Friday, 17 February 2012

Cushing's contribution

Alex Bledsoe
The final scene of Dracula (1958)—better-known by its American title, Horror of Dracula—is, according to Jordan Buckner, 'truly incredible and has become legendary in itself. It's often regarded as one of the movie's best features. And here it is.

But did you know it wasn't the movie's original ending? It turns out the film's Van Helsing—Peter Cushing—greatly influenced the film's climax:
In the original script Van Helsing was sort of like a salesman for crucifixes. He was pulling them out of every pocket. He was giving them to children to protect themselves, and putting them in coffins and so on. At the end of the film, he pulled out another one, so I asked if we couldn't do something exciting instead. I remembered seeing a film years ago called Berkeley Square [1933] in which Leslie Howard was thought of as being the Devil by this frightened little man who suddenly grabbed two big candlesticks and made a sign of the cross with them. I remembered that this had impressed me enormously. I suggested the run along the refectory table to jump onto the curtains and hit Dracula square in the face with the sunlight. He would, of course, be trapped. Then I could come along like a hero, grab the two candlesticks and make the cross with them in his face. They agreed. Originally the candleabrae they had were the type with four candles on each base. You could tell what I was doing, but it didn't look like a cross, but they changed to the ones you see in the film. At least it wasn't another crucifix coming out of my pockets.1
You can watch Berkeley Square, in its entirety, here—the scene which inspired Cushing begins at the 1:12:56 mark. Cushing's claim about the film's original ending correlates with Jimmy Sangster's 18 October 1957 final shooting script, in which Van Helsing locks Dracula in a room, and 'runs towards DRACULA taking a crucifix from his pocket.'2

Indeed, there's no mention of Van Helsing's 'run along the refectory table', no curtains are torn and Van Helsing merely forces Dracula further into the sunlight—which is streaming from a stained glass window—with his crucifix, after literally standing on his exit route.

It's likely Cushing's input inspired the 'improved cross' trope featured in other Hammer Dracula and vampire movies; from Van Helsing's manipulation of the burning windmill's blades in The brides of Dracula (1960), the blood-smeared cross on Gerald Harcourt's chest in The kiss of the vampire (1963) and Carl Ebhardt's cruciform dagger in The vampire lovers (1970), to note a few examples.

The trope found its way into many other books and movies, but perhaps nothing so overt as the 1996 film, From dusk till dawn. The following exchange takes place between Seth Gecko, Jacob and Scott Fuller, and Sex Machine while they're holed up in the Titty Twister:
Seth: Do you have a cross? 
Jacob: In the Winnebago. 
Seth: In other words, no. 
Scott Fuller: What are you talking about? We got crosses all over the place. All you gotta do is put two sticks together and you got a cross. 
Sex Machine: He's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time. 
Seth: Okay, I'll buy that.
Later, Jacob Fuller forms a cross out of a pump action shotgun and baseball bat in cruciform shape as an effective ward against the undead. The film's script goes into more detail on the effectiveness of impro-crosses:
He's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time.

I don't know about that. In order for it to have any power, I think it's gotta be an official crucifix.

What's an official cross? Some piece of tin made in Taiwan? What makes that official? If a cross works against vampires, it's not the cross itself, it's what the cross represents. The cross is a symbol of holiness.

Okay, I'll buy that. So we got crosses covered, moving right along, what else?3
The script also differs in the film in that Jacob does, indeed, wield 'a cross made out of two sticks', while 'reciting appropriate verses from the Bible',4 rather than the shotgun/baseball bat combo. The improved cross—a major addition to vampire lore—also highlighted why the cross is effective against the undead, rejigging it as a channel of the wielder's faith, rather than a 'magical' item in its own right.

1. 'Peter Cushing', Dracula, A house that Hammer built special, May 1998, p. 7. The quote is derived from 'Little Shoppe Of Horrors #8, p. 61; interview by James Kravaal.'

2. 'Jimmy Sangster', Dracula, A house that Hammer built special, May 1998, p. 20.

3. Q Tarantino, From dusk till dawn, Faber and Faber, London, 1996, p. 67.

4. ibid., p. 106

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