Van Helsing gives over Harker’s journal to Arthur who, after hearing a neighbour girl talk of seeing Lucy walking about, goes to the family vault to discover an empty tomb! Shortly after, Lucy and the neighbour girl show up, and Lucy gets way too friendly with ‘Dear Brother Arthur, let me kiss you’, and would nearly have bit him, except VAN HELSING.
Lucy scarpers back in the coffin, and after taking the neighbour girl home, Van Helsing stakes her. This is by far the most violent scene in the film so far, complete with a semi-conscious-semi-dead Lucy. And MOAR FAKE BLOOD. Miraculously, Lucy looks angelically normal afterwards:
Van Helsing and Arthur rush off to an obscure central European border town of ‘Ingstadt’ (sp?) where apparently the fez is the headwear of choice. They easily bribe Herr Fez into giving them the records of where Dracula’s coffin was going – the coffin Van Helsing saw being driven away from Castle Dracula upon his arrival. (NOTE THAT THAT DATE WAS DECEMBER THE FIRST: MY BIRTHDAY.)
At this point: NEWS FLASH! This obscure town’s not so very far away after all. Mina receives a suspicious message from someone calling himself ‘Arthur Holmwood’, instructing her to meet him at 49 Friedrichstraße. Friedrichstraße? (or ‘Frederickstrasse’ as we see it later?) There’s not one of those in London, which is where I thought the Holmwood’s residence had been. No, apparently we are in ‘Karlstadt’.
Mina, of course, has gone to 49 Friedrichstraße where she finds Dracula, and like someone trippin’ balls, stands completely still whilst he climbs out of the coffin and…fade to black.
Later, Van Helsing and Arthur find out that Mina’s been partially vampirised when she faints when Arthur puts a cross into her hand.
It’s STAKEOUT time! Complete with wolves howling in the distance. But what they don’t know is…
What about vampires only being able to enter houses into which they’ve been invited? Hmmm…
Anyways, the sexiest scene in the film by a long shot – Dracula rubbing his nose all over Mina’s face, so that tells you how ‘sexy’ it is – follows. Outside, Arthur is spooked by a screeching owl, but looks up to the lit window of Mina’s room, convinced she’s all right.
The next morning they discover Mina covered in blood and do some Old Timey Medicine.
Van Helsing immediately undermines his medical credentials by telling a post-blood-donating Arthur, ‘Now you’ll need plenty of fluid; some tea or coffee or better still, wine.’ Yep, GREAT PLAN there, doc.
Lo and behold, it turns out that Dracula’s shacking up in the cellar. Which Van Helsing finds out. Dracula flees with Mina in tow. Van Helsing chucks a crucifix into the coffin, rendering it uninhabitable, and then he and Albert make for Castle Dracula, the only place the Count could flee too. On the way they break through an only-just-repaired toll barrier which Dracula has just previously broken, irking Herr Fez.
Back home on the farm, Dracula’s burying a terrified Mina alive. When Arthur and Van Helsing arrive, Arthur starts to dig her up whilst Van Helsing and Dracula get into a chase-cum-fight that Van Helsing wins (obvs) by letting in the sunlight and doing a make-shift cross thing:
And then a truly gory scene where Dracula disintegrates in the sunlight, including some ripping-off of face skin. Mmm, tasty.
Mina’s safe, Arthur’s safe, Van Helpings’s safe, and (presumably) everybody goes home. Roll Credits.