Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scars of Dracula (1970)

Directed by:
Roy Ward Baker

Entry six in Hammer's long-running Dracula series, this follows HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960; which some don't even consider part of the series because of the absence of both the Count and star Christopher Lee), DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969). Time-lapse-revived by a rubber-bat-on-a-string that spits blood onto his ashes, Count Dracula - looking paler and bit more undead than usual - is back in action and immediately gets to work terrorizing a small village. After a young lady turns up dead, a tavern owner (Michael Ripper) organizes a group of men to sneak over to Dracula's castle for revenge. They trick not-too-bright manservant Klove (Patrick Troughton in a crazy wig) into opening the gates, force their way inside and proceed to burn the castle down with torches and powder kegs. But Dracula has a surprise or two in store for them. Not only does he survive the attack, but he's also sent a legion of rabid vampire bats into the village while the men were away to slaughter all of the women in a church.

Not far away in the neighboring village of Kleinenberg, Sarah Framsen (Jenny Hanley) finds herself torn between the Carlson brothers; the older and more mature law student Simon (Dennis Waterman) and the younger heartthrob Paul (Christopher Matthews), who is extremely popular with all the ladies and always seems to be getting himself into trouble. Because Paul is off messing around with the Burgomaster's daughter, he ends up arriving late for Sarah's birthday party, and soon after gets chased away by the Burgomaster's guards. After leaping into a carriage, he's swept off somewhere into the countryside. One thing leads to another and Paul finds himself at the foot of Dracula's castle, where a mysterious, dark-haired woman named Tania (Anouska Hempel) invites him inside to spend the night. Paul obliges, but gets second thoughts once he meets the Count. Unfortunately, he's stuck there. After allowing himself to be seduced by his hostess (who claims she's being held prisoner there), Paul awakens the next day to find Dracula standing at the foot of his bed with a knife. He stabs Tania to death and then promptly disappears. Trying to escape the castle, Paul finds himself locked inside of Dracula's chamber with no way out.

Since Paul hasn't returned to Kleinenberg, Simon and Sarah show up in the village looking for him. Getting little help from the locals, aside from talkative young barmaid Julie (Wendy Hamilton), who's new in the area and refuses to get swept up in local superstitions, means they're both off to Castle Dracula for a terror-filled night. After they're saved by her cross necklace and a little help from Klove (who's fallen for Sarah), the two manage to escape, head back to the tavern, get booted out again and again find themselves back at the castle for the big finale, getting a little help from a reluctant local priest (Michael Gwynn) in the process. Said finale involves a huge, coincidental stroke of luck to take out the red-eyed vampire count. But never fear, he'll be back again in DRACULA AD 1972.

Undemanding and entertaining, the whole film looks fantastic just like most of Hammer's other films. As a matter of fact, this is perhaps the most visually stylish of all the series, particularly when it comes to lighting. The art direction and cinematography are both top notch and good use is made of matte paintings and models to give the castle a grand scale. Most of the performances are quite good as well, with special mention going out to Troughton, Waterman and Hamilton. Unfortunately, none of that means we haven't already seen this same story numerous times before.

This entry is very much a segue into more 'adult' horror for Hammer. It has more violence than their previous vampire films and even shows a female ass (cheers, Delia Lindsay). Of course, it's downright chaste compared to other vampire films from other countries made around 1970, but it still shows signs of the studio at least trying to keep up with the times. There's a surprising amount of blood in this one, too, which is a welcome addition to their tried-and-true formula. There are impalements, stabbings, some gory vampire bat attacks and a sequence where Klove dismembers a corpse with a cleaver and dissolves the body parts in acid. Moments like these keep the series humming along.

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