maandag 29 juni 2015

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)


Director: Alan Gibson - Christopher Lee (Count Dracula), Peter Cushing (Van Helsing), Joanna Lumley (Jessica Van Helsing), Michael Coles (Inspector Murray), William Franklyn (Peter Torrence), Barbara Yu Ling (Chin Yang), Freddie Jones (Dr. Julian Keeley), Valerie Van Ost (Jane)

Dracula’s Sunset would have been an appropriate title as well. In 1973, the adventures of the Evil Count were definitely coming to an end - at least as far as the famous British Hammer House of Horror was concerned. There was one Hammer Dracula to follow, but it would be a crossover movie with Shaw Brothers, so this is the logical conclusion of the series that spanned a decade and a half (1958-1973).

Like its predecessor, Dracula AD 72, Satanic Rites is set in modern day London. In his Last Hurrah, Dracula has become a scheming villain: He has built a business tower above an ancient crypt and has persuaded four prominent members of society into performing satanic rites on the eve of “The Sabbath of the Undead”. The four think they will be part of a new world order, but the vampire’s objective is the destruction of mankind, with the exception of his ‘bride’: Dr. Helsing’s grand daughter. He himself and Jessica van Helsing will be the sole survivors of the sabbath and therefore inherit heaven, earth and hell.

It’s of course a bit of silly premise: No human life means no virginal blood, so how will a creature like Dracula ever live in a totally deserted place? There’s of course still his bride, but you can’t expect her to remain a virgin until eternity and once bitten, she will need virginal blood herself. Oddly enough, the question is raised in his presence and Dracula seems startled for a second (probably for the first time in his existence), but only for a second. This creature has literally become the evil incarnate, it has become so determined that he’s no longer interested in his own survival, only in the annihilation of others. Or maybe the screenwriters just didn't know how to solve the problem.

Some think this is the better of the two contemporary Draculas, but I’m not sure. Satanic Rites has more ‘story’ than Dracula AD 72, but Lee and Cushing almost become supporting characters in the intricate, often confusing script and for about an hour the film doesn’t really feel like a Dracula movie at all. It is saved by a good finale (Lee and Cushing doing what they’re good at) and the presence of a young Joanna Lumley, looking absolutely fabulous - if you know what I mean - as Cushing’s grand daughter Jessica.

Dracula putting his own chances of survival in jeopardy is not the only logical fallacy, in fact the script is marked by several particularly stupid ideas. In the previous movie we learned that vampires are afraid of water (as a symbol of purity) and now we’re supposed to accept that Dracula has a sprinkler set installed in his basement (Van Helsing uses it to wipe out his harem of seductive vampirellas). Of course the whole idea of the prince of darkness and his bloodsucking adventures is fantasy, but even fantasy worlds need some kind of inner logic. Luckily there are also some novelties that work quite well; the best idea is provided by a scene of Dracula being entangled in a hawthorn bush. We’re told that a hawthorn bush is a symbol of good as it provided Christ with his crown of thorns. Neat idea.

woensdag 24 juni 2015

The Chase (1966)

Director: Arthur Penn - Cast: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson, Janice Rule, Robert Duvall

I had watched this movie only once, decades ago, and actually re-watched it because some people told me it was a failure. With a man like Arthur Penn in the directional chair and a stellar cast including Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickenson and Robert Redford, you don’t expect a movie to be a failure.

The screenplay for The Chase was based a novel (and a play) by Horton Foote, an author I'm not familar with. Reportedly screenwriter Lilian Hellman only used a couple of sparse elements from Foote’s original writings (1). Several directors had turned the offer down to direct the movie, among them Elia Kazan and Fred Zinneman (2). The original plot centered on a escaped convict seeking revenge on the sheriff who had brought him up; the movie is still about an escaped convict (Robert Redford) and a sheriff (Marlon Brando), but their relationship is decidedly different. Redford is falsely accused of murder (the murder is committed by a fellow inmate who escaped at the same time) and his return to his hometown causes a lot of agitation among the townspeople, who want to take the law into their own hands. The escapee and the sheriff are rather friends than foes in this version of the story. Instead of defending himself against a man who wants to kill him, the sheriff is defending a man who is in danger of being killed by others.

I must have seen The Chase in the Seventies and my memories of it were rather vague and dispersed. If somebody had asked me in which year the movie was made, I would have guessed it was from the late Fifties or early Sixties, when these type of dramas were en vogue. In reality it was made in 1966, only one year before Bonnie & Clyde, the ground-breaking movie that catapulted director Penn to the top and would eventually bring him everlasting fame. The Chase tries very hard to create a brooding Southern atmosphere of racism, debauchery and vigilantism (all sauced with pseudo-marxist ideas about class) but at best the drama feels like second rate William Faulkner or Eugene O’Neill, with too many characters all begging for our attention and over-explicative dialogue. It’s also way overlong, and when things finally pick up (in the last thirty minutes) it’s almost too late.

Brando is largely okay here; he’s still speaking his lines, not mumbling them like he would do in some of his later performances, and apparently he provided Penn with some useful ideas during the filming of the infamous beating up scene. Brando proposed to ‘play it slow’ and speed it up, just a little, afterwards. It’s one of the scenes that do work in this otherwise disappointing movie. Janice Rule is a good overheated drunken swab (very sexy indeed), but Jane Fonda and Robert Duvall play strickly clich├ęd characters (and Duvall is already showing some of his familiar acting tics); actually it’s Robert Redford who turns in the movie’s best, most controlled performance as the man on the run.


* (1) See:
* (2) Jeff Stafford, The Chase, on: Turner Classic Movies