Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

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.


venoms5 said...

I enjoyed the film, but I think I prefer Gibson's previous Dracula outing to this one. The story here is an interesting one and Lee doesn't do a whole lot till close to the end. Amazingly, he gets just a tad more dialog than he did in SCARS OF DRACULA, which gave Lee far more to do than any of the other Dracula movies he had done up to that time.

Very good write up, dfordoom. It covers the film nicely.

dfordoom said...

I really need to re-watch Dracula AD1972. I have a feeling I might enjoy it a lot more the second time around. I'm now more sympathetic to what Hammer were trying to do in the early 70s to inject new life into the Dracula series.

venoms5 said...

I think the score for AD 1972 (recently issued on CD) helps that film immensely. Considering it was Hammer's answer to AIP's huge hit with COUNT YORGA, it fails on those levels, but nonetheless, it offers some goofy fun and charm.

I would like to think had these last two Lee Dracula's been better received, the man may have reprised the role in the superior LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (which supposedly wasn't to have been a Dracula film).

dfordoom said...

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was a great movie, but with Lee as Dracula it would have been even better. I love the 1970s Hammer movies - they were trying to come up with interesting new twists on old themes and I think they succeeded pretty well with movies like Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. It's a tragedy that the company was sunk by poor financial decisions even though they were still producing box office hits.

venoms5 said...

SISTER HYDE is an awesome movie, too. I'm not too high on KRONOS, though. I like the concept, but the lousy fights (the end fight is pretty good, but there's no music to heighten the action) ruin it for me.

Only a scant few of their horror movies during the 70's made much money. That's one reason why small indy outfits were releasing their films stateside as that type of film was on its way out. A shame really. Hammer's comedies kept them afloat.

There's some great books out there dfordoom on Hammer. Too many in fact! Two of the best are Wayne Kinsey's HAMMER: THE BRAY YEARS and HAMMER: THE ELSTREE YEARS. Both contain mostly behind the scenes info on the films, what was shorn from the script, what the BBFC demanded be cut or toned down, excised scenes and lots of other information. There's also tons of rare behind the scenes shots.

dfordoom said...

I'll have to look for those books. Thanks for the recommendations.

ClassicJo said...

Loved your review. I love hammer movies and especially ones with lee and cushing in them. I own all the Dracula movies except for Dracula Prince of Darkness which is out of print and I am trying to find but anyway I love your review of the hammer movie. I have seen your other reviews and they are great. love cult movies.

dfordoom said...

I quite enjoyed Dracula Prince of Darkness. It's worth tracking down a copy if you can.