Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Making of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

Here's an old article I came across from an issue of Fantastic Films published back in 1979.  Dracula Has Risen From The Grave has always been one of my favorite Dracula films ever since that one Halloween back in the mid-eighties when I caught part of the movie on an AMC marathon.  The scene of discovering the woman's body hanging from the bell has stuck with me ever since.

Behind-the-Scenes, The Making of
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
by Al Taylor

In November of 1968 Anthony Hinds (pen name John Elder) completed the script of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. During the making of the film at Pinewood Studios after they had moved from Bray Studios, Hammer Films was given The Queen's Export Award to Industry for their spectacular success in bringing back from the United States millions of dollars in the export drive.
     Dracula Has Risen From The Grave was released in 1969 and has been cited as one of the better Dracula efforts, Terence Fisher was to direct, but a broken leg caused Fisher to be replaced by Freddie Francis. The thematic grace and consistency of Fisher's work in the series was now lost, although we were offered some fine moments. The publicity campaign by Warner Brothers in the U.S. was totally a tongue in-cheek approach. For instance, the slogan: "You just can't keep a good man down, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave." Another bit had a photo of a girl's neck with two band aids captioned over Dracula's fangs: "Who can brush after every meal." A third plug used a photo of the young girl found hanging up-side down in the church bell captioned as "Ring Out The News that Dracula Has Risen From The Grave."
     The film was entertaining and interesting mainly as it pointed toward the overtly sexual path that the Hammer vampire film was now on. Thus it was re-titled Dracula et les Femmes in France.
     It was three years before a sequel came from Hammer Films. Count Dracula's body was frozen in the ice below the castle after the drowning he received in the climax to Dracula: The Prince of Darkness (1966). He is revived by the blood of a cowardly priest who has gone to the castle to aid in exorcising Dracula's evil. Once Count Dracula is revived the screenplay turns into a revenge treatment, although the sense of revenge is obscured. Dracula enlists the priest as his servant and proceeds to go after the Monsignor and his loved ones. The finale has Dracula chased back to his castle where he meets his end as he falls and is impaled on a cross.
     The cast and crew had pros and cons about the making of Dracula Has Risen. Christopher Lee (Count Dracula) recalls, "The third Dracula film, which I have not dared look at as I am convinced it is a very indifferent film, is making fantastic sums of money on the London circuit. In its first day on general release in the Southern area of London it grossed over $25 thousand." The truth of the matter was that Dracula Has Risen was the most financially successful motion picture Hammer made to that date.
     Christopher Lee, however, couldn't tolerate what had been done to the Count. Lee said, "The story is just adequate, but the production values and direction are good and I even manage to say something occasionally. I still look more or less the same as I did in Dracula (U.S. title: Horror of Dracula - 1958), but of course I can't leap about any more like I used to and several scenes were done by my double, Eddie Powell, who has been with me for several years."
     Veronica Carlson, who played Maria, had different thoughts about making the film. Veronica now is married, has a little girl and when not acting, is a professional artist. Veronica remembers the director of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave: " Freddie Francis, very kind, gentle, a lovable man, infinitely patient -he needed to be with me. He made the impossible scenes seem possible. Freddie made you feel you didn't need to do the scene one more time to get it right.
     "When I had left the set and returned to my dressing room. I found a lovely gift of flowers sent to me from Freddie, wishing me the best for a successful picture. That started things off on the right foot with me, I can tell you. I had ruffled feathers a few times and Freddie always helped.
     "I think the scene I found most difficult to do was the love scene with Barry Andrews (Paul). I was embarrassed. By Hammer's standards this love scene was mild, things have changed so much. I don't think I could have worked for Hammer later on, because I never wanted to take my clothes off. Just undoing the back of my dress in Dracula was enough to undo me. Freddie made me laugh about it; he acted the scene with me before Barry Andrews did it. Freddie helped reduce the over-all feeling on the set to one big happy family.
     "The other scene that I particularly enjoyed in Dracula Has Risen was my confrontation with Chris Lee as Dracula in the cellar. In that scene, I was thrown flat on my face if I remember rightly. Really thrown, I remember the pain at the time, a very genuine feeling of discomfort. I fell hard on my knees and as I threw my head back I was confronted with the real-life Dracula. It took my breath away! I must have been Hammer's biggest film fan in college, yes I skipped classes to go and see Hammer's horror films. I got along with Chris Lee very well and between takes I did a sketch of him as Dracula.
     "The finale of Chris impaled on the cross was very difficult. Frank George did the special effects using Chris strapped with a cross on front and back of him, a dummy was also used for the disintegration. That scene of Chris impaled on the cross looked outlandish on the studio floor. It seemed out of context, somehow! I think one of the most difficult things to do when you're making a 'fantasy' film like this is that you're supposed to be so serious, you have to convince your audience that you're finding it serious to make. But you get laughter from cast and crew and this is where Freddie Francis came into his own again. to bring you down to Earth, to wipe away the smiles and make you believe in it again. I remember how Chris Lee's eyes would weep with those red contact lenses, but he never complained once."
     Miss Barbara Ewing (Zena) was born and raised in New Zealand; earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at Wellington University. "It's funny," she notes. "I got my B.A. in literature, so I studied tales of vampirism throughout the world. And now I've become one." Miss Ewing had starred in one other motion picture prior to Dracula, which was Torture Garden for Amicus Productions.
     Rupert Davies, an excellent character actor, played the Monsignor in Dracula Has Risen. Davies enjoyed his work for Hammer Films; he had a strong acting foundation for character parts. A few years ago the BBC, looking for an actor to portray Maigret in Georges Simenon's stories of the French detective, signed Davies for the part. The series ran for years in almost every country in the world and Davies became a big star. Davies was born in Liverpool and returning to civilian life after the war, went into repertory. He then joined the Old Vic for a number of years during which he toured North and South America. In the following years, he became one of Britain's best character actors, appearing in numerous films and teleplays. This background and his love of the theater and character parts is what he attributes his strong character portrayal of the Monsignor in Dracula Has Risen.
     The producer for Dracula Has Risen From The Grave was Mrs. Aida Young, one of Britain's two female producers. It was her second film. She became associated with Hammer Films in 1963 as an associate producer on What A Crazy World, and then had the same job on Hammer's remake of She. Mrs. Young assisted Michael Carreras on One Million Years B.C. and then became an associate producer on the Rank epic, The Long Duel with stars like Yul Brynner. After producing The Vengeance of She for Hammer, Mrs. Young started on the third Dracula film.
     Her task was to make sure the Hammer film was on schedule and within budget. She did ride hard over cast and crew with a near strangulation budget of $400-$500 thousand, with a promotion figure of no less than $50 thousand. Mrs. Young is a very keen producer and she makes sure all is well, reporting to the front office and the Hammer executives what, why, when and where the over-all production of the film was at all times.
     Freddie Francis had done one monster/horror film for Hammer prior to taking the directorial duties on Dracula Has Risen. That movie was The Evil of Frankenstein in 1964. Francis recalled, "Well this is my second horror film - and quite honestly, I don't like doing them. I do think they have been done to death and for this reason I do not think one has to play about with the Dracula legend, then in no time at all, and I think this has already happened, each is going to be a remake of a remake. I think one has to get away from this legend. After all, Hammer has already created new legends."
     Freddie Francis was a brilliant cinematographer and had won an Oscar for his photography on Sons and Lovers. His ability with the camera, telling a story, keeping within budget and schedule was why Hammer wanted his talents.
     Bernard Robinson, as usual , did a beautiful job on the set design. The sets had an early 20s German film influence, shades of The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari, with the surrealistic roof tops and houses that Dracula roamed about freely.
     The castles created by matte paintings were created by a very talented gentleman Peter Melrose. Melrose recalls his work on Dracula Has Risen.
     "At the time I painted the mattes for Dracula, I was freelancing again, but in the happy position of being able to take the work into the Special Effects at Shepperton Studios and hire the facilities; this worked well for both of us. The budget and time schedule was extremely tight, maintained by the eagle-eyed surveillance of Mrs. Aida Young. Under the circumstances, I found her criticisms less then helpful. She kept describing the castles I painted as Gibbs castles - a Gibbs castle being the well-known trade mark of the toothpaste manufacturer!
     "Notwithstanding this, the shots were rushed through without problems, the most difficult shot being the one where a set of the castle was shot with a 9.8mm lens making all the lines of the architecture curved and difficult to follow through into the painting. The matte castle paintings were all done on glass; its the most rigid material you can use. When photographing the painting what we did in order to get the matte or mask was to light the painting in silhouette against a tight background and with that we actually get a mask to put in our optical printer."
     "For materials for my matte paintings I always use artists' oil colors," said Melrose. "This is the only medium which, in my opinion, has the depth of color that is required for any kind of scene. When it comes to research and reference material, which is very important, I had to do my homework. The production designer, Bernard Robinson, was a very talented designer for many of the Hammer Films, so to match the high quality of his sets I needed to put in the same kind of research. He loaned me his reference materials so I could get the architecture of my matte paintings as correct as his sets, that nice Gothic style.
     "Some of the matte paintings for Dracula were extremely ambiguous because the paintings in a number of them practically filled the screen. Several shots of the castle, there's hardly any real building in the shot, it's nearly all painting. There was also one or two full-frame paintings where the frame is filled with a complete painting not a matte shot at all."
     Anthony Hinds' (John Elder) script has several interesting points as he builds so determinedly on religious ironies, beginning with the priest (Dracula's henchman) and continuing with the atheist hero. The finale of the script bears looking at for the sheer horror which unfolds as Dracula is impaled on the cross, a rather anti-Christ theme.
     Some critics claim that Hammer's advertising is more carefully prepared than the scripts it plugs. "There are more nudes in our posters than in our picture," Carreras readily admits. This thinking was prior to the 70s, but Carreras also insists that Hammer promoted "pure entertainment" and not "sado-sexuality or occultism." Carreras himself inspects the rushes each week to make sure there is no explicit sex or violence. What most critics do not realize is that the horror film, by its very nature, must touch upon the primal fears we all harbor in the depths of our own subconscious. Perhaps the most terrifying of all would be our individual erotic longings.

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is available on DVD from Warner Brothers. There still hasn't been a blu-ray announcement yet...  What are they waiting for?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rare Laserdisc Sale

As some of my readers may know, I am quite the avid movie collector.  I have movies on CED, Betamax, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray and even a few 16mm prints.  I am always picking up new titles and in an effort to help alleviate some of the unpleasantness around here, I have decided to start selling on eBay.  For my first auction, I have put up a collection of rare laserdiscs.

DTS Laserdiscs

Super Rare Discs

2 Disc CAV edition with banned commentary track

This is the rare Limited Collector's Edition Widescreen 3 disc set that features 10 minutes of additional footage only seen on this laserdisc release.  This set contains the movie and making of documentary on 3 discs, companion hardcover book, replica battlefield map, 4 photographs, a letter from the director, and an authentic civil war bullet in leather pouch This version of the film has not been released on DVD.

This 2 disc set contains West of Zanzibar and The Unholy Three (the talkie version). These films have not been released on DVD.

Not available on DVD.

 Feel free to take a look at the auctions and ask any questions you may have bout them.  Of course, don't forget to bid frequently, bid often and bid a lot.  If I do well on these items, you can expect to see The Not on DVD VHS Sale a few weeks after my current auctions end.  Sorry for the shameless plug, but hey, it's my website!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Highlander: The Special Features

"From the dawn of time we came, moving silently down through the centuries.  Living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last.  No one has ever known we were among you... until now."  And so movie history was made twenty-five years ago when Sir Sean Connery read this prologue at the beginning of 1986's Highlander.  Has it really been twenty-five years already?  In honour Highlander's 25th Anniversary in March, let's take a look at the special features from all the releases that grace the collection here at Cinema Raiders...

Highlander: 10th Anniversary Director's Cut
Deluxe Wide-Screen Collector's Edition Laserdisc

• Audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer.
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos, production and publicity stills
• Photos from scenes left on the editing room floor
• Still frame slide show highlighting the evolution of the film from scripting to casting and on through production notes and letters, script revisions, reviews and publicity articles.
• Virtual 3D photograph of the katana sword.

Deluxe Collector's Edition DVD

The DVD was released shortly after the laserdisc and retained some of the special features.  Missing were the still images from the deleted scenes and the virtual 3D katana.  The commentary used on the DVD was the same from the laserdisc edition.

• Audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos, production and publicity stills
• Still frame slide show highlighting the evolution of the film from scripting to casting and on through production notes and letters, script revisions, reviews and publicity articles.


In 2002, Anchor Bay released this two disc special edition that came in a nice metal slipcase; although disc two is only a CD which features "Princes of the Universe", "One Year of Love" and "Friends Will Be Friends" performed by Queen.  As far as I know, this is the edition with the most special features to be released in the United States.  The audio commentary on the Immortal Edition has been recycled from the laserdisc once again.

• Audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer
• 2 Theatrical Trailers
• Who Wants To Live Forever - Queen Music Video (4 minutes)
• A Kind of Magic - Queen Music Video (4 minutes)
• Princes of the Universe - Queen Music Video (4 minutes)
• Poster and Still Gallery
• Queen Still Gallery


Four years later in 2006, Optimum Home Entertainment released a two disc steelbook of Highlander for the European market.  This Immortal Edition is far superior to the US release.  Not only do we have a brand new audio commentary, but also a three part making of documentary; something that is sorely lacking on all US releases.

Disc One
• New audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy.

Disc Two
The Making of Highlander Documentary
     Part 1: A Legend is Born (29:13) with Gregory Widen (scriptwriter)
     and Peter Bellwood (co-scriptwriter)
     Part 2: The Visual Style (40:03) with Gerry Fisher (director of
     photography) and Allan Cameron (set decorator)
     Part 3: A Strong Woman (15:55) with Roxanne Hart
• Christopher Lambert Interview (8:32)
• Original Theatrical Trailer


Lionsgate released their Highlander blu-ray late in 2010 and it's sorely lacking in the special features department.  In true Highlander Home Video tradition, this release recycles the 2006 commentary from the UK Immortal Edition steelbook.

• Audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy
• Deleted Scenes

The Deleted Scenes are going to catch the interest of Highlander fans. It should be noted that calling them "Deleted Scenes" is rather misleading. When viewing them, you will be shown this message: "Whilst creating the HD Master, it was noticed that there were five scenes that were either longer or edited differently to the scenes in the final HIGHLANDER version. As we didn't have the audio for these scenes, we could not include them in the film. We therefore laid music under these scenes and made them available as Deleted Scenes on the Blu-ray."

These are not the deleted scenes that all Highlander fans have read about and were shown still images of on 10th Anniversary Laserdisc.  What you actually get are four scenes with a total running time of 6:14. You get an alternate cut of the wrestling match at the beginning of the film, an extended scene of Connor and Rachael talking just prior/after the WWII flashback, an extended section of the rooftop fight between Connor and Kurgan and finally an extended version of Connor and Brenda talking on the hilltop at the end of the film. As mentioned above, music is laid under these scenes, but it's not from Highlander. The music used here, and on the menu, is actually from John Debney's score for Cutthroat Island.

As a special feature for this special features comparison, let's take a look at another recent blu-ray release set in the countryside of Scotland (not sure if it's the highlands or not). 

The good folks over at MGM/UA and 20th Century Fox have released the excellent Rob Roy starring Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth and John Hurt to blu-ray, but they forgot the special features.  The DVD from 1997 at least had the theatrical trailer - it was even included on the laserdisc.  To add insult to injury, they slapped the disc into one of those damned hippie cases (eco-case).  Come to think of it, Lionsgate put the Highlander blu-ray in one too.  Look for more hatred of the hippie case in an upcoming article in our Raging Rant series.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Best Buy - Part 1

Best Buy recently created a Best Buy Blu-ray Exclusives Page on their website. The blurb on this page reads "these must-have high-def editions are available only at Best Buy... Orders yours today." After perusing the list of available exclusive titles, I noticed that the 1978 video nasty I Spit On Your Grave is going to be released on 2/1/11 and is only $9.99! Great news I thought. I would swing by after work and pick it up. I'd also purchase The Expendables as it's also on sale for $9.99.

Well, February first rolled around and I checked the Best Buy website. Do you know what I found? I Spit On Your Grave’s release date has been pushed back to 2/8/11 – the same date that it’s available everywhere else. Pray tell, what makes this a Best Buy exclusive? Needless to say, I couldn’t purchase the movie. To make things even better, in the two days I spent waiting to go to the store, The Expendables has also gone up in price to $12.99.

Here’s another thing that pisses me off about Best Buy. I was saving my gift card to use on the new release of Zorro: The Complete Series. It was released on DVD last week and on the release day, I checked to see which stores had it in stock. Of all 6 stores in Chicago only 3 of them had this new release. Not one of these stores is easy to get to if you do not have a car, which I don’t. This is a new release title. It should be available at all stores.

I run into this problem rather frequently. If there is a DVD, blu-ray or game that I want to purchase, chances are that none of the stores in Chicago will have it in stock. If I go to the store and can’t find the title I’m looking for, a helpful sales associate will gladly look to see if they have a copy; and then offer to order it for me when they don’t. If I wanted to order it, why the hell would I be at a Best Buy store and why would I order it from Best Buy? Unless it’s on sale, the item is undoubtedly cheaper elsewhere.

I can remember when Best Buy had a great selection of movies. Nowadays, if it’s not one of those “flavor of the month” asinine comedy flicks, then Best Buy won’t have it. I can remember when I could walk down the aisles and see those obscure genre releases from Blue Underground, Severin, VideoAsia, Anchor Bay, Shriek Show and many other companies – some of which have sadly gone the way of the dodo. Those were the days...