Early sixties, maybe '61 or '62, on a lazy summer day in Montreal’s East End. The Orleans, a small, neighborhood theatre about 6 blocks from where I lived, ran a horror triple-bill. I remember the posters crowded in the small display window: A cartoon Dracula with phosphorescent eyes and blood dripping from his fangs, a gingerbread man-like Mummy with pursuers shining a flashlight beam through the clean, dinner plate-sized hole in its chest, and a variation of the poster shown here, an intense Dr. Frankenstein and his haphazard-faced Monster with heads together in extreme closeup. Three films, three cool monsters. All starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. All written by Jimmy Sangster, all directed by Terence Fisher. All Hammer Films.
I attended with two friends, first showing, first day, at noon. Partway through that afternoon, shrill music cannonading, the swashbuckling Van Helsing sprang to the window, yanked back the drapes, grabbed two candleholders and made a cross of them, pinning the snarling, spitting Dracula in the acid beams of the sun. As Christopher Lee melted and crumbled into dry oatmeal, my friend Serge suddenly sprang up, leapt over me, and ran up the aisle and out of the theater. I saw him again the next day, but he refused to talk about it.
By late afternoon, after the three films had unspooled, my friend Gilbert got up to leave. I asked him to call my Mom and tell her I’d be late. I had to watch this again. With a bag of chips for dinner, I sat through the triple-bill again.
That evening, as I straggled home, head spun with stylish Gothic horrors, I knew everything had changed. I had gotten a thrilling, dizzying crash course in the recent, still young Hammer Films history, and I had been made into a fan forever. I went back that week and sat through the three films again. For years to come, into adulthood, I never missed a new Hammer film. I’d see them as they came out, usually at the Strand downtown, and I’d catch them again in the neighborhood, when they circled back in French.
I always loved the French titles. They often seemed to be more imaginative than the original ones. They sounded better, more exciting. Nowadays, film titles are usually translated straight up, and sometimes they even keep the English title, though the film itself is dubbed. That unforgettable day when I discovered Hammer films — and just plain fell in love with movie going — the triple-bill titles were (re-translated into English): The Nightmare of Dracula, The Curse of the Pharaohs and, my favorite, Frankenstein Has Escaped!, a screaming headline title fraught with urgent menace. It’s Escaped! It’s Out There Right Now! And it’s FRANKENSTEIN!!! Maybe it’s just me, but I think those three titles have more buzz to them than Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, and The Curse of Frankenstein.
I always had fun comparing alternate or translated titles. Curse of the Werewolf played in French as The Night of the Werewolf, the Loup-Garou staking its claim to his full-moon time. The Reptile was presented more accurately as Reptile Woman. Plague of the Zombies became The Invasion of the Living Dead, setting the table for George Romero, due just two years hence. Hands of the Ripper was called The Daughter of Jack The Ripper. Terror of the Tongs sounded even more pulpish as Mark of the Red Dragon. The Rider Haggard epic, She, was called The Goddess of Fire, and The Vengeance of She became The Goddess of the Sands. Evil of Frankenstein was called The Mark (or The Imprint…) of Frankenstein. The Mummy’s Shroud was energized as In the Claws of the Mummy.
Among non-Hammer films, Scream and Scream Again, a pretty decent horror film title in and of itself, played in French with the in-your-face title, Release the Monsters! And for reasons I simply cannot fathom, Frankenstein 1970 (a Boris Karloff b-movie made in 1958) was translated as… Frankenstein Meets The Invisible Man.
Monster Brides were given more suggestive titles. The classic Universal Bride of Frankenstein was called The Fiancée of Frankenstein in French. Franc Roddam’s The Bride was called La promise, i.e. The Promised One, or The Betrothed. Hammer’s Brides of Dracula became the more alluring Mistresses of Dracula, and the Harry Alan Towers Brides of Fu Manchu went to the limit with The Thirteen Fiancées of Fu Manchu!
As time went on and Hammer took to more complex and original titles, there was a curious reverse action in French translations. Taste the Blood of Dracula, a satisfyingly lurid title became the simpler and barely blasphemous A Mass for Dracula. Even worse, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, a vivid, apocalyptic title promising pulse-pounding action was saddled with the exceedingly pedestrian The Return of Frankenstein.
Foreign or alternative titles are interesting, sometimes amusing, but in the end, we must logically revert to the original title, in whatever language that was. Except for The Curse of Frankenstein. That one, in my heart, will always be… Frankenstein Has Escaped!
Images courtesy of Jean-Claude Michel.