The Hammer 'scream queens' who got it in the neck in sleepy Bray

Barbara Ewing and Christopher Lee in the 1968 film Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
Barbara Ewing and Christopher Lee in the 1968 film Dracula Has Risen From the Grave Credit: Alamy

As BBC One screens a new adaptation of Dracula, Stephen Griffin talks to some of the actresses who dared cross the path of the Prince of Darkness

三级成人视频Long before Heston Blumenthal put it on the culinary map, the Thameside village of Bray was the unlikely home of British horror, and Black Park, near Slough, was its Transylvania. Here, many a Bri-Nylon-clad actress would get it in the neck from Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula.

For roughly two decades from 1957, Hammer Films were the go-to merchants of menace, making dozens of sumptuous-looking productions that ransacked gothic literature’s (and Universal’s) back catalogue. The likes of Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera and Jekyll & Hyde were tackled, but the studio’s real sure-fire box office cert was always Dracula.

Lee played the Count seven times from 1958 – albeit with increasing reluctance. He quite rightly complained that Hammer didn’t know what to do with his character, simply concocting a story and inserting a hissing, red-eyed Dracula into it.

The films lost their way in the Seventies as Hammer’s output grew camper and sillier – “The Count is back, with an eye for London’s hot pants… and a taste for everything” screamed a poster for Dracula AD 1972 which transported the vampire to swinging London. And in changing times, Hammer found itself accused of sexism.

One of the actresses encouraged to flaunt her flesh was Barbara Ewing. She played Zena in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, made in 1968, and the most lucrative in the series.

“I didn’t take it seriously or realise that it was a cult because it wasn’t part of my culture,” explains the New Zealand-born actress and author. “I have a degree in English but Bram Stoker didn’t come into it.”

三级成人视频Surprisingly, Hammer’s executives were not keen on casting Ewing, but the producer, Aida Young, was determined she was right for the part. As Ewing explains: “Aida taught me how to build a bosom, put a red wig on me, and took photos. The powers that be saw them and immediately said: ‘Yes. We’ve been waiting for someone like this.’ ”

Ewing was one of several “scream queens” hired by Hammer. Others included Joanna Lumley, Stephanie Beacham and, Lee’s personal favourite, Barbara Shelley. Unlike many, Ewing was not happy attending fan convention signings. “I went to a couple but I really didn’t like them. I’ve been asked lots of times but I feel so uncomfortable to keep signing my bosom.”

三级成人视频Another actress from the Hammer stable, Janina Faye, is happy to attend conventions, though her experience was altogether different from Ewing’s. She was cast as 10-year-old Tania in Dracula, the first (and best) of Hammer’s vampire films.

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It was only when the film was shown at the Barbican in the late Nineties that she realised it was a classic. “It was the first time I saw it on the big screen… I was never allowed to see any of the films I made for Hammer.” Indeed, she cannot recall whether she was given the whole script or just her scenes. But she does remember that she understood the film’s supernatural, if not its erotic, content. She says her mother was not concerned about her appearing in a movie one contemporary critic described as “a singularly repulsive piece of nonsense”.

“My mother said, ‘I will explain this to you but you have to realise that this is not reality, you are acting.’ ”

Faye never met Lee on the film. “I don’t know whether that was a conscious decision on the part of the director Terence Fisher to not let me meet him or whether as he wasn’t in my scenes. He was never around. He was very tall and I was very small so maybe I’d have been scared of him.”

Unlike Ewing, Faye made several films for Hammer and cherishes the memory of working at Bray Studios. She welcomes the latest BBC incarnation, observing that the richness of the source material means there’s always room for another version.

“There’s a Dracula for each generation,” she says. “It can always be reinterpreted. You can never say that’s the definitive version. It will never be laid to rest… a bit like the Count himself.”

Dracula begins on BBC One on January 1 at 9pm