The original Hammer Horror Dracula movie was re-released a couple of weeks back. When the film first opened in Britain at the Gaumont Haymarket on 22 May 1958 it was given an X rating but now almost 50 years later it has been downgraded to a mere 12A - something suitable for children's entertainment.
Dracula may have turned the blood cold in 1959, but these days it provides nothing but an amused smile in our more sophisticated world. And it pales into a very poor comparison in the jaw dropping horror stakes against the likes of SAW 1-4 or Hostel 1-3 and their siblings.
I was prompted to go back and look up those 1958 reviews just to see what people made of Dracula then. The Daily Telegraph was outraged. "The new version outdoes its Bela Lugosi predecessor in bizarre horror... This British film has an "X" certificate. This is too good for it. There should be a new certificate "S" for sadistic or just "D" for disgusting."
Of course one has to ask the question what has changed in those 50 years? Not the film that's for sure. The celluloid bears witness to the fact that every frame is exactly the same as it always was. So what has changed in us, that what we used to consider sickening is now considered children's viewing?
Financiers may worry about monetary inflation in our economy, but nobody worries these days about moral inflation in society. Call me an old cynic, but the currency of horror is no longer worth what it was and we have to buy our thrills at an ever increasing cost. Values become debased and our coinage is become worthless. That may not worry the movie moguls of Hollywood who can always rustle up some new porno-horrific tasty morsel for us to feast our desires on. But what does that say of us and our cravings for the increasingly sadistic? And what does it say of a society that has changed its appetite so dramatically over just a few decades?
Film and the media are often said to do no more than reflect what you already find society. But I hope you've never really fallen for that one. If anything we are the mirrors. We copy by instinct and by nature. It is society that morphs itself into what the media serves up. It's people who reflect what they see on the screen. And it starts with our children.
50 years ago we would have protected kids against what the Daily Telegraph called the sadistic and the disgusting. But now we serve it up without the smallest qualm. And we see nothing wrong because we have shifted en mass. We're no longer sensitive to the things we used to be. And once you have de-sensitized the conscience so it no longer feels anything, you're in danger of committing everything.
Van Helsing, Dracula's nemesis, knew that the best way to dispatch the blood sucking count was with one quick blow of a stout wooden stake through the heart (nearly always off camera). Society has had a similar stake driven through its heart but it didn't feel a thing. You have to be sensitive for that.