Countess Dracula by Guy Adams

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Countess Dracula by Guy Adams

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Category: Horror
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: What looks like an adaptation of the old Hammer movie is the novelisation of what might they have created for a sequel or more modern remake. Clever, but things here don't feel fully justified.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Hammer
ISBN: 9780099553861

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1970s Hollywood, and a small group of people on a rough-and-ready coach tour round the stars' homes and scenes of scandal gets diverted to the completely ruined mansion once owned by a true golden couple. Cue a major flashback to the days when cinema idols Frank and Elizabeth were living there, and growing a very singular approach to sex, drugs and each other. Their career – jointly and separately – has been going downhill, hers irreparably as talkies have proven she is not the home-spun American dream, but Hungarian. A freak accident suggests that, like her compatriot and namesake, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the blood of young women will turn back the clock on Elizabeth's years, and make her youthful, the vivacious beauty of old. Cue a descent into the kind of excess that only Hollywood can produce…

Like all good horror stories, this is definitely one that is about something, in this case the rampant hubris involved in the power of looking young, and the falsity of cinema (for a business that should be all about seeing it does seem to drive so many people blind). We generally witness this through the English eyes of Frank, and while he is a been-there-done-that Hollywood star, it is definitely pertinent that he was born English. His collusion in what follows the discovery is the crux of the piece. But this also raises a major point about the book – that this is a book written in the 2010s mimicking the attitude of those in the 1970s to '30s Hollywood.

I could have sworn I'd watched the opening scene way back when ITV's growth into 24-hour coincided with VHS and my teenage years. It's the start of this vividly written novel, and of course only the beginnings of what Hammer never made. The original film is purely a historical effort, and carries none of the self-reflective Hollywood trappings (let's face it, they would never have been able to afford to film abroad much anyway...). If you fall for the trick and assume this is an easily-produced transformation of the screenplay to the page, you will assume Adams has mostly worked on opening things out and making some things – the sexual content, adult language and perhaps some of the blood - certainly more overt.

But he hasn't. He has instead layered this, making it a completely different treatment, with the homage going as far as to renaming his characters slightly. But even the completely new touches - the structuring as film, and the many instances of very modern, very short paragraphs - does not disguise the fact that this is still a bit of a museum piece - a curate's egg, and a curator's one too.

In taking the history out of the novel, we're reminded of the awful wannabe hipness of Dracula AD 1972, and all things that showed how mightily Hammer lost their touch. Alright, this is nowhere near as bad as that film was. But in making something that revels in being a book that could have been a novelisation of a movie, and that could have been written any time in the past forty years, we're neither here nor there. For one, this is nowhere near as horrific as the film would have thought itself, and doesn't stretch terribly far beyond the PG certificate the films now warrant. Adams hasn't produced something exactly wrong, but his time-travelling has kind of left us in limbo.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

More successful for me have been the new brand of original Hammer novels, such as the excellent The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson.

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