Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Two British Classics

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, February 19, 2019 07:35pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month I look at two fantastic British films.

The Horror Of Dracula, Warner Archive:
There have been some nice recent releases of Hammer horror films and this is one of the best of them. The Horror of DraculaThis was the first of many vampire movies that Hammer produced and in many ways it is a template for the horror films that came after it. The Hammer dream crew worked on this: screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, produced by Anthony Hinds, and directed by Terence Fisher. These three men were behind the very best Hammer films. But it's the movie's two central stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who really make this work. Their dynamic was at the core of Hammer's best films and anything that the two of them star in is worth watching.

When this was released in 1958, it was a huge commercial and critical success and, along with 1957's Curse Of Frankenstein, led to Hammer reinventing the classic Universal monsters in lurid modern technicolor. The plot of this sticks pretty close to Bram Stoker's original novel, but where it radically departs from the source material is in its tone. One of the most unsettling things about this movie is Terence Fisher's decision to portray vampirism as a sexualized form of addiction. The victims of Dracula are overcome with a lust where they can't wait for him to come each night and suck their blood, and the portrayals of this behavior are truly disturbing. Christopher Lee's acting is central to this vision; his Dracula can be handsome and charming or an unrelenting sexual predator whose frenzied hunger is almost animalistic. Other than possibly Bela Lugosi, I think that Christopher Lee is the best actor who has ever donned Dracula's cape. Peter Cushing is like the other half of the circle. His vulnerability and humanity are the perfect foil for Lee's undead villain. Watching the two of them playing off each other is pure pleasure. This film works on every level. Even the cinematography is marvelous with every scene soaked in rich gothic colors, which look fantastic in this hi-def remaster. If you have never watched a Hammer horror film, this is a perfect one to start with. It is one of the five best vampire movies ever made.

Night Of The Demon/Curse Of The Demon, Powerhouse:
This is one of the best movies ever made about the supernatural and it is a masterpiece in the history of Night of the DemonBritish cinema. Director Jacques Tourneur constructed a black and white classic of suspense that shows just enough but not too much. Originally, he had planned not to show the demon at all but, under pressure from the producers, he allowed the creature to be seen at the beginning and end of the film. I feel that this was a wise choice. I understand Tourneur's belief that less is more, but the reality is that audiences want a visual payoff for their money, and the demon is used so tastefully and sparingly that he really ramps up the terror of the movie. The creature is also one of the best monsters to come out of the 1950s and his face on the poster put a lot of asses in the seats to watch the more artistic nuances of Tourneur's film.

The movie takes place in England and is the story of a deadly game of cat and mouse between the leader of a Satanic cult and the American scientist who has crossed the pond to debunk him. Former critics of the cult leader have all met horrible deaths under mysterious circumstances. The narrative becomes a metaphor for the timeless struggle between science and the unknown and supernatural. The cult leader has the upper hand though because in his toolbox is the ability to put a curse on people that guarantees their destruction by a demon from Hell! Everything in this movie works like a Swiss watch. The script is seamless and the cinematography uses black and white images to represent good and evil in the same way a classic film noir does. The acting by leads Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, and Niall MacGinnis is spot on and perfectly captures the terror of science slowly surrendering to the unknown.

The script is based on a classic short story by M. R. James called "Casting The Runes." James is one of the masters of horror fiction and the film is a brilliant adaptation of his story. The Blu-ray itself is an embarrassment of riches. You get FOUR versions of the film on two discs. There are literally hours of bonus features and archival materials. The old DVDs of this were really nice but this new Blu-ray version blows those out of the water. It's a little expensive but it may be one of the best presentations of a film that has ever been released.

Relevant Tags

Jon Longhi (34), Cult Film (36), Cult Films (25), Film (202), Horror (218), Vampires (11), Dracula (8), Hammer Horror (4), Demons (4), Monsters (19), British Film (2), Jimmy Sangster (1), Anthony Hinds (1), Terence Fisher (1), Peter Cushing (5), Christopher Lee (9), Bram Stoker (2), Bela Lugosi (2), Jacques Tourneur (3), Dana Andrews (1), Peggy Cummins (3), Niall Macginnis (1), M. R. James (1)