(originally published in Re/Public on October 31, 2014)
Hi there. This third part is void of third title simply because I didn’t have enough time, but still – I made a friday deadline for myself and I keep my word… Wolves and Vampires this time around….sorta.
From the 1930’s way into the late 50’s, Universal Studios was THE prime maker of all things horror. It was a brand, much like Hammer studios after it, and what New World Pictures, New Line Cinema or Lionsgate have been in the recent decades. EVERYBODY knows at least one or two of those classic titles – be it “Dracula”, “The Wolf man”, “Frankenstein”, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”….and the studio churned out numerous sequels as well(so in a way, the endless sequelitis nowadays is nothing new), and some of those, like “Bride of Frankenstein”, are hailed even as superior to the preceding movie. So naturally there were sequels to the Lon Chaney jr.-starring “Wolf man”, too. But some are….very stand-alonish. Actually they don’t have anything to do with the original. This is one of those films.
Phyllis Allenby is a young and beautiful woman who is soon to be married to respectable lawyer Barry Lanfield. Phyllis is living at the Allenby Mansion along with her aunt Martha and her cousin Carol and the servant Hannah(the obligatory “Universal Odd Supporting character) . As the wedding date approaches, London is shocked by a series of murders at the local park, where the victims are discovered with throats ripped out. Some cops at the Scotland Yard begin murmuring about werewolves, while the Head Inspector believes the opposite and suspects strange activity at the Allenby Mansion – which is right next to the park, where the “Wolf-Woman” is seen prowling at night and heading for the park. Phyllis becomes extremely terrified and anxious, since she is convinced that she is the “Wolf-Woman”, deeply believing in the legend of the so-called “Curse of the Allenbys”. Martha tries to convince Phyllis how ridiculous the legend sounds, all the while she and Carol are both equally acting somewhat suspicious, and are in fact revealed to not be related to Phyllis in any way. Phyllis denies Barry’s visits her each day, and when an overtly curious detective called Latham is murdered soon after he visits the mansion in the same way as the earlier victims, Barry begins believing that something else is going on besides any werewolf business and starts staking out the mansion himself. Only at the very end will the secret of the “She-Wolf” be revealed….
“She-Wolf of London”(also alternately titled as “Curse of the Allenbys” in UK) is a very strange “sequel” indeed. The setting is a change of pace for sure – placing all the events on an estate solely inhabited by women. Aunt Martha(Sara Hayden), the secretive and manipulative matriarch, is controlling her daughter and niece – who actually isn’t her niece – and clearly has some overall master plan for them. The whole movie actually plays more like a psychological drama than a horror movie. The park where the murders happen is one of those classic Universal settings with all gaslights and heavy fog – according to Imdb, the film was largely shot on Universal’s old “Hacienda” set, used on many of the studio’s “B” westerns. But thanks to the fog, we never see who the “she-wolf” actually is. I’m going deep into SPOILER territory here(as much as you CAN spoil a 68-year old film), but the end resolve is quite a twist in that: there actually is no werewolf in the movie whatsoever – everything was a scheme to drive poor Phyllis mad so Carol could marry the wealthy lawyer Barry instead and Martha could keep the estate – which belonged to her former lover Lord Allenby. The film is very cleverly plotted, and it’s also only an hour long. The poor Phyllis, who is being slowly driven mad is played by June Lockhart, who is probably best known to people as Dr. Maureen Robinson in the classic TV-series “Lost in Space”. She does some beautiful work here. Overall – this is a very peculiar entry in the “Universal Horror”-catalogue.
Christopher Lee will probably forever be best remembered from his portrayal of Count Dracula. And Lee’s “Dracula” films will always be the most memorable titles in the (very long)filmography of Hammer Studios. Starting with “Dracula aka. Horror of Dracula” in 1958, Lee portrayed the famous bloodsucker in seven films, ending with “The Satanic Rites of dracula” in 1973. What also started with the 1958 film, was Lee’s long list of collaborations with his friend Peter Cushing, who portrayed Van Helsing in that film and starred together with Lee a whopping 22 times in various different films, not including just Hammer films, but things like Amicus horror films “The House that Dripped Blood” and “I, Monster”. But they only portrayed Dracula and Van Helsing together three times. The middle one being “Dracula A.D”, which I’m covering here….
Professor Van Helsing: “There is evil in the world. There are dark, awful things. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of them. But there are dark corners; horrors almost impossible to imagine… even in our worst nightmares.”
The film begins in 1872, in the middle of a ferocious battle on top of an out of control horse carriage, between Dracula and Wilhelm Van Helsing. As the carriage cuts loose from the horses, it crashes injuring both men severely, and with his last gasps, Van Helsing destroys Dracula before perishing on his own wounds. A mysterious figure then collects Draculas ashes and his ring, and later buries some of the ashes outside the cemetary where Van Helsing’s burial is taking place. We then cut to hundred years in the future – to the year 1972, the age of hippies, drugs, free love and such. A “group” of hippies, who pass their time party-crashing or sitting in a coffee-shop, are lured into a satanic ritual by a new member(who looks much like the mysterious stranger who took Dacrulas ashes), named Johnny Alucard. “Alucard” – get it? No need for a picture drawn there; though a picture is actually drawn in the movie, lol. We then learn, that a young woman in the group, Jessica(Stephanie Beacham, “Nightcomers”, “Dynasty”), is a descendant of the Van Helsing-family and lives with grandfather Lorrimer Van Helsing(Cushing again). As expected, the ritual wakes Dracula(Lee) into life again. He feeds on one of the group while others flee in horror, but his true target turns out to be Jessica. He means to turn her into his bride and turn her into a creature of the night – as a final insult to the Van Helsing-line… Can the gradson of the great Van Helsing defeat the evil creature and save his granddaughter? Do the contemporary officials even believe him?
As much as Hammer’s 70’s-era productions were already considered to be of lesser quality, I quite liked this film. The opening fight on the horse carriage is very well filmed, and if Tim Burton didn’t at least subconsiously pull some stuff from that to his Hammer-homage “Sleepy Hollow”, I’d be much surprised. Lee and Cushing play their parts(in Cushings case, two parts) with their usual flair. You can NEVER accuse these two gentlemen of phoning it in, no sir. Unlike in some of the later Hammer efforts, the production values are still of high standards, the blood is still as bright red as it ever was. The sudden leap of 100 years into the future is a nice twist, and I really like the aspect of the Van Helsing family forever, generations on being cursed by the spirit of Dracula. Stephanie Beacham is a delight as the sweet Jessica who gets in the middle of this century-old battle. They also introduce a cool little new weakness for vampires; running water. And the results are seen as the freshly-vampirized Alucard accidentally stumbles underneath a shower. Take that, M. Night Shyamalan and your water-allergic aliens in “Signs”!!!. There are a couple of little nitpicks though – Christopher Neame seriously overacts in his part as Alucard, and the filmmakers completely waste an opportunity to make Dracula walk around in 70’s London – after his resurrection, he never leaves the location of a derelict church. I would’ve been so cool to see him take to the streets, “Jason Takes Manhattan”-style. Sigh. But an enjoyable flick for vampire fans – and Christopher Lee fans, nevertheless. Little trivia bit: a very young Caroline Munro(future scream queen and a Bond girl in films like “Maniac” and “The Spy who Loved Me”) is also in a tiny part as a member of the group who becomes the wakened count’s first snack.
So – no third title. But I WILL reveal my “to watch”-films for this Halloween weekend. Here ‘ya go: