Gregory Marshall Smith Talks Vampire Movies
Hi folks here is the second part of Gregory Marshall Smith‘s Guest post
By Gregory Marshall Smith
Never let it be said that I don’t like a good vampire film. If it’s done well, I can get into almost any movie. Heck, two of my favorite films to watch repeatedly (besides Godzilla, King of the Monsters and The Creature From the Black Lagoon) are Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. For a science fiction and horror writer like me, this is the equivalent of NWA having ABBA on their iPods.
That said, there is something lacking in American vampire films. For some reason, our stuff tends to come off as either too commercial (Twilight anyone?) or too eccentric (Vampire Sex Hookers).
Even Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot failed to really satisfy my cravings for good vampire films. And, of course, the Bladefilms were just action vehicles, even if those doing the action weren’t credible (Jessica Biel and Parker Posey? Really?)
The only exception to this blight is the classic TV movie The Night Stalkerwith Darren McGavin as disheveled reporter Carl Kolchak. Alas, that was in 1972.
Thus, to this day, I still look to Great Britainfor innovative vampire themes.
And, of course, I can’t mention Britain without talking about two of its greatest horror icons — Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. (Sorry, but Basil Rathbone will always be Sherlock Holmes to me).
Lee as Dracula was the bomb. Though he didn’t have much screen time and very few lines, he didn’t need them. That tall stature and brooding eyes projected evil and power. I can’t imagine what Hammer’s producers did to get his eyes so red. If it’s anything like the torture they put him through as Imhotep in The Mummy, he’s a better man than I.
And while Lee was quietly menacing, Cushing was vocal and animated. It was always difficult rooting for him in movies. You wanted to believe him as the good guy as Van Helsing and as the protagonist in The Mummy, but then you’d see his deliciously evil turns of Frankenstein and all that good will went out the window.
Ironically, Hammer’s version of Dracula almost didn’t make it off the ground. Financing deals with Universal Pictures, Associated Artists Productions, Seven Arts and others kept breaking down. Finally, the National Film Finance Council (a distinctly British concern if there ever was one) put up £81,000 (and, no, I’m not converting).
The end result was a breaking of box office records around the world. And that led to the inevitable slew of sequels, of which Brides of Dracula is the oddest since Lee did not reprise his role as Dracula and, indeed, the vampire isn’t even named Dracula. (And, for the sake of keeping good memories, let’s not include The Satanic Rites of Dracula and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampireson any lists).
While the legend of vampires has been around for centuries, it was a British novelist who brought it to the Western world.
Bram Stoker was Irish but Ireland was still part of Great Britainback then. And Stoker did his work, including being personal assistant to actor Henry Irving, in London. It was there, while working as business manager for the Lyceum Theater that he penned Dracula and, later, The Lair of the White Worm.
When vampire films got smart and went from corny to atmospheric and moody again in the last years of the 20th century, they rightly returned to their British roots (I say roots because English soil was Culver City, California). Bram Stoker’s Dracula grossed more than $300 million worldwide. Much of its success came not from Wynona Ryder (and definitely not Keanu Reeves) but from British actors Gary Oldman and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Oldman’s Dracula was tragic and romantic, while Hopkinsplayed Van Helsing as eccentric and a bit over the top (much like in the original novel).
For these reasons, I looked toward British vampire films rather than American ones for my latest novel, Hunters. Though the characters are American (save for mercenary Marcus Van Niekerk) and the setting is American, the plot is old school, from my childhood viewings of Hammer horror.
I have a real fondness for all things British when it comes to horror. Frankenstein was always best played by William Henry Pratt (a.k.a. Boris Karloff). I can’t imagine Imhotep, Dracula or Fu Manchu as anyone but Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing was the epitome of evil and good. And my all-time favorite British horror character is still Bernard Quatermass (the slug monster in The Quatermass Experiment sort of fits the vampire bill as it sucked the life out of unsuspecting people).
I was sad when Hammer went into hibernation. Although it occasionally comes to life (for 2010’s Let Me In) and for the upcoming The Woman in Black, I fear those films are Hammer in name only. I won’t hold my breath hoping to see the campy, atmospheric films I grew up on.
Maybe one day some British Hammer horror lover will take up the reigns and adapt Hunters to the silver screen, with a nod to the days of old.
Until then, I will resurrect my Hammer film collection (the ones with the original British titles, not the Americanized versions).
Gregory’s first guest post can here