It’s been a few years since I last saw The Satanic Rites of Dracula. This 1973 production was not quite the last Hammer Dracula movie (he makes an appearance in the excellent Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires) but it was Christopher Lee’s last Hammer vampire film. I’ve grown more and more fond of the 1970s Hammer movies, so I wasn’t surprised to find that I enjoyed The Satanic Rites of Dracula quite a bit more this time around.
This was also Hammer’s second attempt at updating the Dracula series by bringing the Count into the 20th century, after the disastrous Dracula AD 1972. It’s a much more successful effort than that ill-fated but interesting venture.
Pelham House in England is the centre of a mysterious cult that has come to the attention of the British security services. One of their agents managed to penetrate the cult but at the cost of his life. He did manage to smuggle out photos of some very important and powerful people indeed who are heavily involved. He witnessed a strange ritual that culminated in the human sacrifice of a young woman. A Special Branch officer called in to assist suggests that the man they really need to unravel this mystery is a certain Professor van Helsing, whose family have several generations’ worth of experience in such matters. It doesn’t take long for van Helsing to determine the true purpose of the ritual, and to suspect that his family’s old foe is involved. Even more disturbingly, the Count (now a fabulously wealthy businessman) seems to have turned his attention to biological warfare of a modern kind, with scientists under his control developing a new and deadly strain of bubonic plague.
The combination of Count Dracula with high technology and with teams of motorcycle-riding assassins armed with high velocity sniper rifles works better than you might expect. And the blending ancient conspiracies with modern political intrigue is also fairly successful. Hammer didn’t have much to work with in the way of budgets by this time but the movie still looks reasonable, and Alan Gibson does a competent job as director. It’s moderately racy, with some nudity and with a very strong sexual charge to the vampire attacks, especially the first female victim we see bitten by the Count.
Peter Cushing as van Helsing looks old and tired but that doesn’t really hurt his performance. Christopher Lee seem a little bored. As compensation there’s a strong supporting cast, headed by Joanna Lumley as van Helsing’s grand-daughter and assistant. Richard Vernon and Freddie Jones contribute amusingly hammy performances. One thing you have to say for Hammer - they always came up with interesting and original methods of disposing of troublesome vampires, and this film is no exception.
It’s not one of the greats of Hammer horror but it’s all thoroughly enjoyable. It’s not really very frightening and is perhaps best enjoyed as fun campy entertainment. It was released under several alternative titles and some versions were cut, so you need to be careful to get an uncut edition. I liked it.