Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Valerie Gaunt July 9 1932 - Nov. 27 2016


     When Valerie Gaunt made her appearance in Hammer's 1958 DRACULA it made for a startling revelation and in an eye opening way let we the viewers (especially if we were younger) know that we were heading into uncharted waters as far as vampire films were concerned. Unnamed (refereed to as "Vampire Woman" in the closing credits) she presages Christopher Lee's title role entrance in the film and thus became the first vampire to appear in a Hammer movie along with being the recipient of the first staking in blood red color and in addition was the first vampire to be shown with fangs in a major western film.
     Approaching Jonathan Harker with her low cut Grecian white gown and jet black hair she turns instantly from alluring almost coy like flirting innocence into a feral and sexually charged hungry animal. The look in her eyes as she turns toward his throat indelibly stuck in my young mind upon my first viewing and when in the next moment Lee's Dracula makes his unforgettable appearance and throws her violently to the floor where she lays hissing like a cornered snake it all made for one of the true cornerstones of screen horror.
    Valerie laid the groundwork for Hammer's next decade and a half of alluring female vampires but in spite of her abbreviated appearance in DRACULA she exuded a sexual evilness into the role that for me at least was never bested in the ongoing film series (although Barbara Shelley in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS came the closest).
    She also appeared in Hammer's inaugural Gothic horror 1957's CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN where she plays the conniving housekeeper Justine to Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein and who receives a nasty comeuppance. Her back-lit walk down a hallway in a sheer nightie is one of the first instances of the studio's ongoing motif of "Hammer Glamour".
    Born July 9 1932 in Stratford-on-Avon she retired from acting after DRACULA with only two other earlier acting credits for BBC TV on her resume besides CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. She lived quietly raising her family and later in life eschewed the horror film convention circuit leaving her fans with a small but very well remembered film presence that left an indelible impression on many. She passed away on Nov.27th.

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