THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)
U.S. release title: Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride
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Christopher Lee appeared in one last film in the Hammer Films Dracula series, though, he would play the role one last time in the French film Dracula père et fils in 1976. Sadly, it is the weakest of the films, ending the series on a very mundane note. This film does have sentimental importance to me, as I saw it on a double bill with Amicus’ Vault Of Horror at the Showboat Cinema in Edgewater, N.J. when it was finally released in the U.S. in 1978 as Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride. It is nostalgically the only Hammer Dracula I saw in a theater and my recent revisit gravely disappointed me compared to how I remembered it.
Alan Gibson returned to direct as did Don Houghton return to write and despite only being their second Dracula film, the gas has already run out. They give the story more of a James Bond twist with Dracula disguising himself as a reclusive, millionaire CEO who is plotting a hideous revenge on all mankind using a combination of Satanic ritual and biological warfare…what? Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and granddaughter Jessica (now Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley) return to thwart The Count and save the world from a hideous fate, along with Dracula A.D. 1972‘s Inspector Murray (Michael Coles). Unknown to Van Helsing, though, Dracula still has a jones for his granddaughter. Yup, that’s it.
The script is obviously very weak, turning the fierce Count into a sub-par James Bond villain complete with evil plot to destroy the world, hidden lair and having him gleefully pontificate his plan to Van Helsing, who, obviously, serves in the James Bond role. He even spares Van Helsing’s life so he can watch the plan unfold, which is, of course, his undoing. The thought that Dracula would create a plague to wipe out his food source is ludicrous and Van Helsing’s pondering that it may be a final revenge/act of suicide is not an acceptable explanation. It’s silly. Dracula has had too many opportunities to stay dead, if he wanted to. Despite Dracula A.D. 1972 being somewhat fun and energetic, Gibson directs with a leaden hand here and the action is quite routine and ho-hum despite the filmmakers saying “PG be damned” and loading up on the blood, gore and nudity. The FX are so-so and even the selection of Hammer hotties is not up to par with the last few flicks, despite that the James Bond-ish angle would require a bevy of beauties to really take it the whole nine yards. The cinematography by Brian Probyn is unremarkable and has a TV movie look and John Cacavas delivers a forgettable score. The effort here is as dead as it’s vampires and one wonders why they bothered at all, as no one seemed to really want to do this. No suspense, no atmosphere, and despite healthy servings of gore and nudity, nothing memorable about the action. Even Dracula and Van Helsing’s final confrontation is half-hearted and unimaginative. It has a very ‘let’s get this over with’ feeling to it.
This is not only the first film with a weak cast, but the first film where Lee really appears to be tired of all this. He isn’t bad and has some fearsome moments, but compared to the rest of the films, he really seems to be just going through the paces. Another testament of his talent that even so, he is still effective. Cushing is the only one to seem to really be giving his all as Van Helsing, but that is why he is the legend he is and he didn’t have to go through this for the last seven years like Lee. Lumley is given little to do and doesn’t have the spunky sex-appeal of Stephanie Beacham’s Jessica from the previous installment. Dracula’s minions and vampire girls are all generic and unremarkable and Coles plays Murray as woodenly as he did last time.
Overall, this is a really weak effort and one wonders if it was just one last cash grab to milk a little more out of the series. It has an odd James Bond style plot…which is ironic, as Lee would become a true James Bond villain the following year in The Man With The Golden Gun and upstage Roger Moore…and yet none of that series’ buoyancy. There is plenty of nudity and gore, but used unimaginatively, the exploitation elements aren’t effective. It’s the first time the impeccable Lee seemed uncomfortable in the role and like he didn’t want to be there…which he didn’t. It’s an unfortunately, sad farewell to a classic series that maintained a certain quality almost to the end.
2 and 1/2 fangs and it only gets that for sentimental reasons.
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