Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Count Down - Part Ten: Transylvania Jones and the Temple of Doom

The concept of Halloween becoming the ‘Geek Christmas’ was reinforced this year with a very special gift from BBC Radio 4.

Finally returning to this blog has been an interesting experience. Last time I got to revisit, correct and publish something I first posted in 2015, and now I’m returning to a series of posts from the blog’s earliest days, which I had assumed long over.
Count Down was my nine-part look at the Hammer Dracula films, and revisiting them first kindled the spark which led to my upcoming book about that film company (whose release is now postponed until Halloween next year - more on this later)

Given the Count’s unfailing ability to rise from the grave again and again in these films, we shouldn’t have been too surprised when the script for an unmade production was brought to life this Halloween.

The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula has a long and interesting history. Intended as a follow-up to 1970’s Scars of Dracula, it was written by Anthony Hinds to take advantage of frozen assets which Hammer’s then-finance partner and distributor, Warner Bros, had in India at that time.
According to Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, the story was first titled Dracula High Priest of Vampires, before being dropped in favour of Don Houghton’s script Kali Devil Bride of Dracula in 1974, (to co-star Peter Cushing if the poster artwork is to be believed). Hind’s original script was then returned to 1977, shifted to the 1930s and given the name we know it as today.

Apparently it eventually transpired that Warner’s Indian assets were unavailable after all, the story was never filmed,  was and this was all no doubt yet another nail in the Hammer coffin at the close of the 1970s.

Decades passed until the Mayhem Film Festival mounted a full-cast-live reading of Unquenchable in Nottingham in 2015. Complete with a live sitar player, it was widely praised and lead to the Festival giving another unfilled Hammer script the same treatment this year: Zeppelin v. Pterodactyls. (Presumably without a sitar this time)

And then a few months ago it was announced that celebrity Hammer fan Mark Gatiss was going to adapt it as a radio production. Directed by Gatiss from Hind’s original screenplay, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula debuted on BBC Radio 4 at Halloween. Fortunately for those of us in other parts of the world the BBC iplayer did allow us access, and thank goodness, because this is an absolutely brilliant production.


Set in Northwest India in 1934, the indigenous characters are all authentically cast, including Jekyll’s Meera Syal in two superb roles. Michael Sheen really brings the gravitas and atmosphere with his narration, and Lewis MacLeod, if not actually impersonating Christopher Lee, at least effectively channels his most famous performance, as Dracula.

But the true, unexpected delight is the story. I’ve half-seriously suggested that this is like listening to ‘Hammer meets Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, but this production actually improves on the 1984 Spieberg film in its cultural depiction. Unquenchable may have the requisite light nudity and sadism you’d expect from Hammer, but also none of the racism and sexism that the second Indiana Jones film provided.

We follow a very capable female protagonist, Penny Woods, who drives the action. Although assisted by an Indian father figure and love interest, neither are given time to ‘man-splain’ or patronise as they have their hands full just keeping up with her.
The originality of the setting and story structure achieves what Hammer never really succeeded in doing - injecting new life into their Dracula series. Unquenchable is fresh, exciting and never predictable. I was wrong-footed every time I tried to guess ahead, and that was a treat for someone so steeped in the ways of the house of horror.

However, I can confidently predict that everyone who listens will wish it had been made. More realistically, it’s my wish that Mr Gatiss turns his talents to the many more un-filmed Hammer scripts for Halloweens to come.

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