Saturday October 7
Vampire Circus (1975): – Hello! Best. Vampire. Movie. Ever. It took me for-friggin-ever to find this movie again, decades after I first saw it on the late, great Commander USA show. It’s never been released on DVD in America, but I finally got my hands on a Malaysian (I think) copy, which happily has an English menu. If my house were ever to catch on fire, and D, Lanty, Koko’s ashes, my Mac, and I were all safe, I would lunge for this DVD above all others in my overstuffed collection.
The greatness begins with what almost seems like the end of some other film. A little girl is lured into a dark castle by a beautiful woman. Once inside, the girl is introduced to a very creepy man, Count Mitterhouse (Robert Tayman, from House of Whipcord, er, fame) and bad things happen. Villagers storm the castle looking for the girl, and the Count and his mistress are killed. Before he expires, the Count vows revenge.
Cut to fifteen years later, and the village is blighted by a plague. The entire town has been quarantined and anyone who tries to leave is shot by a neighboring village’s blockade. Into this virulent, claustrophobic atmosphere comes an eerie troupe of visitors, The Circus of Night. How did they get in? What do they want? What is with all the body paint?
Seriously, this is a really great film. Starting with Robert Tayman, every one of our vampires is completely scary and unnerving. I love being unnerved by a movie.
The plot is unique and the many characters, especially the members of the circus, are engaging, odd, and mostly terrifying. The performances are solid, too. But did I mention it was scary? Seriously. There are mirrors that reflect terrifying things, and horrible wild animal maulings, and some of the most diabolically motivated vampires I have ever seen. A lot of film vampires kill for blood, some kill for lust,but this band of awful creatures kills for vengeance, distraction, and for what seems like pure evil. Man. Oh! and speaking of killing, Vampire Circus features two of the best vampire deaths ever on film.
A great example of Hammer at its best, I’m going out on a limb here and giving this one five screams out of four.
Sunday October 8
Horror of Dracula (1958): I fear growing repetitive here, but what can say? Horror is another great, great movie, illustrating the genius of Hammer. The story of Count Dracula has been told many times, even by 1958, and Hammer could have simply relied on audiences’ familiarity with the story to sell their film. Instead, they created a tense, frightening film, using elements from Bram Stoker to furnish it and their own fantastic stable of writers, crew, and actors to make it real.
Peter Cushing stars here as Professor Van Helsing, and it is truly one of his best roles. He is quietly powerful and brilliant, taking over when the family of the stricken Lucy (played deliciously by Carol Marsh) cannot believe she has been “infected” by a vampire. And that is another great thing about this film – the logic of their version of the vampire myth is excellent. But back to Cushing – I just love him here, almost as much as in The Curse of Frankenstein. He is the most elegant, intense, and authentic Van Helsing I’ve seen.
And yes, yes, yes, Christopher Lee just rips it up as Count Dracula in this film. It is his first appearance in the role, and probably his finest. His piercing eyes and striking silhouette are utterly and compellingly disquieting. There is one scene in particular, where, before biting her, his lips brush the check, face and neck of his victim in such a way as to make my knees weak.
As with all of the Hammer movies this week, the production values were amazing, the attention to detail in the sets was incredible, and the acting was superb. A fantastic film. Four screams.
So ended the first week of my Month of Madness. Hammer Week was a success and a tremendously fun way to start. The next week would be a bit tougher…