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You’re in a foreign land. A land filled with superstition. Ahead is a gloomy Gothic castle shadowed upon a hill top. The sun is setting, the darkness is closing in, the fog is obscuring your view. You approach with hesitation, apprehension. You enter. You’re afraid, but you don’t quite know why.

I’ll tell you why. Because inside this ancient mausoleum dwells a creature, neither man nor beast. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he is both man and beast. The personification of evil. An enigmatic being enshrouded in desire, passion and lust. And danger. And fear. And death.

There he is! At the top of the stairs! Look! You take a step back as he descends the grand staircase, his black cape billowing out behind him. His feet don’t even seem to be touching the steps. He’s gliding down toward you.

He’s a simply magnificent specimen of a … man, or whatever he is. Strong jaw, hair smoothed back, tall and handsome and … captivating. Those eyes. He speaks to you, the words resonating smoothly in the air all around you, deep and clear and … intoxicating.

I am Dracula.”

And just like THAT, you’re under his spell. Before you know it, he’ll be swaddling you in that glorious cape and his razor sharp teeth will be plunged into your neck! There will be blood and carnage, screams and moans, more blood, boobs, crucifixes and garlic galore! (Did I mention more blood?) Because this isn’t your typical visit to Dracula’s castle. Oh, no, my darlings.

Here. Better gear up first. Crucifix, stake, vial of Holy Water, and — *hands you a cell phone* — Van Helsing is on speed dial. Now grab a candelabra and we’ll head down to the vault, into the crypt of the monstrous, bloody beast known as Hammer Films, where we’ll explore the mark they left on the immortal Count Dracula.

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The House of Hammer was filled with ghoulish delights. From the late 1950s till the mid-to-late 70s, the British production company Hammer Films were truly the kings of gory horror.

One of their greatest achievements though, was their take on the undead gent in a cape – Dracula.

Brides of DraculaHammer produced nine Dracula films in total over a 16-year period. Of these nine films, 1960’s “Brides of Dracula” and 1974’s “Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires” are the only Dracula films that did not feature Christopher Lee as the Count. But they did both star Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

As far as I’m concerned, Lee is THE Count Dracula. And no matter how far-gone the scripts written for him became, he still mesmerized audiences and made a legend of Hammer’s Dracula, who was well known as the Count with a penchant for bare, busty babes. Ah, gotta love the British in the 60s. Practically every film made during that time just wasn’t complete without a gore-ific parade of Technicolour tarts.

Of the seven Lee/Dracula films, Peter Cushing’s intrepid Van Helsing was present in only three: “Horror of Dracula” (1958), “Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973)

While some films are definitely better than others, all are worth watching if you’re a fan of Hammer, Dracula, or Lee himself. The one thing that can be said of these b-grade films is that they never failed to entertain. There was just something about them that made it impossible not to watch and enjoy.

Delve into the Darkness of Dracula

Horror of Dracula

1958

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The chill of the tomb won’t leave your blood for hours… after you come face-to-face with DRACULA!

The first film in Hammer’s Dracula canon (and my favourite) is “Horror of Dracula”. Riding high on the success of the previous year’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” (the film credited with resurrecting the horror genre), Hammer set out to reinvent the world’s other most beloved monster. Thanks to the wonderful script writing of Jimmy Sangster and the undeniable chemistry between Cushing and Lee, “Horror of Dracula” would prove to be another hit, even surpassing the box office take of “Curse of Frankenstein”.

Christopher Lee was paid £750 for the role that brought him his name and cemented his face and voice as that of the noble leech of Transylvania, as Lee referred to the character in his autobiography, “Lord of Misrule”.

Christopher Lee 2The plot contains a few elements of Stoker’s original novel. Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) has come to stay at Castle Dracula, but in this version, he’s there with the knowledge of what Dracula is, and he has his orders from Van Helsing: kill the Count.

The characters of Mina (Melissa Stribling) and Lucy (Carol Marsh) are also present in this film, with the lustful Count pursuing (of course!) them both.

1Horror of Dracula6But my favourite moment is watching the daring Van Helsing run the full length of the refectory table, leaping into the air, and ripping down the drapes, exposing Dracula to the sunlight. Interesting to note that it was Peter Cushing’s idea to do this. It was also his idea to use the two crossed candlesticks to form a makeshift crucifix to keep Dracula from escaping. Cushing felt the film needed “some sort of Douglas Fairbanks scene.” And what a scene it turned out to be!

1Horror of Dracula2The highlight of the film, though has got to be the incredible work of special effects man Sydney Pearson and makeup artist Phil Leakey. At the film’s climax, we see Dracula disintegrate right before our eyes. According to Lee, there were many stages to producing this effect. 1Horror of Dracula3“The first thing to go was my foot, and I had to do a Lon Chaney, almost dislocating my foot and tucking it under me. Then a hand, likewise. Then the other coming up over the face, and the face crumbling… Clever fellows! It was almost an honour to be so ably pulverized.”

1Horror of Dracula4Film Bulletin said the film was a “Technicoloured nightmare, directed by Terence Fisher with immense flair for the blood-curdling shot.” But “Horror of Dracula” has become a true cult classic. It’s beloved by fans all around the world and is a must-see at Halloween. I rewatched it just last week. It catapulted Cushing and Lee to near god-like status in the world of horror. Aside from being my favourite Dracula movie, it’s also definitely one of my top five Hammer films. So if you’ve never seen it or it’s been a while, then pop it in tonight, grab some popcorn and your best friend, and enjoy. And definitely watch with the lights off.

Don’t Dare See It … Alone!

Dracula, Prince of Darkness

1966

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DEAD for Ten Years DRACULA, Prince of Darkness, LIVES AGAIN!

Seven years later, Count Dracula again walks among the living. Hammer’s second film opens with a wonderful montage of climactic scenes from “Horror of Dracula”, giving a nice overview of what has already transpired along with a narration to set the stage for the Count’s new reign of terror. The script is once again written by Jimmy Sangster, but under the pen name of John Sansom — his feeble attempt to distance himself from the stereotype of being solely a writer of horror.

2Dracula Prince of Darkness1The basic premise of “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” is very simple: two travelling couples – Alan and Helen (Charles Tingwell and Barbara Shelley) and Charles and Diana (Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer) get lost and wind up spending a night of fright at Dracula’s castle. We see a tiny nod to Stoker’s novel with the introduction of a Renfield-like character, Ludwig (Thorley Walters), but that’s about as far as the original novel’s influence goes.

One of the most memorable scenes comes right at the start: the Count’s resurrection. 2Dracula Prince of Darkness3The Count’s manservant Klove (Philip Latham), lures Alan into the cellar. He stabs him, then hoists his body above a large stone sarcophagus. After sprinkling the Count’s ashes in the box, he slits Alan’s throat. The blood drips into the ashes and in a beautifully crafted sequence of shots, we see Dracula come to life.

2Dracula Prince of Darkness2It was Les Bowie who was responsible for the excellent effects in this second Dracula film. He built the Count’s regeneration literally from the ground up. From ashes, to skeleton, to a yucky, fleshy mass, to finally a very effective shot from outside the coffin of the Count’s bare arm emerging. Unlike most Dracula manifestation scenes of the past, Hammer chose to shake it up by not having Dracula re-manifest wearing his clothing. He lies naked in the sarcophagus, his clothes laid out on the side for him by the ever faithful Klove. It’s good to have a servant who pays attention to the little things like that. Good help is so hard to find these days…

This notoriously graphic scene did hit a bit of a snafu during production. Hammer was by this time well known for their over the top blood, gore and violence. And like all other British production companies, Hammer had to submit the script to the dreaded censors, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Originally, the scene called for a complete decapitation of poor, curious Alan, with Klove tossing his severed head to one side. Not surprisingly, the BBFC said, “no way!” and the scene was changed to the only slightly less graphic throat-slitting we see in the film today.

There’s something unique about this second film, something we don’t see in the other six of the series. Christopher Lee, Dracula himself, has no lines. He speaks not one word of dialogue throughout the entire film. As I explained in a previous blog post, Lee refused to say the dreadful, un-Stoker-inspired, lines written for him, choosing instead to play the role silently. But Lee’s claim has been debated. Scriptwriter Sangster said 2Dracula Prince of Darkness5that he deliberately wrote the script with no lines for the Count, and Howard Maxford’s book, “Hammer, House of Horror”, seems to corroborate this. After Dracula’s glorious grand entrance, Maxford writes,“How could Dracula possibly live up to expectations? He couldn’t now pop into the drawing room and greet his guests in the clipped manner he’d used in the original film – this would surely have provoked laughter. Consequently, it was decided that Dracula would remain mute throughout the film, influencing events by the sheer power of his presence, leaving any verbal instructions he might have to his faithful manservant Klove.”

That’s a nice explanation, but why would Lee lie? What is the truth on this matter? Did Lee refuse to read the lines or were they never written to begin with? Unfortunately we may never know for sure.

2Dracula Prince of Darkness7A new Dracula film meant a new way for the Count to die. And “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” once again went outside the box for Drac’s demise. In this one, Dracula is trapped on his frozen moat. Diana takes a shot at the Count, but misses, cracking the ice by his feet. Father Sandor (Andrew Keir – this film’s Van Helsing stand-in) takes the gun and fires repeatedly at the ice until it breaks and Dracula slides down into his icy grave.

Christopher Lee commented on this unique death and on the near disaster that could have cost a man his life while filming. From “The Lord of Misrule”: “The death prescribed for me in this one was less imaginative than the first but in [any] event it was still a memorable piece of shooting. It was based on the superstition that vampires expire if they try to cross running water. Here my own fated ill luck with water affected the outcome. I had to slide down a piece of wood on a hinge, painted white to look like ice, and disappear through the crack into a watery grave. But there was a malfunction. I got stuck, and my stunt double Eddie Powell was trapped under the ice when the hinge swung back, and nearly drowned.”2Dracula Prince of Darkness4

I still rate this film highly as far as Hammer’s Dracula canon goes. It’s a fairly classic vampire tale with the beginnings of Hammer’s out-of-the-box direction for the Count. And as far as kooky ideas go, they were just getting started.

FIGHT BACK! DEFEND YOURSELF!

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

1968

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Inflamed with his Vampire thirst for blood and evil and beautiful girls.

It appears that the icy darkness was no match for the cunning Count. Two years later he’s once again resurrected in the third instalment of Hammer’s Lee/Dracula film, the aptly named, “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.”

Dracula_Has_Risen_From_The_Grave-42We get a little prequel with this film as well. The scene opens with eager young Johann (Norman Bacon) arriving at the village church. He tidies up a little, but when he pulls on the rope to ring the church bell, it makes no sound. Something drips onto his hand. He looks up to find that blood is dripping down the rope. He cautiously ascends the spiral staircase. The priest (Ewan Hooper) arrives at the church and a series of screams ring out. The priest runs inside just as Johann is running out. In the bell tower, the priest sees that the blood is dripping out of the bell. As he approaches, a woman’s bloody shoe falls out. Startled, the priest bumps the bell, revealing the dead body of a young woman, her neck bruised and bloody, and sporting a couple of bite marks. “Dear God, when shall we be free? When shall we be free of his evil?” The priest murmurs.

Jump ahead one year. We meet the film’s main protagonist, Ernst Mueller (Rupert Davies), Monsignor of the Holy Catholic Church in the province of Keinenberg. A visit to the village which lies beneath the shadow of Castle Dracula reveals that the people are still terrified of the vampire king even though he’s been dead for twelve months. Mueller decides that in order to prove to the villagers that the evil is indeed gone, he must exorcise the castle.

Now, of course the first question we ask is: How is Dracula to be resurrected THIS time? Thanks to a series of rather unfortunate (and fortuitous for the Count!) events.

DHRFTG Monsignor2Tagging along is the now-alcoholic village priest (Ewan Hooper), but he’s too afraid to go all the way up the mountain with the Monsignor, who is toting a giant-size cross strapped to his back. Mueller leaves the priest and continues on to the castle. The exorcism brings on a magnificent show of thunder and lightning, startling the priest. Losing his footing, he tumbles down the mountainside, and lands – you guessed it – next to the frozen river, which conveniently cracks right above the body of the dreaded Dracula. Just as the Monsignor bars the doors of CastlDHRFTG Monsignore Dracula with his cross, the blood of the priest drips through the crack in the ice, right into the Count’s mouth, reviving the undead monster once again.

Back at the village, “His spirit will never leave there to trouble you again,” the Monsignor tells the people. Ugh. Famous last words, pal.

While not a favourite among critics – despite breaking box office records in its first two days in London — I feel this is another strong film by Hammer. The story is sound, there’s a little bit of action, and while maybe not as much as I’d like, there’s a good dose of Lee’s Count. Screenwriter Anthony Hinds (writing under the pseudonym John Elder) was responsible for “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave”. Hinds was the creative head of Hammer, and is credited for putting the production company on the map. He died earlier this month at the age of 91.

3Dracula Has Risen from the Grave - Christopher Lee and Veronica CarlsonThere is of course a girl, Maria (Veronica Carlson), niece of the Monsignor, who is pursued by Dracula, not only because she’s beautiful, but for revenge against the Monsignor for barring the Count from his own castle. Much of the film is dedicated to observing Maria’s personal life, including her relationship with Paul (Barry Andrews), who is charged by the Monsignor on his deathbed to destroy Dracula.

An interesting death for the Count this time, and perhaps my favourite. Dracula takes a bitten and bewitched Maria up to his castle and demands she remove the Monsignor’s cross from the castle doors. “Get that thing out of my sight!” shrieks Dracula as he thrusts her towards the door.3Dracula Has Risen from the Grave4 Maria throws the cross down the mountainside, burning her hands in the process. We see the cross land in an earthy patch, its base sticking in the ground, so that it stands erect. Paul comes to the rescue and wrestles with Dracula, causing them both to tumble down the mountain. Paul’s descent is stopped by a twiggy bush. The Count, however, gets impaled on the Monsignor’s cross.

3Dracula Has Risen from the Grave3As Dracula writhes around with the cross sticking out of his chest, the priest begins reciting a prayer in Latin. As he says, “Amen,” the Count expires, leaving only the bloody cross and his cape behind

On set during the filming of the final scene of “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave”, Hammer Films was awarded The Queen’s Award to Industry. This was the first time the award had ever gone to a film production company. The award was given in recognition of bringing a substantial and consistent amount of export money into Britain over a three year period. I’ve seen conflicting figures for just how much revenue Hammer was earning so I won’t presume to report an exact figure here. Suffice it to say it was a lot. Which just goes to show you that people like what they like, no matter what the snooty critics say.

You just can’t keep a good man down.

Taste the Blood of Dracula

1970

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They taste his blood and the horror begins!

The critics had to wait only two more years before taking aim at the Count’s heart again.

Another script by Anthony Hinds, “Taste the Blood of Dracula” was supposed to co-star Vincent Price as one of three high society gentleman –Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis), Jonathon Secker (John Carson), and William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen) — seeking less than respectable, sordid adventure in Victorian England. Unfortunately, Price was cut from the cast when the already meagre budget took an even bigger hit.

9449-19015One of the best things about these Hammer Dracula films is the way the writers transition from film to film. This one is very clever. Instead of just a flashback recap or wrap-up opening narration, this time we get to see one of the new film’s characters taking part in the last film’s finale. Turns out someone other than the priest, Maria and Paul witnessed the Count’s impalement at the climax of “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave”.

Travelling businessman Weller (Roy Kinnear) witnesses the horrific scene. We watch again as Dracula stumbles around with a cross sticking out of him and take in Weller’s very expressive reactions. Among Dracula’s red ashes, Weller finds the Count’s “Dracula” clasp and his ring.

taste-the-blood-of-dracula-snake-dance-prostitutesAnd so the story begins in the present. While being “entertained” in a secret brothel, Paxton, Secker, and Hargood are introduced to Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), who is said to be possessed by the devil. Their craving for forbidden excitement peeked, the men invite Courtley to supper and he propositions them to take part in a ceremony to sell their souls to the devil. What could be more exciting than that? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe resurrecting the king of all vampires. Some have said that Bates (best known 4TTBOD17for his role in another Hammer film, the following year’s “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde”) wasn’t up to the task of playing Lord Courtley, but I find his performance to be colourful and rather enjoyable to watch. He wears the most delightfully conceited, smug expression throughout.

TTBOD 4The men pay a visit to Weller’s store, where for 1000 guineas, Courtley convinces them to purchase the relics Weller took from Dracula’s grave – his cloak, clasp, signet ring, and a vial of the vampire’s powdered blood. “A concentration of evil, my dear sirs,” Weller tells the men when they enquire about the items.

4TTBOD16With the goods in tow, the men meet the mysterious Lord Courtley at a church in the dead of night. Standing at the black altar, Courtley dons Dracula’s cape and ring and hands each man a goblet. “Hark, ye, O, ye timeless ones,” Courtley prays, “ye elementals of the earth, and of the air, and of fire, and of water. In the most august dread of the supreme Prince of Darkness, and of his archangels and angels of darkness, and his legions, draw near and do my bidding, I command! I command! I command!!” He pours some of the Count’s ashes into a large chalice on the altar, and into each of the goblets the men are holding. Slicing open his hand, he drips a drop of his own blood into each glass, causing the ashes to froth up and the glass fills with a red, bloody liquid.

When the men refuse to ingest the foul cocktail, Courtley himself drinks and collapses, crying out for help. They help him alright. By beating him to death and leaving.4TTBOD15

But the ceremony, aided by Courtley’s death, has successfully resurrected the Count and the remainder of the film is Dracula’s quest to exact revenge. “They have destroyed my servant. They will be destroyed.”

Young love is in the air again, and of course, Paul (Anthony Higgins) and Alice (Linda Hayden) happen to be the children of Paxton and Hargood, making them the perfect pawns in Dracula’s deadly game of vengeance. In fact, all three men’s children are involved, with Paxton’s daughter Lucy (Isla Blair) being engaged to Secker’s son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis).

4TTBOD12The interesting thing about this particular film is that in a rare moral twist, Dracula isn’t such a cut and dry villain. Paxton, Secker and Hargood are not nice men. They put on airs that they’re respectable and moral, but spend their evenings whoring around and trying to4TTBOD11 conjure up the devil. Hargood forbids Alice from being with Paul, whom she loves. And while attempting to whip her for disobeying his order not to attend a party with Paul, he meets his grisly yet somewhat justified end when, under the Count’s spell, she kills him with a shovel.

4Taste the Blood of Dracula2Eventually both Alice and Lucy fall victim to Dracula’s power and under his direction, they stake Paxton, Lucy’s father, in the church where the Count has been staying. Secker is soon to follow when he is killed by son Jeremy, now a vampire as well, thanks to a bite from fiancée Lucy.4TTBOD8

But Secker has left a note for young Paul. “You have the courage to do what has to be done and above all, your love for Alice will act as your strength and your protection. And you must believe me. You must arm yourself with knowledge, Paul. And so you will see that, while there is little hope for your dear sister, Alice may have escaped. Find her, Paul, and find her before nightfall. Only then will you know the truth. We know that she is under his influence, but she may not yet be his sister in blood. Not yet.”

4TTBOD6On his way to the church, Paul finds the body of his dead sister, killed by Dracula the night before. More determined than ever, he enters the church during the light of day and replaces the unholy black altar with white runner, white candles and a cross. When darkness falls, both the Count and Alice emerge. 4TTBOD5Paul keeps Dracula away with the cross, which starts glowing brightly in his hands. “You’re free to choose!” He tells Alice. “You’re not one of them yet!” But Alice wrestles the cross away from Paul and he gets thrown violently aside.

Alice looks desperately to Dracula for approval, but he declares that he has no further use for her. He tries to leave the church, but discovers that Paul has barred the door with a large cross. Alice throws her cross at the panicked Count’s feet, trapping him momentarily between the two crosses. Dracula makes his way up to a balcony and begins hurling debris down at the couple. He climbs higher, to the 4TTBOD3ledge of the main stained glass window where he inadvertently gets too close to the glowing cross depicted there. For relief, the Count breaks the glass and suddenly finds himself overwhelmed with phantom Latin prayers and church music. In a beautifully directed shot, the camera pans around the now divinely lit church, 4TTBOD2seemingly restored to its former Christian glory, filled to the brim with holy objects: a statue of Mary, crosses and icons all around. Completely overwhelmed and disoriented, Dracula falls from the ledge onto the altar below and dies. His body disintegrates into a pile of ash.

Hungarian Peter Sasdy’s directing is brilliant in this film. Visually, “Taste the Blood of Dracula” is a masterpiece. As always, Hammer’s set design is gorgeous, as was “St. Andrew’s Church in Totteridge, London where some of the movie was filmed.

Hammer’s Morals 101: Be cautious when looking for excitement. If you play with hell fire, expect to get burned.

Drink A Pint of Blood a Day

Scars of Dracula

1970

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Hammer’s Masterpiece of the Macabre!

Released just a few months after the previous film, “Scars of Dracula” is once again set at Dracula’s castle. Another script by Anthony Hines/John Elder, the fifth film in the Hammer Dracula canon created a mixed bag of reviews. I for one enjoyed it. It’s one of my favourites of the series. Christopher Lee on the other hand, doesn’t agree.

Scars of Dracula1Scars of Dracula was truly feeble. It was a story with Dracula popped in almost as an afterthought. Even the Hammer make-up for once was tepid. It’s one thing to look like death warmed up, quite another to look unhealthy. I was a pantomime figure. Everything was over the top, especially the giant bat whose electrically motored wings flapped with slow deliberation as if it were doing morning exercises. The idea that Dracula best liked his blood served in a nubile container was gaining ground with the front office and I struggled in vain against the direction that the fangs should be seen to strike home, as against the more decorous (and more chilling) methods of shielding the sight with the Count’s cloak. In the context of many modern extravagances this fussing may seem like the Victorian preference for having table legs covered.”

That’s really harsh. The following sequel deserves some scor5Scars of Dracula Batn alright, but certainly not this one. For example, “Scars of Dracula” boasts my favourite opening of all seven films: the Count’s resurrection. The creepy Dark Shadows-esque music as we zoom in on the Gothic castle only adds to the scene’s ambiance. Inside we find Dracula’s striking red-lined cape and a pile of his ashes. The squeaking giant bat that Lee mentioned in the above quote appears through the window, and in a magnificent close up, blood pours from the bat’s mouth onto the ashes. The thunder rumbles and we watch in suspense as Dracula’s body gradually begins to take shape, from ash, to skeleton, to fully clothed Lee.

While not a whole lot different than any of the preceding films, this is perhaps the bloodiest.

The story begins simply enough. After Dracula’s resurrection, the scene shifts to show a villager carrying the dead body of a young girl into the local tavern. Clearly she is the victim of a vampire attack, sporting two nasty looking bite marks on her neck. Fed up with the bloodsucker, the villagers decide it’s time to fight back. Leaving the women and children in the church, a mob of village men storm the castle and set it ablaze.

Scars of Dracula6Proud of what they have accomplished, they head back to the church to delivery the good news to their loved ones – they’re finally safe. But the villagers return to a gruesome scene. Once the bats have cleared out, the men step inside to find that everyone has been massacred. Blood-streaked walls, mangled, torn up bodies strewn about PDVD_240the room. Dracula’s revenge for the damage done to his castle.

Scars of Dracula4.2The side story is of Sarah (Jenny Hanley), Simon (Dennis Waterman), and his skirt-chasing, womanizer brother Paul (Christopher Matthews). Paul finds himself at Castle Dracula one night and meets Tanya (Anouska Hempel), a servant of Dracula’s. They spend the night in bed together and when Tanya awakes, she tries to bite Paul. Throwing back the bed curtains, the Count viciously stabs Tanya in one of the most 5Scars of Dracula1violent scenes we’ve seen from Hammer so far in the series. Made even more gruesome by Dracula then drinking from the gaping wound, a scene which is unfortunately absent in some showings of the film.

Concerned about his brother’s disappearance, Simon and Sarah set off in search of Paul. Their inquiries lead them to the castle where Dracula is immediately taken with the lovely girl, putting her in a separate bedroom away from Simon. He attempts to bite her, but she’s wearing a cross. Dracula summons his servant Klove (played this time by Patrick Troughton) to Scars of Dracula5remove it, but Klove recognizes Sarah from a miniature photograph he found in Paul’s belongings. In love with her, the servant refuses to help.

When Simon discovers the photo in Klove’s bedroom, Klove confirms that Paul was there but that he escaped, adding that Sarah is in danger as long as she stays at the castle. Simon and Sarah flee and go to the village for help, but the villagers want no part in the rescue mission, save for the priest (Michael Gwynn). Leaving Sarah in the church, the two set out for the castle. Upon Simon’s insistence however, the priest returns to watch over Sarah.

scars-of-dracula-04When Dracula finds out that Klove allowed the couple to escape, the Count punishes him by sticking a sword into the fire and burning the man’s back which bears many scars from previous torture.

Back at the castle, Simon descends into the Count’s crypt and becomes trapped there by Klove. At the same time, one of the deadly bats pays a visit to the church. Sarah escapes, running to castle, but 5Scars of Dracula4the bat attacks and kills the priest in a very graphic, bloody scene. I don’t care what anyone says, I think the prop bat and special effects throughout this entire film were excellent.

Simon discovers Paul’s body impaled on a meat hook in Dracula’s lair before coming face to face with the Count, and watches as Dracula crawls up the walls of the castle (a nice nod to Stoker’s novel).5Scars of Dracula3

The climax of the film, and yes, yet another imaginative death for Dracula, takes place on the castle rampart. In another reasonably well shot scene, a bat rips Sarah’s cross from her neck, leaving her convincingly scratched and bloodied as Dracula closes in. Simon, managing to escape the crypt, impales the Count with a metal rod, but he removes it easily. In a nice twist though,the Count holds up the rod to throw it at Scars of Dracula3Simon, and a bolt of lightning strikes it, electrocuting him. Dracula bursts into flames and burns up before our very eyes, tumbling over the castle wall to his death.

Despite what the critics and Lee say, I would place “Scars of Dracula” as my number 2 Hammer Dracula film, trailing “Horror of Dracula” at number one. It’s a little meaner and more graphic than the others, but Lee has a lot of screen5Scars of Dracula Bat2 time and actual dialogue. The castle set is glorious, with plenty of pops of Hammer Blood Red. Visually stunning, and suitably scary. And typical Hammer, always a lot of fun.

What we shall be facing in a few hours’ time is not a man. He is evil. He is the embodiment of all that is evil. He is the very Devil himself.

Dracula A.D. 1972

1972

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The count is back, with an eye for London’s hot pants … and a taste for everything.

6Dracula AD 19727Hippies, hippies and more hippies. Ugh. Sorry, but I don’t like hippies. Let me state for the record now that “Dracula A.D. 1972” is my least favourite Hammer Dracula film. Taking place, as the film suggests, in modern day 1972, this film is chock full of bad hair, bad clothes, borderline bad music (okay, maybe I fancy the music a bit!) and the free-and-loose lifestyle of teenagers who have been smoking WAY too much dope.

6Dracula AD 197210The film’s only real saving grace is the return (finally!) of Peter Cushing, who once again plays  Professor Van Helsing. I’m telling you, the man was simply brilliant. Only Cushing could enthrall an audience by simply sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarette, and talking. “There is evil in this world. There’s dark, awful things. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of them, but there are dark corners, horrors almost impossible to imagine even in our worst nightmares. There is a Satan.”

Dracula A.D. 1972 - Count Dracula, Christopher LeeThe best part of the entire movie is the first five minutes. It’s a flashback sequence, but not of scenes from the previous film. The year is 1872, and we see Dracula and Lawrence Van Helsing’s (Peter Cushing) exciting fight to the death atop a runaway stagecoach. It crashes, leaving poor Dracula impaled by one of the smashed wagon wheels.

Dracula A.D. 1972 - Dracula Impaled by a Wagon WheelThe scene is superb. Lee stumbling around with the wheel sticking out of him, still having the will to lunge when he sees that Van Helsing is alive. But Van Helsing manages to knock him to the ground and breaks off one of the wheel spokes, the one stuck in Dracula’s heart. Van Helsing watches the Count’s corpse turn into dust and then collapses and dies himself. But there is also another character in the scene. A man riding on horseback who stops to take in what has happened. He collects Dracula’s ring and a vial of his ashes. We find out later in the film that this was a member of the Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards) family. During Van Helsing’s funeral, he buries Dracula’s ashes just outside the church cemetery and drives the wagon wheel stake into the ground after them.

6Dracula AD 19726“Dracula A.D.”’s plot is similar to that of “Taste the Blood of Dracula”. A group of people (teenagers in this case) looking for excitement, get tangled up in an evil summoning ritual and become victims of Dracula. Dracula’s loyal servant, the theatrical Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), a descendent of the man we saw at the beginning of the film, is charged with bringing to the Count Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beecham), granddaughter of the current Professor Van Helsing, great granddaughter of the Van Helsing that killed him. “I have returned to destroy the house of Van Helsing forever, the old through the young,” Dracula tells Johnny.

The progression of the film was rather slow, despite the incessant quick-paced, upbeat musical score that plays, regardless of scene. There were a few memorable moments though.

6Dracula AD 19729The film’s resurrection scene was rather nice, complete with a smoking, heaving grave. When Johnny removes the wagon wheel stake, Dracula materializes in an impressive cloud of smoke.

And during a confrontation at Johnny’s apartment, Van Helsing cleverly uses a swivelling hand mirror to reflect sunlight from a nearby window at the now-a-vampire Johnny, who maintains his delightfully devilish smile throughout the film.

There is also a small nod to Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula”. At one point, Dracula taunts Van Helsing in the church saying, “You would play your brains against mine, against me who has commanded nations?” This is a nice play on a portion of Dracula’s dialogue from Stoker’s novel: “Whilst they played wits against me, against me who commanded nations, and intrigued for them, and fought for them, hundreds of years before they were born, I was countermining them.” In my post “The Art of Fear“, I quoted Lee: “Occasionally I remarked that Stoker had written some good lines for Dracula, and in subsequent pictures I made a point of borrowing a few from the book to interject when I thought the moment propitious.” Makes me wonder if this line was such an occurrence.

6Dracula AD 19723The film started with a great fight to the death scene and I’m pleased to say that it ended with one too. The Count’s death in “Dracula A.D. 1972” is excellent. Van Helsing and Dracula battle inside the church and out into the courtyard. Again we have the 70’s chase music blaring, but it does add to the overall excitement of what’s happening. Van Helsing6Dracula AD 19722 has planted a stake in the bottom of Dracula’s open grave, and with the help of some burning Holy Water to the face, Dracula falls in and impales himself. To finish the job, Van Helsing uses a shovel to force the Count’s body down further on the stake to kill him, and his body once again disintegrates into a pile of bones and then ashes.

Jessica, now free from Dracula’s spell, is embraced by her grandfather who says, “Requiescat In Pace Ultima”, which I thought was a perfectly lovely way to end the story. 6Dracula AD 19721

Past, present or future, never count out the Count!

The Satanic Rites of Dracula

1973

7The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Evil begets evil on the Sabbath of the Undead!

And here we are. The previous six films have all lead up to this, the final instalment of Hammer’s Lee Dracula films. This one has taken quite a tongue lashing from critics over the years, being dubbed the worst in the Hammer Dracula series.

5861_4c63d7dc7b9aa172dc0007dc_1293125788Once again Hammer has abandoned period settings, bringing Dracula into the modern world as they did in “Dracula A.D. 1972”, but the twist this time is that the Count himself has been modernized. He’s now masquerading as a reclusive businessman — D.D. Denham – who is plotting to do a lot more than bite a few pretty girls. I suspect that Hammer may well have continued indefinitely with the Dracula films after this one (they did make one final Dracula film the following year — “Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires” — with John Forbes-Robertson taking up the role of the Count), but this was the final straw for Lee. “I reached my irrevocable full stop. Thereafter I flung myself out in the snow for the wolves to gorge themselves on, leaving the thing to carry on without me. I declared that I’d never go back on board unless the story faithfully followed the book, or alternatively if the account of Henry Irving and Dracula were set up (which had been considered).”

Once again, I must disagree with both the critics and Lee. I rewatched this film just a few days ago and while it may not be the typical Dracula movie, it is a delightfully clever take on the Dracula story and a very fitting end to Hammer’s Lee/Dracula partnership. No one can tell me that this isn’t a good film. The music, the directing of Alan Gibson, the atmosphere and tone: “The Satanic Rites” has a kind of James Bond feel to it. There are a lot of slow motion shots and a number of chase scenes. It’s all a great deal of fun and well executed.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula 1973 - Peter Cushing as Van HelsingOriginally titled “Dracula is Dead but Alive and Living in London”, this film not only marked the final appearance of Christopher Lee as Dracula for Hammer, it was also the last time we would see Cushing and Lee team up in a film for the British production powerhouse. Cushing reprises his role as Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing, the character he played in “Dracula A.D. 1972” — “The Satanic Rites” picks up where “Dracula A.D.” left off, two years later – and he doesn’t disappoint.

Van Helsing’s granddaughter Jessica returns as well, this time played by the lovely tumblr_lywus4Dy6f1r4bcn2o1_500Joanna Lumley. Stephanie Beacham was to reprise her role, but was unavailable at the time of filming. Which is a true shame. Lumley does a beautiful job, but being a true sequel to the other film, having all recurring actor/characters would have been nice.

While Hammer is well known for its use of gratuitous female nudity (1970’s “The Vampire Lovers” being a prime example), this is the only Lee/Dracula film to show completely bare breasts. I may stand corrected on that, but having just spent the last week rewatching every last one of these seven films, it’s the only instance I recall.

So what is “The Satanic Rites” about? Well, the plot is simple and complicated at the same time. There are four prominent businessmen, each from a different realm of societal importance, taking part in what appears to be a Satanic ritual. A girl is killed but miraculously comes back to life. “Death is no prison for those who have given their souls to the Prince of Darkness,” cult leader, servant of Dracula and vampire herself, Chin Yang, tells the men.

The-satanic-rites-of-Dracula-05The “Baptism of Blood” ceremony was witnessed by an undercover police agent and Van Helsing is brought in to consult on the case. He suspects that this isn’t just a regular Black Mass ritual performed by Satanists, but rather a cult that worships blood. Human blood specifically. A cult of vampirism.

One of the men, Professor Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones), is an acquaintance of Van Helsing’s. Paying him a visit, it is discovered that Keeley has created a new, more virulent strain of the Black Death, aka the Plague, and a means of accelerating it. He explains to a horrified Van Helsing that infected flesh literally rots on the bones. And the contagion spreads by touch. Within seconds it takes over the whole system, and it can live in a saline solution indefinitely.

Van Helsing is shot while confronting Keeley about his involvement with the cult, but the bullet just grazes his forehead. It is then we learn that Dracula is of course the one who commissioned the professor to create the strain. Once Keeley’s work is completed, however, he is promptly eliminated by Dracula’s henchman.

Van Helsing begins to see what Dracula’s end game is. Realizing that if Dracula’s plague spreads it will wipe out all of mankind, Van Helsing speculates that the lord of corruption, master of the undead, Count Dracula, wants to end his existence. That he yearns for final peace. It’s the ultimate revenge – the biblical prophecy of Armaggedon — take the entire universe down with him.

Van Helsing eventually confirms that D.D. Denham is indeed Dracula, and both he and Jessica become prisoners of the Count. “Witness my supreme triumph. Van Helsing, I choose the spawn of your blood to be my Consort.” A highlight of the film is this tense exchange of dialogue between Van Helsing and the egomaniacal vampire. “The instrument of my final conquest” – Dracula pulls out the vial of Plague — “In the days to come, you will pray for death.” “Is this your own death wish?” Van Helsing asks Dracula.

There were to be four carriers to spread the plague among the people. Keeley is dead, 11so Van Helsing is to take his place. The other three businessmen are present in the scene and become enraged when they learn Dracula’s true intentions – both for the plague and for them. The men thought it was to be used just as a deterrent, and having learned the truth, one man – holding the vial – begins to protest. Dracula, using mind control, makes him break the vial, infecting himself as the chime of midnight rings out. Immediately he falls to the ground, writhing in pain, his skin blistering off.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula 1973-2Meanwhile there’s an explosion upstairs, the result of a fight between Inspector Murray and one of the henchmen. The fire spreads and the room downstairs bursts into flames. Murray takes Jessica and escapes, leaving Van Helsing to battle Dracula. The two men fight, with Van Helsing breaking a window and escaping outside, running into the forest. Dracula follows.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula 1973 - Christopher Lee's Count Dracula trapped by a hawthorn bushDracula is lured into a patch of hawthorn bushes which he promptly gets caught in. The thorns catch in his cape, scratching at his face and hands. He struggles and falls free of the bush, but his foot is caught, and Van Helsing swiftly runs him through with a fence post, ending the Count’s reign of terror at last. Dracula’s body begins to smoke, and in a scene reminiscent of the first film, his body disintegrates leaving only a skeleton and then a pile of smouldering ash. Van Helsing pics up Dracula’s ring, and so ends Hammer’s two decade Dracula saga.peter cushing vampire 10

The Masters of Menace Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. They’re dead but they’re alive …

Christopher Lee would don his famous Dracula cape a few more times, but never again for Hammer. It was truly the end of an era. A gloriously gory, mercilessly macabre era, full of bright colours, over the top sets and larger than life characters. These films proved that low-budget doesn’t necessarily mean low-quality. I can appreciate and enjoy watching Bela Lugosi unassumingly slink around in his black and white world, but I’m a Hammer girl at heart. I bleed in Technicolour and Christopher Lee will forever be my Count.

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Slowly you creep down the stone steps, descending into the damp, dark, musty crypt alone. A wooden stake in one hand, clutching a crucifix to your chest with the other. You can feel it, can’t you? In the air, all around? Evil. Pure evil. You’re trembling. Are you afraid? You should be.

As you turn the last corner and step into the candlelit tomb, a chill runs through you, like an electrical current in the air. Look, there, in the corner. A coffin. It’s in there… he’s in there.

Dracula.

That undead menacing fiend. That blood-sucking parasite who for centuries has terrorized the innocent; maiming and killing, preying on those that cannot help themselves. The man who has fuelled a thousand nightmares.

Looking up, you watch through a small window as the last sliver of daylight disappears below the horizon.

It’s time. Time to end his reign of terror once and for all.

You approach the coffin cautiously. His minions won’t be a problem. You took care of them already. Smart. It’s just you and him now. A fight to the death for the salvation of humanity.

Come around the coffin. Come! You don’t want to but you have to! You’re the only one who can end this! Come now! Before he wakes!

The mighty Count lies in silent repose. His face smooth and pale, only his ruby-stained lips betray any signs of… life. He looks so vulnerable and harmless this way, doesn’t he? Don’t be fooled. He is neither.

You must hurry. Any second now it’ll be too late. There, a rock on the ground. Use that. Here… place the stake here, over his heart. Stop trembling and hold it steady. You’ll only get one shot. If you miss, it’s all over.

Holding the stake over his heart, summoning every ounce of courage you possess, you raise the rock above your head. Your heart is pounding, you can feel it in your ears. It’s alright, it’s nearly over, you can do this. You MUST.

Suddenly a gust of cold air rushes the room and the candles flicker out.  All your muscles tense up, your senses on high alert.  And then…..

His eyes snap open! Those cold, dead eyes, boring right through you. You hear your own sharp intake of breath but don’t hesitate! Do it! Do it now! His hands shoot up, you raise the rock, trying to hold the stake in place while he snarls and hisses and spits, and then ……..

. . .

What? Hammer’s Dracula saga may be over, but they don’t call him the immortal Count for nothing.

Until next time. Unpleasant dreams . . .

^..^

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