Favorite Horror Films: The Horror of Dracula: Revisited

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I am returning to my series of examinations of horror movies through various decades.  After the great horror  cycle of movies from Universal Studios in the 1930s and 1940s culminating in the Abbott and Costello spoofs, serious horror movies vanished for a period. They were replaced by the spate of giant critter movies spawned by the fears of nuclear fallout post World War Two and the ominous threat of nuclear armageddon of the Cold War.

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In 1957, Hammer Studios, a British film company initiated a new cycle of horror films with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein. Following on the success of that film, Hammer then produced its new version of a filmic adaptation of Dracula by Bram Stoker: Horror of Dracula (the American title) or Dracula (the British title).  This film not only allowed this film studio to emerge as a major force in horror films, but also it, along with The Curse of Frankenstein, spawned a new cycle in horror that would span nearly two decades. The film starred Sir Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing, and Michael Gough as  Arthur Holmwood and was directed by Terence Fisher.

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This film dramatically changed the course of horror films.  Prior to Horror Of Dracula, most horror movies, especially  the classic Universal films were shot in black and white; this film was in vivid color. Also changed noticeably from the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi was the pacing and the level of over sexuality and violence. This movie moved at a very rapid pace with condensed action and compression of characters from the book.  A very lively film score added to the tension and feeling of almost constant movement.

 

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Christopher Lee brought an imposing physicality to the role and played the count with a noble British accent. He showed great strength and mobility in his performance. And this film introduced  the vampire with fangs and blood.  When he emerges in full fury after the vampire girl has attacked Jonathan Harker, he is a demonic image.  This was a representation of the vampire that was entirely new and very powerful.

In Britain, this movie received an X rating because of its, what was for the time, overt sexuality and violence. The women sometimes wore low cut gowns, and Dracula’s attacks carried a not too subtle sexuality, although by today’s standards, this shocking sensuality certainly would be tame or almost quaint.

Horror Of Dracula was a success both financially and critically. Hammer studios would make numerous sequels to this film and would also base the release of other movies, principally on Dr. Frankenstein , on their good fortune. If you enjoy horror films and have not seen this particular movie, I recommend it.

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Doc Chuck’s Recommended Readings–Revisited

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This blogpost was written several years ago, but I thought it was worth revisiting, especially because I love to suggest books for people to read.

I had the good fortune this week of delivering a talk at the Muhlenberg College Board of Associates Meeting on the topic of Great Books.  I spoke with the audience for about 20-25 minutes about what I consider to be great books and why they matter. The main argument I made about the importance of books is that they connect us as people.  I am an unreserved humanist; I believe that human beings have the power to improve themselves, that education is crucial to develop of an informed  society, and that books allow readers to experience the worlds of others.

The audience was one of professionals from many fields but very few English Literature majors; however, their interest in reading and books was heartening for me.  They wanted to hear suggestions about what books I would recommend.

In my classes, I sometimes do something I call — Chuck’s recommended readings.  I ask the students to write the title and author and then tell them that what they do with that information is entirely up to them.  Since several of the attendees of this talk asked for further suggestions, I decided to put together a list, very abbreviated I admit, of books I would recommend.  Some of them I consider among the best and most important books ever written, and some I simply found to be wonderful and entertaining.

Now, the list:

Doc Chuck’s Recommended Readings
Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.

Brown, Larry. Fay.

Cervantes, Miguel De. Don Quixote.

Delaney, Frank. Ireland.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities.

Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose.

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods.

Grass, Günter. The Tin Drum.

Helprin, Mark. A Soldier of the Great War.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Pacific and Other Stories.

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Homer. The Iliad.

. . . . . . . The Odyssey.

King, Stephen. Hearts In Atlantis.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Stand.

Lee, Harper.  To Kill A Mockingbird.

Poe, Edgar Allan.  Complete Works.

Rice, Anne. Interview With the Vampire.

Rowling, J. K. The entire Harry Potter series.

Shakespeare, William. The Collected Works.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Shadow of the Wind.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief.

I am certain there are many books I have forgotten to mention.  This is neither intended to be all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be authoritarian.  I hope that someone may find a book or books from this list, read them, and enjoy them.

Happy reading!

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Please follow the following links to find my novel:

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The book trailer:

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Happy Birthday to Bram Stoker!

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Today is the 170th anniversary of Irish writer Bram Stoker’s birthday. As the author of Dracula, a book I consider one of the finest Gothic novels ever written, he has had enormous impact on the worlds of writing, theater, and film.

To commemorate this day, the wonderful librarians at Lehigh University’s Linderman Library organized a showing of the classic film Dracula (1931) and starring Bela Lugosi. I was asked to give a short presentation about the film, which I enjoyed doing.  Given the opportunity to talk about this book and film, I always grasp the chance.

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So I wish Bram Stoker a happy birthday!

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Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French is available for purchase on Amazon either as an ebook or a print book!

Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview

What are you reading?

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Occasionally, I write a post in which I ask this question, and it has been some time, so I wanted to ask all of you again: what are you currently reading?

I am reading Aggravated Momentum by Didi Oviatt;

In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson;

Surrender, New York by Caleb Carr;

and rereading for classes that I teach at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College:

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

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I wish Happy Reading to all!

Dining With Authors

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It has been a while since I have written a post in this series, so I thought it was time to revisit it. And because I am in the process of preparing to release my horror novel Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Society Book I in early October, I was thinking about previous horror writers and their works.

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I would invite three important authors of works of horror fiction to join me in a discussion about their writings, and we would meet at a pub for food and pints of beer or ale–always Guinness for me! I hope that this meeting would create a lively discussion of what they consider the most important aspects of their work.

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For this gathering, I would invite Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who wrote Carmilla (1872), the first novel to feature a female vampire. Le Fanu, from Dublin, Ireland, and who was recognized as a first rate writer of ghost stories introduced a new element into the Gothic Fiction: of both a female vampire and the inclusion of a lesbian element to the story.  This novella is a compelling tale, one that is often overlooked today.

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My second invitee would be Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), also from Dublin, and the creator of a book, that while not successful during Stoker’s life, became one of the most well-known and best selling books of the 20th and 21st centuries. Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula set the standard for many years for the portrayal of the vampire as a Eastern European nobleman with great power and wealth.  I know that Stoker was not the first to feature a vampire of noble birth, but Stoker’s work is the preeminent and superior book to the second-rate, and I am being kind, novel by Rhymer and Prest: Varney The Vampire. I would go so far as to say that unless you have an academic interest in the literature of vampires, don’t bother reading Varney the Vampire–it is terrible.

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The third author I would invite is the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, typically not known for Gothic or horror novels, but famous, nevertheless, for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).  In this short novel, Stevenson explores the idea of various elements, such as good and evil, existing simultaneously in the human mind, and his good doctor Jekyll attempts to isolate and remove the evil side, but with terrible consequences.

There are many questions I would like to ask these authors. I would like to know what their concept of evil is–does it exist as part of the universe or part of humanity or both? Where do they think Gothic or horror fiction fits in the world of literature? Did they have other novels they considered writing but never did? And what contemporary themes about society exist in their works?

Are there any questions you would have liked to pose to  these writers?

 

 

Favorite Horror Films of the 1960s: The Brides of Dracula

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A tsunami of horror films cascaded into movie theaters in the 1960s, some by the larger studios and an abundance of grade B-Z films from smaller companies. Following the success of Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, and The Mummy, Hammer created a plethora of sequels as well as new horror films. Frankenstein and Dracula would serve as the basis for the most sequels, thereby creating a seemingly non-ending money source for the studio, even as the films often became bad imitations of the original productions.

Oddly, the first sequel to The Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, (1960) does not feature Dracula as a character. Instead, the movie features a Baron Meinster, as the opening voice-over narration says is a disciple of the ongoing cult of vampirism led by the now destroyed Dracula. While Dracula does not appear, the renowned vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing does as played once more by Peter Cushing. Along with Baron Frankenstein, this role would establish Cushing as a major horror film star of the 1950s-1970s.

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The characters are indirectly based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, the foundation for most vampire films, until Anne Rice’s revolutionary treatment of the undead in Interview With The Vampire.

The plot involves a young teacher who is “wooed” by a Baron Meinster. He proposes to her, while intending to make her his vampire bride. The tone of the film is clearly Gothic, with an architectural focus on a castle, the threatened young maiden, and a Bryonic Hero–the Baron.  These are standard, but not all inclusive, elements of a Gothic tale, and the Byronic Hero is typically a sexually attractive and threatening person, but more importantly, someone who lives according to his or her own rules, ignoring  the dictates of society.

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While much of the film does not break new earth in exploring the vampire story, it does feature one very unusual twist. In one sequence, Dr. Van Helsing is attacked by a vampire and bitten. He passes out, and when he awakens, he is able to remove the curse of the vampire bite. He heats an iron in glowing coals, then uses it to cauterize the bite and finally pours holy water onto the wound. It works and suggest that the vampire attacks are not merely demonic but also infections. This motif is one that will be greatly developed in many later vampire novels, TV shows, and films.

Van Helsing is successful in destroying the vampire and saving the young woman. The motif of the holy symbols are repeated: Van Helsing throws holy water onto the face of the Vampire, repelling and burning him, and then he is able to catch the Baron in the shadow of a giant cross, which destroys him.

Terence Fisher directed, and the film did well enough at the box office to justify a chain of sequels. Even though Christopher Lee did not appear in this movie, he would soon return to reprise the role of Count Dracula in the near future.

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Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview