Thursday, April 3, 2008

For The Thousandth Time: Part IV (Gone To Bed Series)

For this edition of the Gone To Bed series - I arrive at a film that is EVEN more repsonsible for shaping and forming my life than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). And, let me just say that this is a formidable feat. There are a couple of films that held great dominion over my psychosexual development (I also credit here Batman re-runs for my introduction to Julie Newmar, who predates my lifelong love affair with Natalie Wood) and therefore rate slightly higher on the "importance scale". True, A and C meet Frankenstein is my all-time favorite film, but just prior to seeing that film for the first time I saw another film for the first time, and I remember every damn detail of that momentous occasion. As reported at Cinema Retro: "The British Film Institute has announced that the classic Hammer horror film Dracula (released in the USA as Horror of Dracula) has undergone an extensive and painstaking restoration. The 1958 film was instrumental in making Hammer the legendary studio it is now regarded as. It also immortalized Christopher Lee's interpretation as Bram Stoker's infamous Count as a seminal point in horror film history." It was also a seminal point in my own, very personal, history:

The Date: It was early 1975 - May I think. I was a wee lad of 5 years old
The Place: Our be-it-ever-so-humble bungalow in Dearborn, MI.
The Occasion: My father was washing his car. My brother was at a little-league game. My mother was shopping. And I? I was in the den, watching a movie that would change my life. That movie was the 1958 Hammer Studios Classic: Horror of Dracula

I cannot begin to tell you the repercussions that this film has had upon me. Oh, I may be able to discuss a few of them for the benefit of this column, but to properly contextualize this moment and the domino effect it has had on my life would take a much larger entry than most readers would have the patience for.

Which brings to the forefront of this post - Hammer's film itself: The great Horror of Dracula (1958). This film has been written about extensively; it occupies a sacred place in horror film history and a privileged space in general film history. And, while I will not be bringing anything very "new" to the fold, I can discuss a few points perhaps relegated to "minor" and I can certainly discuss the film in terms of its massive impact on me.

I remember it as though it happened yesterday. I sat in the den transfixed by the Gothic flourishes of this film, credit to Bernard Robinson's production design and Jack Asher's cinematography; they were a formidable team - especially under director Terence Fisher. I did not know what it was about per se (as I had missed the first five or ten minutes) but I knew something evil was lurking in that celluloid. I sat spellbound nonetheless, seduced by the visuals and the overwhelming sense of dread - it was palpable to my five year old self. Something bad was going to happen, it had to!

Sure nuff', John Van Eyssen's rather prissy (and hence doomed, more on that presently) Jonathan Harker is, ever the gentlemen, trying to console a woman that he has encountered in Castle Dracula (remember, I didn't know where he was or whose place he was visiting or what damn film I was watching). But when I saw Valerie Gaunt "thanking" Harker I was somehow uneasy about her "hug". When she pulls back and starts staring at his neck (see pic if you please) like it was about to erupt a geyser of A negative - even MY five year old self figured it out. "WATCH IT PRISSY ENGLISH DUDE!" I thought to myself, this strikingly beautiful foul temptress cannot be trusted! But, I was thinking, well, maybe just another hug, what's the harm?

What's the harm? I'll tell ya what's the harm. Moments later she's thrown to the floor (by The Count, who is pissed that she's making a play for Harker) and we see her true countenance. I was right! I was right! I thought. She's evil and foul and... and... man is she HOT! So, there you have it. I can only make love now if a woman dons a Victorian gown and fangs. Well, actually, that's not the case at all but that scene surely has had a tremendous impact on me. The simple, plain fact of it is - I was repelled and "turned on" simultaneously - not an usual situation. Many an ultimately hollow but torrid "love" affair have begun this way - repulsion and attraction. But, it's a dead end and always will be. What WAS unusual was that it happened to me at such an early age. I'm reminded of a South Park episode that conveyed the same phenomena.

The scene resides in South Park's "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers" when Butters accidentally watches a porn that he thinks is part of the Ring trilogy. He is confused and inasmuch as he can be... aroused. To the point where he looks down at his crotch and says, "Oh golly, hey, what's goin' on down there?" I had this very same reaction; it probably wasn't the first, but it was the first that I clearly remember. Yes, Valerie Gaunt's depiction/portrayal as a manipulative, cunning vampire was my first turn on. Explains a lot really. Perhaps this is why I would gladly lay down arms (stake, hammer, garlic) and just go right to the Vampiress every time.

So, having shared that - be it known that I blame Horror of Dracula for the following:

1) Duplicitous, evil, bat-shit crazy women do NOT in fact repel me.

2) I, like Harker, am too gentlemanly. Not prissy or genteel, just gentlemanly, which is a detriment. A lot of woman I have known seem to go for the scum-bag, asshole loser over the gentleman. I, on the other hand like all women, EVEN the duplicitous, evil, bat-shit crazy ones (I like to sure-up the odds a bit).

Speaking of the scene described above: here's a a clip from a documentary on Terence Fisher that talks about that very scene and its hardcore effect!

Besides all this personal history - I often show the climax to Horror of Dracula in Intro to Film and History of Film courses so as to chart the evolution from Tod Browning's off screen impalement of Lugosi and David Manners running around annoyingly yelling "Mina, Mina, Mina, Mina... Mina" TO Peter Cushing's athleticism and "man of action" pursuit of Lee's Dracula and his incredibly powerful and resonant death. It still packs a MAJOR wallop. To be sure, Browning's Dracula (1931) was the first sound horror film and remains not only a deserved classic and important film, but it also remains a marker for what terrified audiences upon its initial release. Transgression boundaries change from decade to decade - Fisher's Horror of Dracula scared the shit outta me as a child (and as I've mentioned, titillated me in a profoundly permanent fashion) and is still my favorite Dracula movie of all time. Although, I have to say, Lugosi is still my favorite Dracula - - - -

Funny how we conquer our fears, slay our demons... Films that had me petrified with fright as a child now serve (as stated before) as almost surrogate spouses. I put them on before bed and am quieted, calmed, consoled, mentally massaged. Like Dracula's many brides, I too have many brides - it's just that mine are inserted into my dvd player.

Approx. 300-350 times


Taliesin_ttlg said...

nice write up, thoroughly enjoyed that

Nayana Anthony said...

LOVED the Butters reference.

Welcome to the LAMB!

Chick Young said...

Tali old chum. High praise indeed - coming from you - you of the bottomless inkwell! My God, I sneezed and when I looked back at the screen you had posted 5 new stellar reviews!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

lol - chick that must have been one long sneeze!