After Universal drained the blood from Dracula, things remained fairly quiet on the vampire front for nearly a decade. The problem was that Universal had copyrighted Dracula and all their other famous monsters, and no one else could really do anything about it. That is, until the British Hammer Studios made their successful The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Universal filed suit, but Hammer had done a careful job of changing the monster's makeup to make it something totally new. Likewise, they claimed that they were basing their tale on Mary Shelley's original book, which had, of course, entered the public domain, and not on Universal's movie. They won, The Curse of Frankenstein was a huge hit, and Hammer was free to take on all the monsters they wanted.
Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula (1958) was the first and best from that studio, starring Christopher Lee as the famous vampire and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. This was Dracula for a new generation, in lurid color, more overtly sexual and garishly bloody (though it all seems rather tame by today's standards). Hammer cranked out several lesser-grade sequels, with Lee reprising his role: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Scars of Dracula (1970), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1974). Lee played the role in a non-Hammer production for Spanish gore director Jesús Franco in Count Dracula (1970).
Like the Universal films, these sequels grew lazier over time, but at the same time, the loosening restrictions on motion pictures made more gore and sex possible. This at least kept the series going on a financial level, but Lee's parts continued to shrink and directors far less talented than Fisher began to take over. Each film has its own various, perverse pleasures, but it's clear that the quality and enthusiasm that went into Horror of Dracula waned and eventually disappeared.
Hammer's bold move freed Dracula for all time. Now in the public domain, Dracula or any or his brothers or sisters or cousins could appear in any form. Hundreds of vampire movies appeared in all different shapes and sizes in the second half of the 20th century. Even the small screen got in on the act. The Munsters (1964) was a half-hour sitcom blatantly stolen from the superior The Addams Family that cast Al Lewis as the aged vampire Grandpa, while Dark Shadows (1966) was a kind of vampire soap opera that still has a huge cult following to this day.
60s and 70s
The 1960s brought a comic, sometimes cheesy sensibility to the vampire film, notably in Roman Polanski's odd slapstick comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967) and in William Beaudine's hilariously inept Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966).
The 1970s brought a period of exploration. Jesús Franco gave us the sexiest vampire story yet, Vampyros Lesbos (1971). Blaxploitation got into the act with Blacula (1972) and Scream Blacula Scream (1973). Hammer teamed up with the Shaw Brothers for a kung-fu vampire film, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey gave us an art-house version, Blood for Dracula (1974), starring Udo Kier, while the BBC cranked out the first official dressed-up version for TV's Great Performances in 1977 starring Louis Jourdan. And Hollywood attempted its first elegant, mainstream version with John Badham's Dracula (1979), starring Frank Langella as the Count and no less than Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing.
Meanwhile, Hollywood reinvented the silly vampire comedy with Love at First Bite (1979), starring a ridiculously suntanned George Hamilton as Dracula, now living in Manhattan and venturing out into the dating scene, competing with a meek psychiatrist (Richard Benjamin) for the hand of a fashion model (Susan Saint James) - and a direct descendant of Mina Harker. Though it still has a cult fan base, the film specifically relies on late-70s jokes and mores and will probably baffle and bore modern day audiences.
The best vampire films of the 1970s came from a new generation of young directors, raised on films and entering the business with a fresh enthusiasm and post-modern savvy. David Cronenberg invented a new kind of bloodsucker in Rabid (1977). Marilyn Chambers stars as a woman who suffers a motorcycle accident in the country and undergoes radical, experimental emergency surgery that leaves her with a weird protrusion from her armpit and an insatiable lust for blood. George A. Romero introduced us to Martin (1977), a young man who believes himself to be a vampire and becomes a local celebrity on a radio talk show. And Tobe Hooper directed Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1979) for TV, about a town infested with vampires.
Susan Sarandon in The Hunger
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