The first time I saw Scars of Dracula I regarded it as one of Hammer’s lesser films. A second viewing conforms that impression, although it’s not without entertainment value.
Taste the Blood of Dracula in 1970 had tried to take the Hammer Dracula cycle in a slightly different direction. Scars of Dracula, which followed later the same year, is by comparison a bit of a step backwards. Plotwise it’s a straightforward by-the-numbers Hammer gothic movie.
Paul Carlson is turned away from the local inn and decides to try his luck at the nearby castle. He finds a bed for the night there but since this is Castle Dracula its not altogether surprising that the young man is not heard from again. His brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) sets off to find him. There’s really not much more to the plot than that.
While the plot is less than inspired there are a few elements that do mark a slight departure from earlier Hammer movies, most notably the gore factor. This was Hammer’s goriest movie to date, and it’s also in general the most brutal of their vampire flicks. Dracula really is a nasty piece of work in this movie with a decided penchant for sadistic violence. One of his chief victims is his loyal servant Klove (Patrick Troughton). As Christopher Lee quite correctly remarks in the accompanying commentary track, Klove’s willing complicity in this treatment makes this the most explicitly sado-masochistic of Hammer’s movies. It also makes Klove one of the more interesting of the various underlings who have served the Count in the course of Hammer’s Dracula series.
There’s also a rather shocking post-massacre scene, once again emphasising the extreme evil of Dracula.
The character of Dracula is much more centre stage than in most of the Hammer Dracula films. There’s even a scene of the Count climbing the walls of the castle, just as in Stoker’s novel.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag. Dennis Waterman is terrible, Jenny Hanley is dull, Anouska Hempel as Dracula’s vampire bride looks exotic enough while Patrick Troughton goes close to stealing the movie. Michael Ripper is as reliable as always, playing yet another innkeeper.
The special effects are reasonable, apart from the bats. They’re among the most embarrassingly bad movie bats you’ll ever see.
More interesting than the movie itself is the commentary track, featuring both director Roy Ward Baker and star Christopher Lee. Christopher Lee is in quite a jovial mood and manages to be remarkably positive about both this particular movie and about Hammer in general. His one serious criticism is that Hammer failed to take advantage of the potentialities of the character of Dracula and he is of course absolutely correct on that score. Aside from that he’s chatty and amusing. Both Lee and Baker offer trenchant (and entirely valid) criticisms of the state of modern horror and of the modern British film industry.
Overall Scars of Dracula is not one of Hammer’s better efforts but in its own way it’s reasonably enjoyable.