Monday, July 23, 2012
The Dark Road from Transylvania to Texas
Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) was released shortly before a new wave of horror was to be ushered in by films like Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). But this film proves to me that the essential elements of the old horror films carried over into the new wave. Basically, all that happens in the film is that two young couples traveling through an unfamiliar countryside stop at a sinister home and are attacked by the home's bloodthirsty occupants. That is pretty much the same as what happens in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The one minor difference is that the latter film includes an extra traveler - the amusingly whiny, wheelchair-bound Franklin. Still, the one clear change made by Chainsaw director Tobe Hooper was the abandonment of fangs (and the supernatural lore that came with it) in favor of knife blades wielded by savage backwoods psychopaths. Even some specific details of the films are similar. In Dracula, Prince of Darkness, it is one of male travelers who is the first one to be killed. Dracula's henchman emerges suddenly from a doorway and stabs the man in the back with a knife. Fangs weren't even necessary to dispatch the victim in this case.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is one of male travelers who is the first one to be killed. Leatherface emerges suddenly from a doorway and slams the man in the head with a mallet.
The similarities continue. Dracula's henchman hangs up his victim, slices open his neck, and lets him bleed out.
Leatherface hangs one of his victims from a meat hook and lets her bleed out.
In Dracula, Prince of Darkness, the second male traveler snoops around and finds the body of one of his friends stuffed in a wooden chest.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the second male traveler snoops around and finds the body of one of his friends stuffed in a freezer chest.
In Dracula, Prince of Darkness, a female traveler rises up after death due to vampirism. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a female traveler rises up after death due to an involuntary muscle spasm. At least I think it's an involuntary muscle spasm. From what I can tell, it could just as likely be that she is still alive and is convulsing as part of her death throes. In either case, the scene looks very much like a resurrection scene in a vampire film.
David Kalat recently observed that David Fincher's new-style horror film Se7en (1995) shares many plot elements with old-style horror film The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). Click here for the article. The successful filmmaker is the filmmaker who can make something old seem like something new. The point just as easily could be made that Jason Voorhees is the Frankenstein monster with a machete and Romero's zombies are Lugosi's zombies with a voracious appetite for human flesh. No matter what new tricks that a filmmaker has to offer, horror films will always be about the beastly creature leaping out of the shadows to attack an unsuspecting victim.