May 10, 1958 [Horror of Dracula]

Bela Lugosi slipped away a couple of years ago, the gossip columnists running their ghoul's fingernails over his dope-fiend corpse like the rotting hosts of a horror comic, clucking their tongues--but also cackling a little, kiddies, relishing the irony of the vampire impaled with a tiny needle.

But they should've known better than to have assumed the Undead could die. Hammer studios in England has taken a cue from The Vault of Horror and all those other seducers of the innocent that have since arisen from their own graves as one cockeyed fiend, Mad magazine--still dangerous, still seducing children with Starchie and Mickey Rodent and Howdy Dooit--but in Horror of Dracula it's not Batboy but a Tale from the Crypt, the blood as bright as fresh tomato juice, trickling from the smiling mouth, Dracula no longer an oily charmer but wide-eyed and snarling, Christopher Lee speechless--but his mouth always open.

One constant remains: the women, all of them eager to bare their necks--but sexier than Lugosi's pale vamps, their bodices heaving with melodramatic heartiness as their souls drain down the thing's throat. There is some uncomfortable grudge being settled here, the tall man leaping on the women, clutching at them not with desire but in fury--while they rise to be taken.

The rules are bending in this musty Victorian corner of the horror film toward a predatory instinct--and annihilation, Dracula's end a drawn-out dust-to-dust extravagance of agony, the daylight like an H-bomb leaving only ash and a wind to blow it away.


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