The Satanic Rites of Dracula isn't a favorite among Hammer fans. And I will admit, it's not the best of the series. But it has some solid moments, several well shot action sequences, and the best interaction between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing of any of the Hammer Dracula films. And, now that Warner Bros. has released a Blu-Ray version, it might be time to add it to your collection.
Just so you know, I bought this after listening to Derek M. Koch talk about on his podcast, Monster Kid Radio, back during The Satanic Rites of January themed month. You can find all the January episodes at this link, including when Derek and I talk about The Devil's Rain. Seriously, if you love classic genre films, check out MKR. With his rotating roster of guests, Derek delivers great podcasts every damn week. And if you enjoy what you're listening to, let Derek know you heard about it at The Shadow Over Portland.
Okay, on with the review.
The film opens in an occult ceremony in an English country home, where four prominent men are witnessing a woman fatally stabbed, yet returning to life. Meanwhile, in an upstairs room, a MI6 agent, held captive, escapes and manages to reach his superiors before dying. Upon developing photos taken by their agent, Inspector Murray of Scotland Yard (Michael Coles, playing the character he portrayed in Dracula AD 1972) to minimize any reprisals from the minister seen in the dead agent's photos. Murray suggest contacting occult expert Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, playing the same Van Helsing descendant from AD 1972).
Jane (Valerie Van Ost), a secretary present at the meeting, is kidnapped on her way home and is later bitten by Dracula (Christopher Lee). Murray, Agent Torrence (William Franklyn) and Van Helsing's granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley, replacing Stephanie Beacham from AD 1972) arrive at the house. While Murray and Torrence enter the house to question cult leader Chin Yang (Barbara Yu Ling), Jessica disregards the men's instructions to stay at the car and enters the basement of the house. And while she easily avoids the security measures in place, she finds herself overwhelmed by a room full of female vampires, including Jessica. Upon hearing her screams, Murray and Torrence enter the basement, stake Jane and escape.
I liked you better before you met Dracula,
to tell you the TOOTH.
Yep, that one was bad.
Meanwhile, Van Helsing is visiting his friend Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones), a scientist and one of the four men in the photos taken by the dead agent. Keeley is designing a virulent strain of the bubonic plague, but before Van Helsing can get more details, he is shot in the head by an intruder.
And you know no screenwriter would ever kill Peter Cushing this early in a Dracula film. Awaking from the grazing shot, Van Helsing finds Keeley hung as if he'd committed suicide, and the plague samples missing. Searching the scientist's notes, Van Helsing heads to the office of reclusive property developer D. D. Denham, who funded Keeley's work.
I'll give you one guess as to the real identity of D. D. Denham. As for his plans, well, you just have to watch the movie.
What, my clever light placement and American accent isn't
enough to hide my identity?
You can find an inferior version of this film in some Mill Creek collections. The film is often given its American title, Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, an edited version release by Dynamite Entertainment in 1979. The film was green lit before AD 1972 was shot, as everyone expected Dracula's first excursion into the modern age to more successful than the box office results show. So it took over four years, and an independent distributor, to bring the film to the US, resulting in the film's public domain status. But I suggest you spring for the Warner Bros. Archive Collection Blu-Ray version released in late 2018. While it lacks any extras, other than a trailer, it's a beautiful transfer and the best version of the film available.
So you might be wondering why you purchase a copy of a film that Lee, in his autobiography Christopher Lee: Tall, Dark and Gruesome, considers the moment he decided to never revisit the character unless the script was more inline with Stoker's novel. Well, as I said, the transfer is terrific, presenting some terrific stunts in all their glory. Also, the mix of police procedural, sci fi and horror is a lot of fun if you're willing to accept the classic Gothic films earlier in the series weren't working and Hammer was trying to forge a new direction for the series.
Director Alan Gibson (AD 1972) does some solid work, while screenwriter Don Houghton (AD 1972) mixes all the elements well. Having Murray return to the series avoids the need to have the often awkward scene where the main characters must convince the authorities that supernatural beings exist in modern times. And the script avoids the major flaw of Dracula AD 1972, which was targeted a younger audience, but had someone's grandfather rush in to save the day. Just not the way to go, even if that grandfather is played by Peter Cushing.
But this man could beat Chuck Norris.
And I mean it.
But the main reason to add this version to your library is to watch Lee and Cushing. The two spend more time on screen time together than in their previous two Dracula films (Dracula/Horror of Dracula and Dracula AD 1972) combined. Okay, I haven't check the timing, but it feels longer and damn it, the two get to verbally spar rather than shout and growl at each other. The scene with Van Helsing questioning Denhem, even though we all know who is really on the other side of the desk, makes me wish someone had written a scene with Dracula posing as a nobleman earlier in the series, while Van Helsing suspects his true identity. As we don't have that, this film will have to do, and it's worth the purchase price for that moment, as well as the moment when Van Helsing foils Dracula's plans and the townhouse is burning to the ground around them.
And, honestly, it was great to hear the three note "Drac-U-La" back in the opening credit score, after being ditched in Dracula AD 1972. Composer John Cacavas merges that element of James Bernard's classic score seamlessly into a more modern opening track, and the results are amazing.
All that said, the final moment is a bit of a letdown. Having Dracula stumble into a Hawthorn tree (which can kill a vampire in Serbian folklore, and is believed to be the source of the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus during his crucifixion, linking it to other religious icons reported to thwart vampires) and be so incapacitated that Van Helsing can easily stake him, is a bit of a let down. I'd rather the film end in the fiery townhouse. But though it doesn't stick the landing, the film is still a lot of fun.
Taken out by a shrubbery.
The Knights Who Say Ni are laughing their asses off.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula can't be compared to Hammer's glorious earlier films, when the studio was breaking new grounds in horror cinema. By the late 60s, the Gothic horror was subverted by more modern tales of terror, and Hammer was struggling to stay relevant. But this film is a decent attempt to bring Dracula into the modern age, and deserves a second look. And if you're like me, you can't get enough of Cushing and Lee onscreen playing a verbal cat-and-mouse game, rather than another staging of a great action moment. Sure, the opening to Dracula AD 1972 is amazing, but it's too cool just watching them verbally spar.
Oh, you know you want to know what Dracula is shouting.
Yes, you do.
I'm serious, pick up the Blu-Ray version. It looks AMAZING, and if you buy it from the link below, you'll send a few cents my way. And I thank you for that.