Hammer Horror films are a staple in most horror fans’ arsenal of movies to watch during the Halloween season (Spoilers: it’s always the Halloween season here at Coffee and Illithids). By today’s standards they’re considered pretty cheesy and not scary in the least, but they ooze the dark, gloomy atmosphere that I think great Halloween movies need. There are over half a dozen sequels in their Dracula series (each one typically less well received than the last), so I’m interested in seeing how many of them hold up as fun Halloween flicks in 2016.
This marks the second Hammer Horror film I’ve written about here on Coffee and Illithids, and the third I’ve ever seen. While Hammer’s filmography is absolutely massive, I’m interested most in their most famous franchises: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. I totally dig the gothic stylings of these movies, and Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or both are usually starring , which makes them mandatory watching for any horror buff.
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is the fourth installment of Hammer’s Dracula series. I didn’t realize it until after the movie ended and I looked it up, so I have no idea what happens in 1960’s The Brides of Dracula and the 1966 Dracula: Prince of Darkness that leads up to the beginning of Risen From The Grave. Blame Turner Classic Movies. Their Hammer Horror collection that I bought only has the first and fourth Dracula films and the first and fifth Frankenstein films in it. Regardless of chronology, the general consensus on these four particular films is that they’re some of the best Hammer films to come out in the ’50s and ’60s, so I can’t really complain.
The best synopsis for this flick is straight from the front page of Google when you search the title:
The vampire count (Christopher Lee) bites a tavern waitress and a monsignor’s (Rupert Davies) niece (Veronica Carlson), then falls on something sharp.
Part of me feels like these are the plot points for almost all of these movies.
Right off the bat, Risen From The Grave opens at what feels like a breakneck pace. I’ve described before how slow these films can be but when we’re treated to a dead and drained body impossibly hidden in a church bell dropping on to an unsuspecting boy within the first two minutes, this feels like the Crank 2 of Hammer Horror. The rest of the movie feels more dynamic and energetic than the original , too. The camera work and acting is a lot less stagey, with more mobile camera work and some more creative and effective angles. Long gone are the wide doubles of 1958 with the camera placed directly in front of both subjects. A decade later and we’ve got exciting pans, tracking shots, and POV angles to help conjure up more frights for the audience, right?
Despite all of these fancy new camera tricks, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is nowhere near as atmospheric or scary as the original. The majority of the film takes place in a cellar beneath a tavern, a much less dreadful place than Count Dracula’s castle. I feel like the atmosphere was one of the biggest strengths of the original, and it’s a little sad to see it gone from this sequel. I guess this is kind of indicative of the state of horror to be, looking at my beloved ’80s slasher franchises that devolve from gritty, brutal serial killer pieces into goofy, slash-by-numbers murder parties (Except Jason X, which is a fucking national treasure). Despite being four movies into this franchise Christopher Lee is still absolutely killing it as Dracula, dominating the scene whenever he’s on screen. Lee brings the seductive vampire trope hard in both The Horror of Dracula and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, enticing and alluring women to do his bidding and having them beg to be turned into the undead themselves. We don’t get to see anyone else turn into a vampire in this film, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself , but we really don’t get a sense that Dracula is terrorizing anybody this time around.
As a protagonist, Paul (Barry Andrews) is pretty mediocre. He’s irresponsible and kind of a dick to his girlfriend Maria’s (Veronica Carlson) family. Andrews is a less than spectacular actor playing a less than spectacular character, unlike Peter Cushing playing Doctor Van Helsing in the original. The final confrontation and slaying at the end of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave has its moments (Christopher Lee being impaled on a giant bronze cross is a pretty sweet visual), but it’s overall much less exciting than the chase and fistfight between Cushing and Lee at the end of Horror of Dracula. Honestly, the moment when Cushing sprints across the dinner table and jumps off, tearing down the curtain, letting sunlight overflow into the room and vanquish Count Dracula had me in awe when I first saw it. I didn’t have any reaction like that at any point during this movie.
Overall, I feel like Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is a neutered version of 1958’s The Horror of Dracula. When I finished the film I quite enjoyed it, especially the more modern camera work, but the more I thought about it as I wrote this piece, the less and less I realized I enjoyed it. I have a bit of a soft spot for the Hammer Horror flicks, and I’m known among my friends as someone who pulls through a movie franchise no matter how rough it gets. I’ve conquered Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and many more, (although the Halloween franchise might just kill me by the time I finish it) and I think I’m going to try and carve my way through the Hammer Horror films too. If you’re a fan of older, Gothic horror, a fan of vampires, or a fan of Christopher Lee, I’d say to give Dracula Has Risen From The Grave a shot. It ain’t the best, but it does stand alone as a pretty decent movie.