THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973 Britain)

4j9yflMark my words, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” is indeed a very silly film, but vampire movies are silly in the first place so why not go for broke? Hammer Films were at the end of their rope by 1973 and knew it, so they mixed vampire hijinks with spy movie intrigue, then cast Dracula as the megalomaniac villain named D D Denham.

You have to give them points for coming up with a new angle, even if the result doesn’t really resemble anything Hammer did before — even “Dracula A.D. 1972”, which this is something of a direct sequel to. The results are admittedly somewhat difficult to take seriously. What you are confronted with is a bizarre turkey of an urban vampire thriller: motor cars and tube trains, police inspectors and bell-bottomed, trendy young people.

Not to mention secret agent operatives firing silencer-equipped pistols, along with blood sacrifices, vampire ‘babes’ (plain Janes clad in orange robes) chained up in basements. Meanwhile, a nattily dressed property speculator (D D Denham) lurks in the shadows. He wears a black business suit topped off with a cape. He even has his own Yoko Ono look- alike helping to conduct his operations from the wonderfully named Pelham House.

This is a country house situated somewhere within ‘Croxted Heath’, a getaway for kinky politicians and scientists. The mixture of themes is jarring if you are used to the foggy-castle-on-the-hill approach. But one thing is for sure: this is never boring, it moves at a brisk pace, and allows its lead actors some impressive scenes that almost work. Freddy Jones actually steals the show in a far too brief appearance as a biological warfare expert. He is driven mad by his contract work for Dracula’s Spectre–like criminal organization.

Redemptive moments are found in another grand show by Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, whose uncanny ability to look concerned and impart dire urgency on those whom he addresses never wavers for a second. Perhaps this speaks best for the talents of Cushing, who can make even the most ridiculous dialogue sound completely on the level.

SatanicThere are also some interesting touches like the depiction of modern skyscrapers framed as Gothic castles, plus an orchestrated rock music soundtrack that sounds like it may have influenced David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs”. Or rather he ended up with a similar sounding creation at any rate. Now the unforgivable parts: the evil biker guards were skinny, wimpy-looking blokes with white fur-lined jackets, not remotely intimidating. Plus, Van Helsing’s granddaughter is unconvincing as her character meddles in his affairs for no good reason.

“Why sometimes I think she knows more about the occult than I do…she is my left and right hand” says Van Helsing. Yeah…..riiight. Lets just say I am no fan of Joanna Lumley. She comes across as neither intelligent nor “sexy.” The opening sacrifice scene features the most skinny/unattractive female nude in the history of film. I’m surprised the dirty mac brigade (in the back row seats) didn’t walk out, demanding their money back. Hammer used to be a by-word in finding beautiful voluptuous female performers, but here they fell way short.

As for Mr Christopher Lee, in his last stand as Dracula, he is portrayed as Howard Hughes in a cape. He is now afraid of: wooden stakes, running water, garlic, knives, anything hot, daylight, and the Hawthorne tree. He is quite frail! Add to that a new Russian accent that  tries to lecture Van Helsing about ‘decadence,’ and a few elderly male groupies hanging around him. It all adds up to a very bizarre picture. None of this interests Peter Cushing; he just wants to stick it in his old friend one more time. I’d heard property prices in London were high but never knew this was the reason why. Overall, this film is an interesting failure.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review! I agree this film isn’t the best vampire film out there but at least it’s…(everyone say it with me now)…”still better than Twilight” ha ha! 😀

    Like

  2. Thank you! I may be a bit harsh, but I do recommend it as a guilty pleasure. Any films starring Lee and Cushing are always watchable.

    Like

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