Welcome to Framed, a weekly column at Cinematical that runs on Thursdays and celebrates the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time.
Every time I think I've fallen out of love with the vampire genre, there's always something there to reel me back in. Whether it's a gem of a new film like 'Let the Right One In' or revisiting a timeless classic, I just can't seem to get enough. For the rest of the month I'll be spotlighting several Frame-worthy vamp flicks for your perusal.
Christopher Lee's work with Hammer Films as Count Dracula is as synonymous with the classic horror villain as Universal Pictures' counterpart, Béla Lugosi. It's hard to imagine that the actor struggled early on in his career -- being turned down for roles because he was too tall or too exotic looking, but these attributes would eventually find him a home with Hammer Studios. Though Lee hasn't always been at ease being typecast as the famed fanged fiend, his talent and presence helped resurrect Bram Stoker's classic vampire tale.
After the jump, check out a few frames illustrating Lee's first appearance in the legendary role of Dracula in Hammer's 'Horror of Dracula.'
Dracula's New Eroticism
While Lugosi's pass as the Count was sold on his backstory as the charming Euro-decadent eccentric -- Lee's turn as the vampire relied on his lithe but imposing physique and blood-thirsty intensity. The melodrama of Lugosi's character was now focused in Hammer's heaving bosoms and lavish settings -- removing the burden of humanity from Lee's Dracula and giving the vampire a newfound erotic savagery. When Lucy (Carol Marsh) prepares to be willingly taken by the Count in 'Horror of Dracula' there's an anticipation and longing in her bedtime ritual that Lee's performance rouses further with absolutely no dialogue.
A new Dracula was reborn in 1958 when Lee played the part alongside long-time co-star Peter Cushing, who tackled the role of Doctor Van Helsing. Though Hammer's adaptation deviated from the original story -- due to a contract stranglehold imposed by Universal Studios -- it eliminated certain characters from the film, giving more screentime to Cushing's character. And thank goodness for that, because you haven't lived until you've watched 'Horror of Dracula's' final showdown. A near acrobatic Cushing catapults himself onto miles of drapery to expose Dracula to the sunlight. This was the first time the dynamic duo would appear in their iconic roles (both actors appeared in over twenty films for Hammer), battling it out in the name of good versus evil.
Hammer's trademark low-angle close-ups of Lee, combined with lurid Eastmancolor and campy low-budget effects (the blood always looked like house paint or ketchup ... ) painted a vivid and comparatively gory picture of vampires previously portrayed in mere shadows. Hammer's famed Gothic, ethereal setting balanced what many critics described as revolting when the film was first released. Christopher Lee's blazing contacts are more disturbing than the film's special effects-laden final showdown, if only because the lenses look as painful as Lee said they were and made it hard for the actor to see. During Mina's (Melissa Stribling) burial scene, Lee actually ran too far and fell into the grave on top of a stunt woman.
Make-up designer Phil Leakey and FX supervisor Sid Pearson worked on 'Dracula's' final scene in three long stages. A shot where Dracula peels away his skin -- an effect created with red makeup and mortician's wax -- was cut out of the death scene. This left audiences with a comedic image consisting of a pile of ash with goofy glass eyes and a wig. However, poetics weren't entirely lost on the production company when they included this image during the final scene of Lee's hands and the symbol of the cross "burned" into his palm. It's a simple shot, but demonstrates that even though the film relies on the traditional vampire mythos, 'Dracula' was selective and stylish about what tropes to keep. Shots of Lee racing down his castle grounds with his signature black cape flowing behind him was chosen over some kind of absurd bat transformation, and so forth.