Archive for the Dracula Category

Meals for Monsters: ZOLTAN, THE HOUND OF DRACULA (1978)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Based on a True Story, Campy Movies, Dracula, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2012 by knifefighter

Meals for Monsters: ZOLTAN, THE HOUND OF DRACULA (AKA DRACULA’S DOG)
Movie Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel
Dracula has a long and glorious history in filmdom.  He’s been a hideous, long-nailed ghoul.  He’s been a gorgeous, sexy beast.  Hell, he’s even been a woman.  You may think you know everything there is to know about that creature of the night.  But, did you know he had a dog?

ZOLTAN, THE HOUND OF DRACULA (1978) opens with Russian soldiers detonating a field.  In doing so, they unearth a crypt.  One of the tombs inside is marked “Dracula”.  A curious soldier, careful not to disturb that one, decides to explore the one next to it.  Inside is a corpse wrapped in cloth and a wooden stake sticking out.  Now, if you unearthed something buried next to Dracula with a stake in it, what would be the wisest course of action?  Removing the stake isn’t the best choice, but it was what that soldier did.  Zoltan, Dracula’s hound (actually, it was a Doberman, but that’s one of the many details conveniently ignored in this flick) springs to life and kills said soldier.  Then he opens another tomb, awakening Veidt, Dracula’s servant, and the two set out on a quest to find a new master.  That master?  Dracula’s last surviving heir, Michael Drake.  Drake is off camping with his family, their two dogs and litter of puppies.  Will Zoltan and Veidt be able to transform Drake into a vampire, and thus have their master back?  Or will Drake and his family survive their lineage?

The best way to approach ZOLTAN is to not think too hard.  If you do, you’ll wonder how Drake can be the last of the line if he has two kids.  You’ll wonder why they thought it was a good idea to take a box full of newborn puppies out into the woods.  You’ll wonder why Zoltan and Veidt travelled halfway across the world from Russia to California for a master when they could have just opened Dracula’s tomb.  There’s a lot to ZOLTAN that doesn’t make sense.  But it is a fun, almost silly vampire flick with plenty of Karo syrup gore.  And it has vampire puppies!  Puppies!  Horror has never been so cute.

“Sic ’em, Zoltan!”

ZOLTAN is truly a movie for the masses.  Fans of cheesy monster flicks have plenty to enjoy, and people not into horror have cute puppies to look at.  Sure, they’re bloodsucking and evil, but they’re puppies.

In honor of the first victim, that poor (albeit dumb) Russian soldier, I designed this cocktail:

BLOODY RUSSIAN


Ingredients:
5 oz vodka
3 oz pomegranate juice
Serve over ice.  Garnish with pomegranate seeds if available.

****

When dealing with hellish canines, hot dogs is a pun so obvious that, as much as I tried, I couldn’t resist.  So, to enjoy with your movie you can nosh on:

DEVIL DOGS (serves three)


Ingredients:
6 hot dogs
1 jalapeno pepper (or three Serrano chilies, if you want something spicier)
6 slices of regular cut bacon (avoid the thick cut, tasty as it is)
Buns and your favorite condiments

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 450.  Slice the chile pepper into long strips, removing the seeds and white membranes.  Slice the hot dogs lengthwise, only cutting halfway in.  Insert strips of the peppers from end to end.  Wrap a piece of bacon around the dog, securing with a toothpick at each end.  Bake on top of a rack for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.  It should go without saying, but remove the toothpicks before consuming.  Place the dogs in the buns, topped with your preferred condiment, and serve with French fries, onion rings, or the souls of your enemies.

****

Wooden stakes are convenient to have when dealing with vampires.  Unfortunately, they’re not very tasty.  For dessert, have a plate of these cookies on the table, and maybe it’ll be enough to fake out the vampires (as long as you’re dealing with gullible ones):

CINNAMON STAKES


Ingredients:
1 stick butter, softened.
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup flour

Directions:
Mix the butter and sugar and vanilla together until blended.  Add flour, and mix slowly (as to not send flour shooting out across the kitchen).  Wrap in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a cookie sheet.  Remove dough from fridge and plastic wrap.  Roll out to about ¼ inch thick.  Slice into long wedges.  Bake for 8 minutes, or just until the edges start to brown.  Cool on wire rack.

****

Interesting fact: a dog that looks an awful lot like Zoltan appears in a painting of the great Manos in MANOS: HANDS OF FATE (1966). Just a coincidence?

ZOLTAN was directed by the great Albert Band, the auteur behind I BURY THE LIVING (1958) and GHOULIES II (1988).  He knows how to give the audience a good time.  And it’s hard not to have a good time while watching vampire puppies.  So sit back, relax with a tasty meal, and watch your pets go nuts every time the dogs start barking on screen.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

DRACULA’S DOG was an alternate title used for Zoltan: The Hound of Dracula.

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – Part 3 – Who Was the Best Dracula?

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Classic Films, Dracula, Friday Night Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Universal Horror Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES

PART 3 (CONCLUSION)

(The Scene: Back at the Cinema Knife Fight studio.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools.  Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as DRACULA, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.)

MA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights.  Tonight, L.L. and I will conclude our discussion of Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee and decide which one is the ultimate movie Dracula.  Lugosi came out on top after our Round 1 discussion two weeks ago, and Lee won the second round last week, so tonight’s third and final round will decide the victor.

Time for the final question.  It’s actually several questions.

LS:  Make up your mind.

MA:  I can’t.  Anyway, here we go.  Which one is more iconic?  In other words, when people think of Dracula today, who do they picture: Lugosi or Lee?  And who do you think modern audiences prefer?

LS:  I really don’t know who people today picture when they think of Dracula. It may even be neither Lugosi or Lee, since there have been other versions since then, like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the material: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992).

Gary Oldman caught in the act, in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

MA:  Come on!  You can’t seriously believe that anyone today would actually picture Gary Oldman as Dracula!  The guy looked like John Lennon!

LS:  Who knows what people think? What am I, a psychic? I only know what I think!

MA: I don’t think Lugosi and Lee have much competition, unless you include Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.

LS: So that’s why those photos are up. I just figured you had the mind of a child. Who knew you were going to make a point.

MA: Well, certainly not you, since you don’t know what other people are thinking!

LS:   And you do, I suppose?

MA:  I have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking right now, and I can’t say it out loud.

Anyway, people certainly aren’t going to picture Frank Langella, who played the role in the weak 1979 film version.  Who else as Dracula could they possibly imagine?

LS: Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the TWILIGHT movies? He’s not Dracula, but he’s certainly just as popular a vampire these days. (groans). And if he ever played Dracula, then I’m sure, for a whole generation, he’d be the definitive one. Imagine that, and be truly horrified.

But for me, Lugosi will always be my first choice. He may not have had a lot of roles that were as good as the original DRACULA (1931), but that is his shining moment, and the movie, as atmospheric and almost surreal as it is, will always be the real deal to me.

MA:  I would have to agree with you and say that Lugosi is more iconic, at least here in the United States, and that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.

The great LUGOSI, from Universal Studio's DRACULA (1931)

LS: And how do you know this? Did you take a survey?

MA:  I’m speaking in terms of Lugosi and Lee here.  If you ask someone to impersonate Dracula, chances are they’re going to do the Lugosi voice.  They’re not going to speak in a British accent like Christopher Lee.  That’s what I mean when I say that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.

It’s largely due in part to the influence of Universal Pictures.  They constantly re-package their old black and white monster movies, along with their merchandise, so that the images of the Universal monsters never seem to be out of the modern-day collective consciousness.  I think when people think of Dracula, they think of Lugosi, complete with his trademark accent.  I don’t think people today picture Christopher Lee, even though he starred in those seven Hammer DRACULA movies.

But even without Universal’s marketing department, I think people would still picture Lugosi as Dracula, which shows the power of Lugosi’s legacy.  Even after all these years, he remains in most people’s minds the definitive Dracula.

LS: I bet you there’s a whole generation who has no idea what we’re talking about, and they haven’t heard of Lugosi or Lee.

MA:  That’s why you and I write about these guys, so this doesn’t happen, so people don’t forget.  That’s why we need readers, readers, and more readers, so out there in horror movie land, if you like reading Cinema Knife Fight and this spin-off, Friday Night Knife Fights, tell your friends!  Okay, enough with the self-promotion.  Where was I?

Oh yeah.  I don’t know who modern audiences prefer.  At one time, I would have easily picked Lee as the fan favorite, but today I’m not so sure.

Christopher Lee, the star of seven DRACULA films from Hammer Films.

LS: Now you say you don’t know who modern audiences prefer? Make up your mind!!

MA: What?  Before, I said people think of Lugosi when they think of Dracula.  Now, I’ve moved on to the next question, which is, which actor do we think modern audiences prefer?  Having trouble keeping up or something?

LS:  I’m having trouble keeping up with the number of times you change your mind!

MA:  Whatever.

I have a story to share on this subject.  Several years ago, when I was teaching a movie class to eighth graders, at Halloween time I showed my classes both DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  In the follow-up essays, I expected students to overwhelmingly pick HORROR OF DRACULA as their favorite film, but I was surprised that this wasn’t the case.  The majority of students went with the Lugosi version, citing Lugosi’s performance as the major reason why they liked it better.  And I think it was because Lugosi played Dracula the way the students expected Dracula to be played.

LS (snoring): Zzzzzzzzz

MA: Wake up! We’re having a debate here.

LS: Huh? Your “stories” always bore the hell out of me.

MA: I’m sorry.  I forgot you have the attention span of a gnat.

All right, we’ve reached the moment of truth.  Time for us to decide:  which one is the ultimate movie Dracula: Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

LS:  I hesitantly choose Lugosi. Not because I don’t feel he’s the ultimate movie Dracula—because I do— but because Lee is no slouch either. I really like Lee’s take on the character and in many ways it’s just as satisfying as Lugosi’s. But for me, Lugosi is the more iconic figure: the first (at least after the silent age) and the best.

MA:  I feel your pain. I went back and forth so many times with this, it almost made me dizzy.

So, who’s my pick for the ultimate movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?  This is such a difficult choice for me to make, and I’ve gone right down to the wire with my final decision.

LS:  Just spit it out already!

MA:  Okay, okay.

Without further hesitation, here it is:

As much as I like Christopher Lee as Dracula—and even though I think he is far scarier as Dracula—when it comes to the complete package, I can’t deny that Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.  For the most part, this opinion is based on the strength of Lugosi’s initial performance in DRACULA.  From the way he speaks, to his mannerisms, to his commanding presence, Lugosi is Dracula.

LS: Hell, Lugosi was even buried wearing one of the capes he wore in DRACULA. That’s dedication to a role.

MA: I love Lee as Dracula, but there’s no comparison to moments where Lugosi utters such lines as, “Listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make.”  “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious.”  “There are far worse things, Miss Mina, awaiting man, than death.”

Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.

So, there you have it.  The decision is unanimous, but boy was it close!

LS: (laughs) Yeah, I’m sure everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats.

MA: That was quite the bout.  I need a drink of water.

LS:  I need a drink of blood!

MA:  Well, don’t look at me.

LS (groans):  I’ll settle for a beer.

MA:  That sounds better.  Anyway, it’s been fun.

LS: Yes it has.

MA (addresses audience) :  Thanks for joining us tonight.  We had a good time, and we hope you did too.

LS:  And don’t forget to join us every weekday for new content about your favorite movies, new and old, right here at CinemaKnifeFight.com!

MA:  This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  Good night everybody!

—-END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – ROUND 2 Who Was the Best Movie Dracula?

Posted in 2011, Dracula, Friday Night Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Horror, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES
PART 2

(The Scene: The Cinema Knife Fight studio.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools.  Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as Dracula, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from Sesame Street.)

MA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights, as L.L. and I continue our discussion of which actor, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, was the ultimate movie Dracula.  So far, we looked at their initial film performances as Dracula.  I thought Lugosi was slightly better than Lee.

LS:  And I thought the same thing, though as I said last time, it was a tough decision because Lee’s no slouch, and both of their initial performances were terrific.

MA:  Okay, time for the next question.

Of the two, who fared best in the sequels?  I’ll get us started by answering my own question.

I would have to say that Lee fared better in the sequels, if only because he actually appeared in sequels.  Lugosi only played Dracula in the movies twice, and the second time was in the comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  He played a vampire in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) and RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944), and while his performances in all of these movies were topnotch, I still give the edge to Lee, since he was actually playing Dracula in his movies.

Plus, thanks to Hammer Films’ interest in the character— and Hammer was interested in Dracula because the Christopher Lee Dracula movies consistently made the most money for the studio—Lee got to play Dracula in six sequels after HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

Though it’s not a sequel, Lee also played Dracula in the non-Hammer movie COUNT DRACULA (1970), directed by Jess Franco, as well.

So, by sheer numbers alone, I give the edge to Lee.

Christopher Lee portrayed Dracula as a more animalistic, savage creature.

LS:  Unlike the Frankenstein monster and Mummy franchises (and later the Wolfman), Universal didn’t make any more Dracula movies (they did however, make a sequel to the original Dracula in 1936, called DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, but Lugosi is nowhere to be found except in a brief scene at the beginning, where his daughter burns his corpse).

MA:  Don’t forget SON OF DRACULA (1943) starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Count Alucard….

LS: Yeah, that’s a funny one. Count “Alucard.” It’s Dracula spelled backwards. What a clever ruse (laughs)

MA: And of course there was both HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), in which John Carradine played Dracula, so Universal did in fact make more Dracula movies.

LS:  You’re right about SON OF DRACULA. It’s like Lon Chaney Jr. played every monster in the Universal cannon to see which ones he could turn into a franchise (the answers: Larry Talbot and Kharis the Mummy). As for the HOUSE movies, I always considered them almost a subgenre in themselves, since they were more concerned in packing in as many monsters as they could, rather than focusing on just one.

Besides, we’re talking about Lugosi here, and they didn’t make any more Dracula movies starring Bela, except as you said, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and with the exception of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, none of these other Universal Dracula movies were direct sequels to the Lugosi original.

So, the only other time Lugosi was able to play his most famous role again was in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, which is partly why that comedy is such a revered classic.

Lugosi’s other vampire roles tended to be disappointing. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (a remake of Lon Chaney Sr.’s silent classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT from 1927) is okay, but in the end the vampires are really actors in disguise, which is always a big letdown.

MA:  It’s a REALLY big letdown.  I don’t like that part of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE at all.  It nearly ruins the movie.

Bela Lugosi portrayed Dracula on stage, as well as playing the role in the 1931 film version.

LS: Let’s face it. It’s not a great movie.

MA: Lugosi’s not in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE all that much, but when he’s in it, he’s good.  His performance here actually reminds me a little bit of Christopher Lee, since Lugosi doesn’t talk much in this one and actually gets to run around a bit, appear menacingly outside windows, and generally look scary.  But Lee does “scary” better.

LS: RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944) is better, and features a werewolf in it, too, but never again did Lugosi reach the greatness he achieved in the original DRACULA, mostly because the scripts in his other movies just aren’t up to par.

MA:  Yeah, I agree, although I like RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE a lot.  Lugosi speaks lots of dialogue in this one, and he’s close to his earlier form as DRACULA, though not quite.

LS: You can’t really compare the two films. The original DRACULA was a work of art. RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE was a fun B-movie. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Lugosi is okay in RETURN, but it’s nowhere close to his performance in the original DRACULA.

MA:  I don’t know about that.  I think Lugosi is almost if not just as good in RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE as he is in DRACULA, but you’re right about not being able to compare the two movies.  DRACULA is a much better movie than RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, but I really enjoy Lugosi in both of them.

LS:  As for Lee, his Dracula sequels are much more satisfying. They’re not all great, but at least they have a level of quality that Lugosi’s other vampire roles did not.  So, I go with Lee in terms of who fared better in the sequels.

MA:  We’re in agreement then.  Must be a full moon or something.  Moving right along.

Next question:  who’s scarier as Dracula?  Lugosi or Lee?

LS:  Since Lee played Dracula as a much more menacing, animalistic creature, I think his version is scarier, hands down. Although Lugosi was really good at showing the duality of his character, at times charming and, at other times, almost as menacing as Lee.

MA:  I’ve always thought that Lee was way scarier than Lugosi as Dracula, but I don’t think the margin is quite as wide as I used to believe.

Lee, with his athleticism and quick cat-like movements, made for a very violent and brutal Dracula.

Lugosi, on the other hand, possessed none of the action-oriented characteristics which Lee so masterfully displayed.  Lugosi brought his Dracula to life strictly through the strength of his acting, and the fear instilled by his Dracula is much more subtle and hypnotic.

We fear Lugosi’s Dracula will cast a spell on us, put us in a trance to do his bidding, or hypnotize us into inaction while he creeps up to our bed and drinks our blood.  We fear Lee’s Dracula will leap over a table, grab us by the arm, pin us down and bite us violently on the neck, blood dripping to the floor as he drinks his fill.

They’re both scary, and while neither Lee nor Lugosi ever gave me nightmares as Dracula, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Lee.  His in-your-face style is scarier.

Okay, of the two’s various portrayals of vampires, which one has delivered the weakest performance?  And why?

LS: After the triumph of DRACULA (a role he first performed on stage), Lugosi’s career gradually went downhill. There are a few highlights, like the first two movies he made where he “teamed up” with Boris Karloff – THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE RAVEN (1935).

MA:  I love THE BLACK CAT and THE RAVEN.

LS:  But by the late 1930s and the 40s, his career was in a bad way.

MA:  What?  You didn’t like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE? (laughs).

LS:  The scripts just weren’t very good, horror was slowly dying out as a popular genre due to the real horrors of WWII, (although horror would be revived in the 1950s by Hammer Studios, ironically enough). It also didn’t help that Lugosi had a thick accent that made it difficult for him to avoid being typecast as foreign villains. The opportunities just weren’t there for him to have a more respectable acting career.

Lee, despite a few weak scripts, was able to maintain the quality of his vampire performances throughout his run as Dracula, and was always very effective in the role. I think he had a better time of it playing the character.

MA:  When I asked the question, I was only thinking of their performances as Dracula, or as a vampire.  I know Lugosi made a lot of notoriously awful movies, but in terms of vampire performances, do you still think Lugosi delivered the weaker performance?

LS: My answer covered all his movies, even his vampire ones. Besides, we already talked about his other vampire movies in depth. Do we really need to talk about them again?

MA: I’m just saying I asked about his vampire performances, that’s all.  Okay, good enough.  My turn to answer.

Lugosi only played Dracula once more in the movies, and to his credit, his performance as the Count in the comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN doesn’t miss a beat.  He plays it straight, letting Bud Abbott and Lou Costello get the laughs.  And as we already discussed, he also delivers a fine performance in RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.

The odds are against Lee, since he played Dracula more—seven times for Hammer Films!  I don’t think Lee ever gave a weak performance as Dracula, but there were moments where he wasn’t as effective.

For example, in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), a film I happen to like, I’ve always found Lee’s performance here a bit off, compared to his other Dracula portrayals.  His Dracula seems uncharacteristically weaker here.  One scene in particular, where Dracula battles the hero Charles in Castle Dracula, and Charles forms a cross with swords to fend off Dracula, Dracula’s response is very un-Lee like.  He jumps away in fright.

It’s also the only Hammer Dracula where Lee doesn’t speak any lines, so this doesn’t help his case.

Lee’s performance in SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) is also different, although I don’t think I’d go so far as to categorize it as weak, but it does take some getting used to.   Gone is the leaping and running around, as in this film, you never see Dracula enter or exit a room.  He’s simply there one moment, gone the next, or a character’s alone in a room, and suddenly Dracula is there with him.  I didn’t like this at first, but this and other parts of Lee’s performance have grown on me over the years.  He also is extremely violent in SCARS (which is why it’s called SCARS OF DRACULA, I guess) as he whips, burns, and stabs his victims.  Like I said, it’s not really a weaker performance, but it takes some getting used to.

LS: I love SCARS OF DRACULA. It’s one of my favorites of the series.

MA: You can make the case that his performances in the last two films in the series, DRACULA A.D. 1972 and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) aren’t so hot, but these two films which take place in the 1970s have more problems than Christopher Lee.  Still, in DRACULA AD 1972, he seems out of place and doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself.  Plus Lee’s performance here is hammier than usual.  He’s almost a caricature of himself.

LS: He’s supposed to seem out of place in DRACULA A.D. 1972. He is an ancient aristocrat who suddenly finds himself in the world of 1972, complete with drug-taking hippies! Talk about culture shock!

MA: So, as to which one of the two delivered the weakest performance, I’d go with Lee for these moments, in DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and DRACULA A.D. 1972 especially.

LS: I don’t think that’s fair. I like both of those.

MA: Well, it looks as if Round 2 of our Friday Night Knife Fight has gone to Christopher Lee, and since last week’s Round 1 went to Bela Lugosi, it looks like it will come down to our final segment before we have a winner.

So don’t forget to join us next Friday for the final segment of this month’s Friday Night Knife Fight where we’ll decide once and for all which one of these two actors is the ultimate movie DRACULA.  See you then!

—END PART 2—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – February 2011 – PART 1

Posted in 2011, Classic Films, Dracula, Friday Night Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS: BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
(With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES)

***PART 1***

(The Scene: The CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT studio. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools. Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as Dracula, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.)

MA: Welcome to FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS, brought to you by CinemaKnifeFight.com, your home for the best movie criticism on the planet. If you disagree with this assertion, you show us someone better, and we’ll promptly throw a pie in their face.

Tonight on FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS, L.L. and I will be discussing BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE to determine which one of these classic actors is the ultimate movie DRACULA?

I have to say at the outset that this is going to be tough. I grew up a Christopher Lee fan. In fact, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are the reasons I got into horror in the first place. For the first 20 years of my life, this question would have been a no-brainer. Lee would have won easily. I preferred Lee to Lugosi any day of the week. But things change.

LS: Quit whining and let’s get started!

MA: I wasn’t whining. I was just explaining that this decision is going to be tough.

LS: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

MA: Me, neither.

LS: By the way, where’s the rest of the Cinema Knife Fight staff? I thought we’d get a few other writers to join in this debate with us. Did the topic scare them off?

MA: I don’t know. Maybe it was all the snow outside. It’s hard to get here when there’s a blizzard going on outside.

LS: We’re here.

MA: Yes, but we’re nuts! Anyway, are you ready for the big bout?

LS: Bring it on!

MA: First question: whose initial film performance as Dracula is better: Lugosi in DRACULA (1931) or Lee in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)?

LS: That’s hard to say—

MA: Ah ha! I told you this was going to be hard!

LS: Quiet! It’s hard to say because I think they’re both terrific. I think on some level, Lugosi will always be the first one to come to my mind when someone says “Dracula.” This is partly because his 1931 DRACULA was the first version of the story I ever saw, but also because I think he did an amazing job with the character, enough so that it’s left a strong imprint on me.

But the reason why Lee’s performance in HORROR OF DRACULA is so great is because he does not try to imitate Lugosi’s performance at all. It would have been easy to do a variation on Lugosi’s original, but Lee’s Dracula is a completely different animal.

MA: That’s a really good point.

LS: Where Lugosi was kind of a classy foreign aristocrat with a dark/violent side when provoked, Lee’s is much more animalistic. Lee’s Dracula is not interested in seducing his victims or fooling them – he simply takes what nourishment he needs like a wild beast. He rarely speaks in his films and is more a force of nature than anything resembling a human being.

MA: I agree.

As for myself and what I think about them, having watched both DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA many, MANY times, I’d have to say that it’s simply not a clear-cut answer. Lugosi and Lee both deliver different performances.

Lugosi enjoys lots of screen time in DRACULA, and he speaks lots of dialogue, which would make sense since the 1931 version of DRACULA was based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John Balderston, which of course was based on the Bram Stoker novel. Lugosi pretty much dominates DRACULA, which is no surprise, because he’s in the movie a lot. He out-acts everyone in the movie, with the possible exception of Dwight Frye as Renfield. Of course, Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing is no slouch, either.

But when Lugosi is not on screen, DRACULA sags. There are lots of slow dull scenes when the other characters are on screen without Lugosi.

By contrast, this is where Christopher Lee excels in HORROR OF DRACULA. Believe it or not, Lee is only on screen in HORROR OF DRACULA for like some ridiculously short amount of time—like nine minutes! Seriously! But you would never know it, because it seems like he’s in it much more, because his performance, as brief as it is, is so shockingly powerful he scares the crap out of you, and even when he’s not on camera, you’re still constantly thinking about him, fearing that he’s going to jump out from the shadows with a loud hiss, his fangs bared, dripping with blood.

HORROR OF DRACULA opens with such a bang, the film’s first 20 minutes are as scary as any other film of its type, probably scarier, resulting in a shocked audience that just can’t get comfortable anymore. Back in 1958, these first 20 minutes probably pushed the envelope further than any other horror movie before it.

And all of this takes place before the film’s best actor even makes his appearance, Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing, who arrives just in time to restore order, and over the next hour gives the audience hope that Dracula won’t attack and kill everyone in his path.

Lee’s performance is so powerful, so resonating, that it remains with you even when he’s not on screen, and when these other scenes feature an actor as talented and dominating as Peter Cushing, and yet you’re still thinking of Lee, that’s saying something.

Taken as a whole, I think Lugosi’s performance as DRACULA is the more definitive portrayal. Yet, Lee creates such a shocking character in such a brief amount of time, it’s almost unbelievable. Both performances dominate, but in different ways.

LS: I think another aspect that is relevant here is atmosphere. Both versions of DRACULA are heavy on the atmosphere and tone, but the original Lugosi version is so atmospheric, the look of the movie is almost one of the characters all by itself. I think that actually compliments Lugosi’s performance.

MA: I agree.

Back to the point I was making about how they both dominate, but in different ways. Lugosi crafts the near-perfect iconic vampire in his portrayal of Dracula, while Lee goes for the throat, if you will, giving his vampire an animal athleticism and overt sexuality that are completely absent in Lugosi’s performance. If this were a boxing match, Lugosi would be the superior boxer, displaying great skill in the ring, dominating the bout throughout, clearly winning on points, while Lee would hang back, losing style points, waiting for his chance to deliver with lightning-like quickness a fierce knock-out blow.

So, who would win?

It’s a tough call. I guess it depends on how you define “best performance.” Lugosi delivers the more complete performance, creating the definitive Count Dracula, while Lee makes the most of his brief screen time, creating one lasting scary image after another. Both performances remain with you long after you’ve seen them.

But if I had to pick, I’d go with Bela Lugosi, since he gives such a complete performance.

How about you? If you had to pick one, which one would you pick as having given the best initial film performance as Dracula?

LS: I agree. I’d go with Lugosi.

MA: So, Round 1 goes to Bela. Join us next Friday for Part 2 of this three part bout, as we continue our discussion on who is the ultimate movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee.

-END PART 1-

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares