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Case Number 25616: Small Claims Court

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Hammer Horror Classics

Dracula: Prince Of Darkness
1966 // 90 Minutes // Unrated
Frankenstein Created Woman
1967 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires
1974 // 83 Minutes // Unrated
Released by Millennium Entertainment
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // May 6th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Jim Thomas just stopped off at a strange and mysterious castle for the night.

Editor's Note

Our review of Frankenstein Created Woman, published August 8th, 2000, is also available.

The Charge

Slowly but surely, Hammer horror fans are getting to fill in some critical gaps in their collections. Hammer usually had to make U.S. distribution deals. As a result, the rights are scattered to the four winds. This time, Millenium brings us three Hammer films that are fraught with good…and bad.

The Case

Dracula: Prince of Darkness
The second film to star Christopher Lee as the titular bloodsucker, this entry is actually the third in the series, after Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula. Two couples traveling through the countryside fail to heeds warnings, stopping for the night at a mysterious castle. Exsanguinations occur, hijinks ensue.

You know about the little girl with the curl, right? "When she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was awful." That's more or less my reaction here. Certain elements work wonderfully, in particular Barbara Shelley's (Five Million Years to Earth) portrayal of repressed sexuality set free by Dracula's kiss; there's an air of real tragedy around her character that rarely appears for the Count's hapless victims. There are also a number of well-blocked, well-shot action scenes. Lee's phenomenal screen presences is pretty much a given, but an unexpected delight is Andrew Keir (Five Million Years to Earth) as Father Sandor. Though Sandor is the film's Van Helsing substitute, he's not just a Van Helsing clone. Furthermore, Keir has a presence and physique to match Lee, and the film missed a great opportunity by not allowing Sandor and Dracula to have a more direct confrontation.

Sadly, the film's strengths cannot overcome the fundamental weaknesses of the plot. Dracula isn't resurrected until just over halfway through the movie, and that first half dra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-gs. Once Drac is back, we get a ridiculously abbreviated "Vampire wants the girl" plot, salvaged only by an inventive death scene. Legend has it that when Lee—who was reluctant to return to the role (witness his non-presence in the previous sequel)—read the script, he declared that his dialogue was too terrible to utter, and simply refused to say any of it; the director then had to stretch out the beginning of the film to compensate. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, on the other hand, contends that as vampires aren't what you would call chatty folk, he didn't write Dracula any dialogue to begin with. Whatever the truth may be, the end result is an exceptionally weak plot kept more or less afloat by some strong performances.

The next two sequels in the series, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Taste the Blood of Dracula are both superior films, in large part because they try to go beyond a simple vampire rampage plot.

Trivia: During filming, Barbara Shelley accidentally swallowed one of her fangs. They had no replacements, so she had to swallow some salt water in order to…retrieve it.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
Vampires and kung fu. Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? By 1974, Hammer's star was waning, and they were looking around for new ideas. They got the idea to team up with Shaw Brothers Studios, a Hong Kong film company in the midst of a successful run of kung fu movies. Two films came out of that partnership; it is generally accepted that L7GV is much better than the other film (1974's Shatter), making me determined to avoid that film at all costs.

A pilgrim makes a lonely trek to Castle Dracula. There, he reveals himself to Dracula as Kah, the priest of the 7 Golden Vampires, who has traveled from China to beg for help in restoring the Golden Vampires to their former glory. Dracula agrees, but then, Darth Vader-like, alters the terms of the arrangement by taking over Kah's body, allowing him to escape his castle, which has become his prison (it's never explained, just go with it).

Meanwhile in China, guest lecturer Lawrence van Helsing (Peter Cushing), tells his class of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, who terrorized a rural Chinese village for years. Most of class dismisses him, save for Hsi Ching (David Chiang), who informs Van Helsing not only that he believes him, but that he knows exactly where the village is; would the professor be up for a staking good time? Of course he is, so the pair, accompanied by Ching's 7 siblings, each an expert martial artist. They are also accompanied by Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege), an attractive, wealthy widow bankrolling the expedition because this whole vampire thing sounds exciting, so you can go ahead and mark her down for a neck nosh. So now it's Van Helsing, his son Leyland, and 8 Chinese warriors against 6 golden vampires (one got killed in a flashback) against the Forces of Darkness™.

It's not so much that L7GV is bad, but rather…well, yeah, it's kind of bad. The mashup of vampire lore and martial arts is not well realized; these vampires are ugly, vicious brutes—one wonders why Dracula would want to have anything to do with such savages. The fight scenes are entertaining enough, but Van Helsing is reduced to a near-comic bystander, exhorting the troops for all he's worth, waving a torch around for effect. Worst of all is the presence of Dracula—not only does it make little sense, but by this point, Christopher Lee had had enough of the character, and so he was replaced by John Forbes-Robertson (no, I've never heard of him either), who has all the screen presence of a leaky dehumidifier. The film would have been much better served by excising that plot completely, but they were holding out hope that Lee would have a last-minute change of heart, as he had done so often before.

The movie is fun in a goofy sort of way; you can see the potential—sort of a supernatural Magnificent Seven, but that's about it.

Frankenstein Created Woman
In a secluded village, Baron Frankenstein continues his work. These days, he is researching the human soul, learning how to contain it when it leaves the body, and (natch) how to restore it. One of his assistants Hans, is in love with Christina (Susan Denberg, one of "Mudd's Women" on Star Trek), a terribly disfigured innkeeper's daughter. Hans is framed for a murder he did not commit; he was with Christina at the time, but he refuses to sully her reputation. Frankenstein, unable to prevent Hans' execution, manages to save Hans' soul (seriously). Arriving too late to save her lover, Christina drowns herself. So, here's this dead body, and Frankenstein has a spare soul handy…

You guessed it—Frankenstein transfers Hans' soul to Christina's body, bringing her back to life. He also treats her deformities, resulting in a stunning beauty who in no way resembles the Christina everyone knew; the wonders of brain surgery have even changed her from brunette to blonde. She has no memories of her previous life, and Frankenstein goes to great pains to keep those details from her. Suddenly, the people responsible for Hans' execution start meeting grisly ends, and Frankenstein must again come to grips with an unexpected side effect of his experiments.

One of the more interesting aspects of Hammer's Frankenstein series is that the character Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing, Dr. Who and the Daleks) is wildly inconsistent. In the inaugural Curse of Frankenstein, he's a devoted scientist who transforms into a ruthless murderer. In the next outing, Revenge of Frankenstein, he's more of an admirable figure, a man of science struggling against ignorance. The pendulum swings WAAAAY back in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, in which he's not only back to his ruthless murdering ways, but also adds rape to his dossier (I've ignored Evil of Frankenstein; I suggest you do the same).

And then we have this film. The film has generated very mixed reviews, which is probably appropriate given that the plot is somewhat half-baked. The idea is great, but the end result feels more like the preliminary result of a brainstorming session than a finished script: Characters are poorly drawn—including Frankenstein, who is himself but a secondary character. There's little in the way of internal logic, and capping the train wreck off is a wholly anti-climactic ending. It's really less a horror story than a revenge tale/morality play, and writer John Elder never really decides what he wants to do with the movie, apart from having a beautiful woman lure men to their deaths. Terence Fisher, one of Hammer's most reliable directors, does what he can with the piecemeal plot; he does an nice job capturing Christina's predatory sensuality, for example—but he never manages to piece together an effective sequence, so the movie lurches drunkenly from plot point to plot point. The movie is helped to an extent by Cushing, whose ability to elevate the worst of material is legendary. Since he's shunted to the sidelines, the movie rests on the shoulders of Denberg, and while she has her moments, she simply has nothing to work with.

Trivia: The film was inspired, more or less, by Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman.

For all three movies, video and audio are particularly good. While there is some flaring in the credits, overall quality is very good. There are no extras, which kind of blows, as there are a number of extras on earlier releases of Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

If you're a fan of Hammer films, this is a decent enough set—however, the lack of extras, along with the fact that Blu-ray releases are reportedly in the pipeline (Region 2 releases are confirmed; Region 1 is more of a matter of speculation) might give you pause. At the same time, street prices for this set are under $10, so you might consiuder getting these lesser movies on DVD, and saving the big bucks for the Blu-ray releases of the better films.

The Verdict

Guilty.

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Scales of Justice, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness

Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness

Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness

• None

Scales of Justice, Frankenstein Created Woman

Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, Frankenstein Created Woman

Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, Frankenstein Created Woman

• None

Scales of Justice, The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires

Judgment: 77

Perp Profile, The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires

Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires

• None








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