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CHRISTOPHER LEE: Foreign Language Motion Pictures 1959 to 1970

When a fan first met Sir Christopher Lee on the big motion picture screen is generational. "Millennial's" more than likely first saw the actor as Saruman in Peter Jackson's 2001 "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings".

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While my "Baby Boomer" generation probably meet the future Sir Christopher Lee in either Hammer Studio's 1957 "The Curse of Frankenstein", or "1958's "Dracula" aka "Horror of Dracula".

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When I first met the actor on screen I had no idea that I had. The year was 1952 and the motion picture was "The Crimson Pirate" starring Burt Lancaster. I was 20 days short of my sixth birthday, at a long forgotten drive-in movie theater, in the back seat of my parents car. Christopher Lee played the part of "Joseph--A Military Attache".

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From December 20, 1946 on a now forgotten British television series called "Kaleidoscope" through August 2016, over a year after his death, narrating a fantasy film called "The Hunting of the Snark", Sir Christopher Lee appeared, or lent his voice to a combination of 278 motion pictures, television episodes and video games. This is about 12 feature films made between 1959 and 1970 that were produced in Italy and West Germany in those country's languages. Which when released in an English Language version did not necessary contain Lee's distinctive actual voice.

NOTE:

"The Curse of Frankenstein" was the first in a series of British pictures in which the Baron rather than the monster, as in the Universal Studio's 1930/1940 series had, was immortal. Here is a link to my blog article about both series:

http://kinescopedreams.blogspot.com/2015_02_01_archive.html

"The Crimson Pirate" has actual circus acrobat Burt Lancaster turned actor as Captain Vallo. A character that is considered the "Grandfather" of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. Here is a link to my blog article on this British motion picture:

http://kinescopedreams.blogspot.com/2016/04/burt-lancaster-acrobatactor-in-flame.html


1. The first motion picture Christopher Lee made in any foreign country was Italy's "Tempi duri per i vanpiri (Hard Times for a Vampire)". This movie was released in Italy on October 28, 1959. It would not make it to the United States until it was shown on television in 1964 under the title "Uncle Was A Vampire". It apparently was never released in the UK.

Christopher Lee as I mentioned above had made Hammer's "Dracula" the year before. As with the Hammer motion picture he received third billing on this film's original poster. However, when the original ending cast credits rolled the future Sir Christopher Lee was listed 17th.

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Playing off of  Hammer's "Dracula" the Persian title for the picture released in Iran on April 18, 1960 translated in to English as "Dracula Is My Uncle".The movie had 10 different titles depending upon where it was released.

As the poster indicates this was a horror/comedy. The film's star was Renato Rascel a popular Italian comedian, actor and song writer. He started his career in 1941 during the Second World War by forming his own theater company. The leading lady was Italian actress Sylvia Koscina who became known on July 29, 1959 to American audiences as Steve Reeves love and future wife Iole in "Hercules". She would return in the role in "Hercules Unchained".



Christopher Lee played, are you ready for this, "Baron Roderico da Frankurten. Who came from Germany. Can you say Dracula as Frankenstein?



The plot has Renato Rascel as the Baron Osvaldo Lambertenghi forced to sell his ancestral castle to a real estate company. They turn the castle into a hotel and the Baron is permitted to stay on as a porter. One night, of course, his Uncle Roderico suddenly appears. Osvaldo learns he is a vampire and attempts to warn the hotel guests and staff, but they think Osvaldo a little bit batty. Roderico bites his nephew and only Osvaldo's girlfriend Carla, Sylvia Koscina, can save him from becoming a vampire.

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Image result for 1959 movie uncle was a vampireImage result for 1959 movie uncle was a vampire

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Probably the best comedian in the picture is Christopher Lee who plays the role of the vampire Uncle straight. While the Italians attempt to go for the laughs. When "Hard Times for a Vampire" was dubbed in to English and released as "Uncle Was A Vampire". All the voices were dubbed and that included some unknown actor doing Lee's Baron Roderico. Which seems strange, but will continue as Lee spoke fluently Italian, French, German, Spanish and of course English.

2. On July 20, 1961 an interesting crime film was released in West Germany. The movie was a co-production by a British and West German studio. The source was British mystery writer Edgar Wallace.  The picture was shot both in English and German with different scripts and leading actors. The title in English was "The Devil's Daffodil" which was the translation of the German title "Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen".The movie would not be released in the UK until May 20, 1962 and the United States until October 25, 1967.




The role of Jack Tarling was portrayed by William Lucas in the British Production and
Joachim Fuchsberger in the German. While Penelope Horner played Anne Rider in the British version and Sabine Sesselmannn played Anne Ryder, note the change in spelling, in the German version. The rest of the British/German cast remained the same including the excellent German character actor Klaus Kinski and seen in many American WW2 movies Marius Goring. Apparently Christopher Lee played a Chinese detective Ling Chu who stops a drug smuggling operation and finds the "Daffodil Killer" in both pictures.



Note Christopher Lee's screen credit on the West German poster. He spoke German in the West German release.




3. The next Foreign Language motion picture that Christopher Lee appeared in was made in Italy. The title was "Ercole al centro della terra (Hercules at the Center of the Earth)" aka: "Hercules in the Haunted World". The film was released in Italy on November 16, 1961, in the UK one year later in November 1962 and the United States did not see it until April 1964.

The movie was directed by Italian horror master Mario Bava.

I have a blog article on both Mario Bava and Dario Argento at:

http://kinescopedreams.blogspot.com/2015/07/dario-argento-and-mario-bava-two.html






The motion picture starred British body builder Reg Park as Hercules and Christopher Lee played the evil King Lico. Hercules finds his lover Princes Delanira is under a spell and the only way he can save her is to journey to Hades to find the "Stone of Forgetfulness". What Hercules does not know is that it is Delanira's guardian King Lico who is behind her loss of mind as Lico also loves her.


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The Canadian "Globe and Mail" on September 10, 1964 described the movie as:
corny almost beyond belief

As to the English dub Christopher Lee who filmed his lines in Italian was dubbed by some unknown actor.

4. Released March 1, 1962 was the second West German motion picture Christopher Lee appeared in based upon the work of British author Edgar Wallace. The original German title is "Das Ratsel der roten Orchidee (The Puzzle of the Red Orchid)" aka: "The Secret of the Red Orchia". That last title is what the film was known as in the United States at theaters and on television, but I could not locate what year the dubbed version was released.

Once more Lee spoke his his lines in fluent German. The plot has rival gangsters from Chicago move to London and start to extort money from rich Britons. It is up too Scotland Yard and the FBI to stop them. This vague description of the movie's plot is all I could locate.

Christopher Lee plays the sleuth and hero  Scotland Yard's "Captain Alterman".

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The DVD release of the film has a second title "Monster of the City" and emphasizes German actor Klaus Kinski who had a role as a Chicago gangster hit man.

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5. Back in May of 1959 Christopher Lee appeared as Sir Henry Baskerville in Hammer film's "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Playing Sherlock Holmes was Peter Cushing and Andre Morell was Dr. Watson.

Now it was the future Sir Christopher Lee's turn to play "The World's First Consulting Detective" in a West German/French/Italian co-production featuring a British director and German born, but known for his Universal Studios horror scripts writer. A favorite of mine, because of Lee's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

The British director was Terrence Fisher who just happened to also have directed the Hammer films "Hound of the Baskervilles". The writer was Curt Siodmak "The Wolfman", "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" and "Son of Dracula" among others.

Playing Watson was English character actor Thorley Walters and as the lady in distress German actress Senta Berger. German actor Hans Sohnker played Professor Moriarty.

The title of the picture was "Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace)". The film was released in West Germany on November 30, 1962, Italy  on May 3, 1963 and France on May 20, 1964. The movie did not play in UK theaters until 1968. I saw it in December 1966 on the U.S. Navy base in Naples, Italy and understand that it went directly to television in the United States around that time.




The basic plot has Holmes battling Moriarty over a necklace allegedly owned by Cleopatra.

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In the above photo's note Lee's false nose to give him a more Sherlockian appearance.



It is notable what Terence Fisher and Christoper Lee said about this production.

In 1978 Fisher told Holmes scholar David Stuart Davies for his work "Holmes of the Movies" that "Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace" was a:
a film well worth left alone
Also in 1978 Lee told Davies:
I think it was a pity, this film, in more ways than one. We should never have made it in Germany with German actors, although we had a British art director and a British director. It was a hodge podge of stories put together by the German producers, who ruined it. My portrayal of Holmes is, I think, one of the best things I've ever done because I tried to play him really as he was written, as a very intolerant, argumentative, difficult man, and I looked extraordinarily like him with the make-up. Everyone who's seen it said I was as like Holmes as any actor they've ever seen both in appearance and interpretation.
6. "Katarsis", or "Sfida al diavolo (Challenge for the Devil)" is a basically unknown film Christopher Lee made in Italy that is best forgotten. It was released in that country on June 9, 1963. The picture also is known as "Faust" and "Catharsis" The only images of this movie I could locate are the two posters below.




Lee was on the set for one week and he never saw either the dallies, or the final motion picture according to his autobiography. I can understand why as the only description of the plot I could locate states that a group of dropouts, whatever that means, go to a castle and meet an old man played by Christopher Lee. He turns out to be the Devil and takes possession of them.

The movie's producer Fernando Cerqua died just before the initial release and in 1965 the director Giuseppe Vegezzi, who had also written the script, re-released the picture with added footage. The original running time was 78 minutes, but the re-released version ran 87 minutes. The video streaming website "MUBI" claimed to have a 92 minute version, but as of this writing is not playing the movie on the site.

7. Lee's  next foreign language movie was released August 15, 1963. When the film would be released in English. It was the worse dubbing so far and was without that great distinctive Christopher Lee voice. However, as with all the films I am mentioning in this article, if you could find an actual complete version in Italian. My reader would hear Christopher Lee speaking his lines. The title of the film was originally "La vergine di Norimberga (The Virgin of Nuremberg)" based upon a very successful Italian paperback novel. It's more popular title is "Horror Castle" released in the United States on  January 10, 1965.


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This motion picture starred not Christopher Lee, but Italian actress Rossana Podesta, She had been featured in the Kirk Douglas 1954 film "Ulysses" made by Carlo Ponti. Podesta was cast in the title role of "Helen of Troy" in Robet Wise's 1956 epic. She also co-starred in Robert Aldrich's 1963 "Sodom and Gomorrah" starring Stewart Granger. "The Virgin of Nuremberg" also featured Georges Riviere who starred in 1963 "Danza macabra (Castle of Blood) starring Barbara Steele. You can read about "Danza macabra" in my blog article about Edgar Allan Poe stories being filmed in Europe at:

http://kinescopedreams.blogspot.com/2016/07/1928-s-fall-of-house-of-usher-1964s.html


This movie was reviewed in an excellent TCM article by Jeff Stafford. Rather than my own description I recommend it to my readers at the following link:

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/103630%7C103632/Horror-Castle.html


8. Mario Bava directed the Italian/French co-production "La frusta e ll corpo (The Whip and the Body) released in Italy on August 29, 1963. This co-production did not reach France until January 26, 1966 after an English dubbed version was shown in El Paso, Texas on August 19, 1965.

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The plot sounds typical for a horror story. Set in the 19th Century an Italian Nobelman with a sadistic bent keeps his family in fear of him. Of course Christopher Lee played the Nobelman Kurt Menliff. Israeli actress Dallah Levi portrayed Nevenka Menliff. Nevenka was to marry Kurt, but after an affair with a servant girl who commits suicide. Kurt's father stops the marriage and banishes Kurt.

Kurt returns to the family castle where Nevenka is now married to his younger brother. He is still in love with her and she secretly holds a love for him. The real reason for Kurt's return is to reclaim his title and fortune. After a night of sadistic sex and pleasure Kurt is found dead. After his burial events start to take place seemingly to pointing at Kurt. Has his ghost returned to seek revenge?

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As the title might suggest for even Italian/French Gothic Horror the movies story had problems even in Italy. The original running time was 91 minutes and the censors in Italy did not require the picture to be cut, but they gave it a rating that no one under 18 could see it. The production company for the motion picture decided to cut some scenes out of the original release and "The Whip and the Body" was re-rated for no one under 14 years of age.

However, there were complaints from viewers and theater owners. On October 23, 1963 two months after the movies release the courts seized all prints. The courts in Rome declared that their were still sequences in "The Whip and the Body" that were immoral and obscene and required the picture further edited. After the re-editing the feature was once more released to Italian audiences.

I could not find the running time of the French release of the film as "Le Corps et le fouet (Body and Whip)" in 1966.

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The American release of the film was titled "WHAT" and ran 77 minutes. Which of the two cuts this was, or if it had been further edited I could not tell. However, not one of the actors spoke the English lines in this release. Note that actress Dallah Lavi, not Levi, had billing over Christopher Lee. At the time she had appeared in several films including Richard Brooks' "Lord Jim" starring Peter O'Toole and a remake of Agatha Christies' "Ten Little Indians" starring Hugh O'Brien and Bond girl Shirley Eaton.

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The British edits of "The Whip and the Body" also ran 77 minutes, but was slightly different to the American re-edit. The UK title was "Night of the Phantom".There is a 87 minute release on Blu-Ray of the film with both Italian and English tracks. I can only guess which cut it is, but probably the first editing required by the Italian censors.

9. "La cripta e l'incubo (Crypt of the Vampire)" was released in Italy on May 27, 1964. This was an Italian/Spanish horror film based upon Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla". The picture would not be released in Spain until August 1, 1966. I could not find a release date for the English language dub which went straight to television in the United States, but it was known as either "The Crypt of the Vampire", or "Terror in the Crypt".

Christopher Lee played Count Ludwig Karnstein and actress Adriana Ambesi played not Carmilla Karnstein, but Laura Karnstein. Who may be possessed by her dead ancestor Carmilla.

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Laura Karnstein is having nightmares about the death of members of her family. The murders are actually happening. A doctor is sent for to help her and the nurse starts to believe she is possessed by Carmillla. A young women becomes interested in the deaths at Karnstein Castle. An accident to her carriage forces the young women to stay and she becomes friends with Laura.

That plot sounds very familiar to the novella by Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla", but I could find out little more about the plot.

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For those who want another take on Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 novella "Carmilla". Four years prior to "Crypt of the Vampire" French director Roger Vadim did "Blood and Roses" starring his second wife Annette Stroyberg. You can read about that picture in my blog article at:

http://kinescopedreams.blogspot.com/2016/08/rodger-vadim-three-wives-and-three.html.


10. Later in 1964 Christopher Lee made "ll castello dei morti vivi (Castle of the Living Dead)". Another of his Italian/French horror motion pictures. It was released in Italy on August 5, 1964, I could not locate the dates for either the French, or American releases.

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This is a motion picture rarely seen, but available on DVD, that is more notable for a scene that isn't in it and who played three roles rather then the story.

The plot has a circus troop visiting the castle of Count Drago (Christopher Lee ) and becoming his experiments. The title is misleading as usually "The Living Dead" refers to vampires, but in this case Count Drago has developed a serum which keeps people alive, but frozen in time for all eternity.

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In only his ninth appearance between television and feature films is actor Donald Sutherland. In this picture he plays three roles: "Sgt Paul", "The Witch" and "The Old Man".

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Biographer Tim Lucas in his book "Mario Bava: All the Colors of Dark" claimed that Bava shot a sequence for the picture involving a sailing ship. There is no such scene and nobody connected with the motion picture ever saw Mario Bava on the set. Lucas replied that perhaps either the scene was edited out, or the picture needs to be shown in its proper aspect ratio for the sailing ship to be viewed.

The screenplay is credited to American Warren Kiefer who also directed. Others give this credit to Italian Lorenzo Sabatini and not Kiefer. Actually they are one and the same person. Sabatini aka: Kiefer moved from the United States to Italy and become involved with the film industry there.


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11. Returning to West Germany and co-starring with American actor Lex Barker. Christopher Lee starred in "Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism)" based upon American author Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum", It was released in West German on October 5, 1967.

This movie is mentioned in my Edgar Allan Poe article I wrote for my blog. The link was previously given to my readers.

This movie has several interesting titles including "The Snake Pit and the Pendulum", "Castle of the Walking Dead" and The Vampire and Blood of Virgins".  In the United States the film was known as "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism", "Blood Demon" and "Torture Chamber". What is interesting is that it was reissued in the United States as "Blood of the Virgins" which caused confusion with an Argentine motion picture of the same name, from the same year containing nudity.



While I'm mentioning titles for this picture. There is no "Doctor", or "Dr. Sadism" in this picture. The name is only in the original West German title and it's English language translation. I've spoken of how Christopher Lee's voice is dubbed in most of the movies in this article when the film was re-recorded into English. In the case of American actor Lex Barker he said his lines in English and they were dubbed into German by Horst Naumann. In short the reverse of Lee.


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The basic plot has Karin Dor as Baroness Lilian von Brabant who was invited to the castle of Count Regula, Christopher Lee, to receive her inheritance. She takes her maid and is accompanied by her solicitor Roger Mont Elise played by Lex Barker. Barker's character has another motive in going to the castle. He hopes this will lead to who he really is.

When they arrive there is no Count Regula, but his green blooded, yes green, servant Anatol. Anatol is going to bring the Count back to life. Once accomplished the viewer discovers that Roger Mont Elise's ancestor was the judge who condemned the Count to death. The Regula needed the blood from 13 maidens to give him eternal life. He had the blood of only 12 when he was killed. The Baroness is to be number 13.

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Count Regula places the Baroness in the snake pit of the alternate title and Mont Elise in the chamber with the Pendulum of the Edgar Allan Poe story. He escapes, rescues the Baroness and uses her jeweled crucifix to destroy Regula.

12. The final Foreign language film Sir Christopher Lee appeared in that I am discussing is actually very traditional compared to the other eleven. It was made in Spain as a co-production of that country and of course Italy and West Germany.

Released first in West Germany on April 3, 1970, Spain on November 16, 1970, Italy September 10, 1973. The picture was directed by Jesse Franco and Christopher Lee returned to his Hammer Horror origins as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" in "El Conde Dracula (Count Dracula)" in Spain, "ll conte Dracula (Count Dracula)" in Italy and in West Germany "Nachts wenn Dracula erwacht (At Night When Dracula Awakes)". In the UK the picture was known as "Bram Stoker's Dracula".




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Looking at the Spanish poster above Christopher Lee appears as an old grey haired Count Dracula. Augusto Finocchi's screenplay, which was reworked by several others, was the first one to present the vampire as Bram Stoker wrote. He starts out old and as he feeds upon blood we see Lee grow younger and stronger+.

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Besides Christopher Lee the cast included Czech born actor Herbert Lom, Hammer Films "Phantom of the Opera" and Captain Nemo in Ray Harryhausen's "The Mysterious Island", as Professor Van Helsing.

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German actor Klaus Kinski, Sergio Leon's "For A Few Dollars More" and Werner Herzog's 1979 "Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu:The Phantom of the Night" aka: "Nosferatu the Vampyre"), as Renfield.

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The rest of the International cast is very good, but the problem with the picture is three fold. Although there is a great soliloquy for Lee in Bram Stoker's own words. Where Count Dracula describes his family history to Jonathan Harker. It is this attempt to be truly faithful to the original novel that becomes a problem. The movie becomes very slow in sections.

The second problem is the setting. Barcelona was used for London and Barcelona's architecture looks Spanish and not British. Although there is a great castle for the Count in the picture. The third problem relates to the costumes. Mina Murray played by Maria Roham, and Lucy Westenra played by Soledad Miranda, are dressed in Spanish period clothing rather than British. So the viewer familiar with Bram Stoker's novel is often taken back by the overall look of the movie.

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Jesse Franco's film is a throw back, which I like, to the old Universal Studio's pictures. In fact there is a scene with a bat, obviously on a cord, that seems right out of the 1931 Spanish language version of "Dracula" starring Carlos Villarias. Which was directed by George Melford and shot at night on the same sets Todd Browning used during the day with Bela Lugosi.

Franco's basic story has Jonathan Harker, Fred Williams actually Friedrich Wilhelm Locherer, arriving at Dracula's castle. We have that soliloquy by Christopher Lee and Harker meeting Dracula's brides and the Count eventually drinking Jonathan's blood.

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Dracula leaves for London and the weakened Harker jumps out of a window into a river below. When he regains his senses Jonathan is now under the care of Dr. Seward, Paul Mueller, in his clinic outside of London. Here is a change in the original story. The clinic is run by Dr. Seward, but owned by Dr. Van Helsing. Initially no one believes Jonathan Harker's story about Count Dracula and the castle, but Mina has arrived and is caring for him. Van Helsing notices two puncture marks on Harker's neck and becomes concerned. At the clinic is Renfield who at times seems perfecting sane, but at others wants small lives to eat, He also becomes violently ill when Dracula is near and his attacks will be used against the vampire.  

While Jonathan is recovering Mina's best friend Lucy becomes strangely ill and now has the same two puncture marks Harker had on his neck. What no one knows is Dracula has purchased an abandoned Abby next to the clinic and is feeding on Lucy.

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A blood transfusion is performed using blood from Lucy's finance Quincy Morris played by American actor Jack Taylor. Taylor had been living in Spain and working in motion pictures there.

Jonathan is feeling better and is taken to London by Mina. There he thinks he sees a very young looking Count Dracula. Before the four men, Harker, Steward, Morris and Van Helsing can act. Lucy dies. Van Helsing tells the others that he believes Lucy has become one of the undead. Lucy leaves her coffin and goes out at night looking for small children.

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Van Helsing and Quincy Morris wait for daylight and enter Lucy's tomb. There they drive a stake in her heart and cut off her head.

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Dracula in revenge wants to turn Mina into one of his brides. Van Helsing suddenly has a stroke and is confined in a wheel chair. Dracula appears to taunt him. Van Helsing uses a cross to drive Dracula away. Harker, Steward and Morris track the vampire to the Abby, but with the help of some Gypsy servants Dracula has left with Mina for Transylvania.

Quincy and Jonathan follow Dracula and are able to get ahead of him. They surprise the Gypsy servants and in daylight set fire to Dracula's coffin and the vampire is destroyed.


This article is dedicated to the late Sir Christopher Lee who provided me with many hours of entertainment. 

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