Couch Potato Pickings | Did Hammer Horror take the dread out of Dracula?

When I was a kid I had this well-thumbed book about mysteries and the unexplained. From UFOs to the Bermuda Triangle, Nessy to the Yeti, and werewolves to vampires, it showcased an exciting range of spooky myths and legends.

At that time I was most fascinated by the stories of immortal bloodsuckers, and found the whole idea of such creatures terrifying. This terror was fed and compounded around this time when I was allowed to stay up late to sit through a Hammer horror movie about Dracula. I had to go to bed with the light on, but I thoroughly enjoyed feeling the fear.

But now I’m an adult and Hammer horror doesn’t scare me anymore and neither does anything to do with Dracula. It’s interesting, since other films that scared the hell out of me as a kid still do – like The Omen.

I’m hoping some light will be shed on why this might be by Mark Gatiss in the second episode of his A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (showing tonight). Last week his look at vintage horror films provided much food for thought about the nature of horror. So, I’m intrigued to see what he has to say on the development of the horror movie through the 50s, 60s – the Hammer Horror heyday.

Somewhere between then and now – and I suspect it was before I left my teens, I lost my fear of vampires and have been desperate to get it back ever since.

And I suspect the erosion of my bloodsucker phobia was caused by Hammer. As I grew up, and watched more of these Gothic movies, the chills were replaced by chuckles as I recognised the amount of OTT cheese thrown in.

Dracula AD 1972,Christopher Lee

A great example of this is Dracula AD 1972. A  fab 1970s-set Dracula story  – one of the nine Dracula films made by the Hammer studios, it stars Hammer regular Christopher LeeBrides of Dracula star Peter Cushing, and the lovely Stephanie Beacham with the best mullet in movies ever (now there’s an idea for a future post…). Packed with cheese, and fabulous 70s lingo, Dracula AD 1972 is a real camp treat.

And that’s all very well, but recent developments haven’t helped my search for the scary vampire movie either. Now we have the totally tame Twilight saga or the sexy, tongue in cheek series True Blood. Today vampires are all about desire (maybe they always were but I just didn’t realise it as a kid).

The Swedish film Let the Right One In comes closer to creating the necessary chills, but not quite. I am somewhat encouraged though to read that Chloe Moretz – star of English language remake Let Me In – has recently commented about wanting to break ground with her scary vampire portrayal. Bring it on – hopefully I’ll get to be terrified by the vampire genre again one day.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss is showing tonight, 18th October, on BBC4 at 9pm

Brides of Dracula is showing on BBC4 at 10pm

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