Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Case Study No. 1354: Jonathan Harker

HORROR OF DRACULA (Kate Ryan - Desenchantee).
In HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), Jonathan Harker takes employment with Count Dracula, ostensibly to catalog his vast library. In fact, he is on a mission to kill the Count, a vampire. Before he can do so however, the Count gains the upper hand and Harker soon finds himself as one of the walking dead. Dracula has taken an interest in Harker's fiancée, Lucy Holmwood and it is left to Harker's colleague, Dr. Van Helsing to protect her. He has difficulty convincing Lucy's brother, Arthur Holmwood, of the dangers or even the existence of vampires. Soon, however, Arthur's wife Mina is targeted by Count Dracula and he and Van Helsing race to find his lair before she is lost to them forever.

Lee's performance is still startling today. One minute he's a charming aristocrat, the next a wild-eyed animal - swift, strong, and single-mindedly hungry for blood. With no prosthetic make-up, his Dracula is scary because of the blood dripping from his lips, his bloodshot eyes and his demonic performance. When a crucifix comes out, he reacts like a cornered snake, and hisses in disgust. Here is a villain from Hell, clever, dangerous and evil. There's no moral dilemma - Dracula must be destroyed.

Although the film is fifty years old, Christopher Lee is still with us, still acting. While he's found a new fanbase as Saruman in Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku in the Star Wars franchise, he landed both roles because of the lasting impression of his Dracula films.

Lower down the cast, but also still with us is Geoffrey Bayldon. This actor often played far older characters. Here's he's a grey-haired porter, even though he was only 34! You may have seen him as the tour guide in Tales From The Crypt, creepy Max in Asylum and Theo the cloak-seller in The House that Dripped Blood. Like Lee, he's still working! Likewise, the lovely Janina Faye as the little girl being pursued by the undead. Her scene with Van Helsing, as he protects her from the night's chill, is a lovely moment of calm amidst the horror. It's not easy finding talented child actors who act their age. I also enjoyed her roles in two Janette Scott movies The Day of the Triffids and The Beauty Jungle. Christopher Lee starred as Dracula in six more Hammer films. They'd have used him more - but he was substituted by other actors when he put his foot down and avoided Brides of Dracula and The Legend of Seven Golden Vampires.

Horror of Dracula (as it was released in the USA) moved the character of Van Helsing into the spotlight, a character who's as virtuous as Dracula is evil. On the face of it, Van Helsing is an anti-hero, a man who digs up the dead and mutilates them, but played by Peter Cushing, he's not only pure, he's a polite and considerate gentleman as well. You couldn't find a better role model... who stakes vampires. It's a shame that modern audiences only know Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in the first Star Wars, because it was such an atypical role for a versatile and compassionate actor - my very favourite in the horror genre.

If there is one film Hammer Films will be remembered for, this is it. This is the vampire fiim that all others must be compared to; a lean, literate script, great Victorian period detail, beautiful art direction (more amazing, considering the budget), a memorable, pounding musical score and luscious color photography all stand in support of classic performances; Christopher Lee's sexual, dangerous and evil Dracula is matched by Peter Cushing's intense, obsessed and resourceful adversary, Dr. Van Helsing. Cushing's ability to make you believe in the supernatural "undead" is one of the highlights of the film. Terence Fisher's direction should be studied also. In addition to a rousing finale, he made vampirism oddly attractive; even more of a counterpoint to the repressive Victorian society Dracula invades. Michael Gough's Arthur Holmwood only chastely kisses his wife on the forehead. It takes Dracula to simultaneously satisfy and drain the life out of her. The film grows when you realize what wasn't included; an American leading man, a teenage love interest, filler sub-plots, cheesy special effects, a sidekick for comic relief, a cop-out ending, etc. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
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Jonathan Harker
First Appearance: Horror of Dracula
Portrayed by: John Van Eyssen

Jonathan Harker was a scholar and a lifelong friend of Doctor Van Helsing. He was also very close to the Holmwood family and was engaged to marry Lucy Holmwood, sister to his friend Arthur Holmwood. In their studies, Van Helsing and Jonathan discovered the existence of vampires. Moreover, they learned about the most dangerous vampire of all – Count Dracula.

Jonathan took it upon himself to insinuate himself into Dracula's life and destroy the vampire once and for all. In May of 1885, Jonathan Harker traveled to Castle Dracula near the village of Klausenburg under the pretense of being a librarian. He arranged for Dracula to hire him on to stay at the castle and index all of the volumes in the Count's personal library.

On his first evening in the castle, Jonathan met a young woman who claimed to be a slave of the Count. She begged him to set her free, but Jonathan put her off until he could learn more about the Count. Dracula soon introduced himself, but Jonathan made no mention of the strange woman he had encountered. Dracula provided him with a room and gave him a key to the library. He told Harker that he would be away during the day, but would return at night to consult with him.

The following evening, Jonathan had a second encounter with the scared woman trapped in Dracula's castle. Once again, she begged him to set her free. As she held Jonathan close in her arms, she revealed her vampire fangs and tried to bite him. Dracula appeared in the room and didn't bother to disguise the fact that he was a vampire as well. He pushed the woman away and took Jonathan for himself.

Jonathan awoke the following afternoon in his bedroom. He had two puncture wounds on the side of his neck and knew that he was now a victim of Dracula. He recorded his thoughts in his diary, then crept out the bedroom window onto the grounds below. He hid his diary inside a hole in a tree, then returned to Castle Dracula to put an end to Dracula. He had very little time as the sun would be going down soon.

He found the crypt beneath Castle Dracula, which contained the coffins of Dracula and his bride. He took a hammer and stake and executed the vampire woman. As she died, the woman turned into an aged crone. He was too late to take care of Dracula however. The vampire lord rose from his coffin and attacked Jonathan, turning him into a vampire.

Some ten days later, Doctor Van Helsing was traveling through the outlying streets of Klausenburg where he met an innkeeper's hostess. The woman had recovered Jonathan's diary and presented it to Van Helsing. Upon reading it, Van Helsing knew that Jonathan was dead and he went to Castle Dracula. He found no evidence of Dracula himself, but he did discover the coffin where Jonathan slept. He drove a stake into his heart, putting his soul at peace.

NOTES: This version of Jonathan Harker vastly differs from previous interpretations of the character. In the novel, and many of the film adaptations, Jonathan Harker is a London solicitor, not a librarian from Klausenburg.

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