TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)

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SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)

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Scars Of Dracula was released a scant six months after Taste The Blood Of Dracula and returns the action to Dracula’s home turf and presents possibly the most vicious incarnation of Lee’s Count under the direction of Roy Ward Baker, who directed quite a few memorable horrors, including the classic Quatermass And The Pit.

The film wastes no time resurrecting Dracula (Christopher Lee) in the very first scene. A vampire bat dribbles blood over his remains from the previous film, which are now laid out in his castle…possibly brought there by the returning Klove (now Patrick Troughton). Dracula too, wastes no time getting down to bloodsucking business and this earns him the wrath of the villagers, who set fire to his castle. Dracula survives and when the villagers return home, find every woman and child left behind in the local church, slaughtered by Dracula’s personal winged air force…a flock of vampire bats. That’ll learn ’em! Soon after, notorious philanderer Paul (Christopher Matthews) makes the mistake of bedding the Burgomaster’s (Bob Todd) daughter, Alice (Delia Lindsay), who denies her part was consensual upon discovery. Paul flees and winds up hiding out in Dracula’s castle, which, if you haven’t guessed, isn’t the best place to hide. After Paul has a dalliance…the boy never learns!… with Dracula’s mistress, Tania (Anouska Hempel)…his attempt at escape finds him trapped in Dracula’s crypt and…well, you can guess what happens next. Suffice to say Paul’s brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) and his beautiful fiancee, Sarah (Jenny Hanley) come searching for him and a showdown in Dracula’s castle is eminent…though when Klove falls for Sarah, Dracula may have an insurrection to deal with, as well as, the vengeful Simon!

Anthony Hinds writes again for new director Baker and the film is effective and fun and really ups the violence quota, which earned this series it’s first R rating in the U.S. It also shows Hinds running out of ideas as there is no explanation as to Klove’s return after being shot, assumedly to death, in Dracula: Price Of Darkness and no explanation to Dracula’s odd resurrection, other than possible loyalty from his winged comrades. It does give Lee a lot to do and gives the usually dignified Dracula a very nasty mean streak. After taking the action abroad in previous films, we are returned to Dracula’s home and that’s where a good portion of the action takes place. It does limit the scope a bit but, gives Dracula a large amount of screen time and who can argue with that? Baker directs with a more moderate pace and with the action restricted to the halls of Castle Dracula, it is on a smaller and less impressive scale. To balance things out, though, Baker does give the film some nice atmosphere, the sets are as vampire chic as always and the new level of violence adds a little shock element to the proceedings. New cinematographer Moray Grant gives the film a bit of a different look but, true to the gothic tone and James Bernard once again scores atmospherically. There is a little humor spliced here and there, too, which is a first in this series but, Baker contrasts it with some of the most violent scenes in a Hammer Dracula flick, up to this time. Film also has some nice charm and the Hammer ladies have their charms as well.

To say Lee is in top form, despite not wanting to play Dracula anymore, is an understatement. His Count is intimidating, downright nasty at times and still has a little sex appeal left for the ladies. It was cool to see Dracula commanding his legion of bats and climbing castle walls straight out of Stoker’s book…elements this series hadn’t tapped into much, previously. The rest of the cast are all solid in their roles including Troughton taking over the part of Klove, Waterman as our valiant hero, with Hanley, Hempel, Lindsay and Wendy Hamilton as beer wench Julie, all filling their parts and corsets quite effectively.

Another fun entry in a series that, up to this point, has kept a standard of quality even with the formula wearing a bit thin by now and it’s star not being completely committed to the role. It’s one of the nastier entries, though, also the first to have some outright humor in the proceedings. Roy Ward Baker does a solid job directing and creates a moody and sometimes very violent horror and gave us one more quality chapter before the series started to really show signs of running out of gas.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)

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TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)

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Dracula returned again, as did Christopher Lee, in his fourth portrayal and while it’s not quite as audacious fun as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, it is still a bit livelier than Dracula: Prince Of Darkness. This chapter opens with an entrepreneur (Roy Kinnear) being thrown from his coach by some ruffians and finding himself witnessing Dracula’s demise from the last installment. Seeing an opportunity, he gathers Dracula artifacts and a generous amount of his powdered blood. The film then introduces us to three older ‘thrill seekers’ Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Secker (John Carson), village aristocrats who secretly delve into questionable activities at a local brothel. These three are finding little thrills to seek, as of late and turn to younger Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), a man known to dabble in the black arts. They buy Dracula’s blood and artifacts for a Satanic black mass Courtley plans to hold in his family’s deconsecrated church…a ceremony that involves the drinking of The Count’s blood to ensure their darkest fantasies come true. The three noblemen have second thoughts during the ceremony and after he alone drinks Dracula’s blood, Courtley is slain by the fearful men. As the three men plan alibi’s for their crime, the body of Courtley transforms into Dracula (Christopher Lee) himself . The Count considers the murdered Courtley a servant and thus plans his vengeance on the unsuspecting men…and their innocent offspring.

The film is once again written by Anthony Hinds but, now finds Peter Sasdy in the director’s chair. Sasdy doesn’t quite have Freddie Francis’ flair for the bloody dramatic, pacing, or visual eye, but, he takes the somewhat ludicrous story seriously and still has some fun with it. The film has some actual nudity in it, during the brothel sequence and there is the usual blood spattering. While the three noblemen start out as the main characters, the film switches focus to their adult children once Dracula rises, about halfway through, and begins to stalk them. There is an interesting plot point of Dracula taking a woman, Hargood’s pretty daughter Alice (Linda Hayden), as his servant, to do his bidding and transforming Paxton’s daughter Lucy (Isla Blair) into a vampire. This leaves Paul Paxton (Anthony Corlan), Alice’s boyfriend and Lucy’s brother, to enter the story as our valiant hero and take on the Prince Of Darkness. This also gives us a fun and fairly action-packed last act, after a more moderate beginning and middle, which helps overcome the long wait for Dracula to appear. Bernard once again gives us a fitting score and Arthur Grant returns as cinematographer and gives us the vibrant colors he did in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. While an entertaining entry, the story does show the idea well is starting to drain a bit in coming up with ways/reasons for Dracula to resurrect.

If these film are consistent about one thing it’s assembling a good cast. Lee is solid, as always, even though it was said, at this point, he was getting tired of the role. Keen, Sallis, and Secker are all good as the village aristocracy who secretly seek the darker pleasures and pay for it dearly. Ralph Bates is over-the-top fun as the disinherited Lord Courtley and it’s actually a shame he didn’t stick around longer. Obviously, they needed the job of Dracula’s servant open for Alice, which as a female familiar was a refreshing twist. The young cast, Hayden, Blair, Corlan and Martin Jarvis as Lucy’s boyfriend Jeremy Secker, all do a perfectly fine job with Hayden making both a pretty heroine and sinister servant and Anthony Corlan a dashing hero. Good casts go a long way in making things work, even if there are creative flaws and this series knows it.

I liked this one, though not as much as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. It’s not quite as fun but, it still has some blood running in it’s veins and while the story is a bit loopy, there are some nice set pieces…especially the church-set climax…and the film still succeeds in presenting the gothic atmosphere that is a series staple. Sasdy’s direction has a bit more restraint than Freddie Francis but, still far less formal than that of Terrance Fisher. Lee is great and despite a reluctance at this point, would play Dracula for Hammer three more times and would soon reunite with his arch nemesis, Cushing’s Van Helsing.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

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DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

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Hammer Studios brought ‘new blood’ to their Dracula series with a new director, Hammer and Amicus regular Freddie Francis, armed with a script by Anthony Hinds. The result is one of the best of the sequels and a film where Lee was really given the opportunity to own the character of Dracula.

Story takes place a year after Dracula’s defeat and destruction and the villagers are still fearful of the evil they say remains lurking in his castle. Monsignor Mueller (Rupert Davies) arrives to find a distressing malaise that even keeps people from the church that lies in the castle’s shadow. He commands the local alcoholic priest (Ewan Hooper) to follow him to the castle itself to perform an exorcism. The ritual is successful but, an accident releases Dracula (Christopher Lee) from his icy tomb and now locked out of his house, plans to avenge himself on Mueller…and his beautiful niece, Maria (Hammer hottie Veronica Carlson). With the troubled priest in his thrall, can Dracula and his diabolical plans be stopped?

Former cinematographer Francis brings not only a new vibrant look and sumptuous visuals to the Dracula series but, ups the ante in the sex and blood department. Hinds’ script also gives Lee plenty of time onscreen and plenty of dialogue for the actor to bite into. We get a busty/lusty serving girl (Barabara Ewing) who is quite happy to let Dracula take a nip and is even jealous when he wants to dip his fangs elsewhere. Lee’s Dracula takes his female meals with far more sexual relish than in the previous two flicks and his Count is far more vicious when provoked…which is often. We also have a lively hero in Maria’s boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) and there is a lot more action than the moderately paced predecessors. While I would never characterize the last two films as ‘stuffy’ there was a moderation to things that Freddie Francis casts off for a more audacious entry that spatters blood often and gives Lee a chance to really strut his cape. Francis and cinematographer Arthur Grant use a very effective crimson iris filter whenever Lee is onscreen, that really accents that he is bathed in evil and overall, creates a palate of vivid colors that contrast the look of Fisher’s more subtle colored Dracula films. James Bernard returns again to score and it all combines for the bloodiest and sexiest entry in the series so far, cutting loose a bit, yet, without ever straying into camp.

Christopher Lee really locks in the role here, especially since he is given a lot to say and do. He masterfully creates a vicious monster who is equal parts diabolical and sexy and his scenes with his beautiful leading ladies are both eerie and enticing. This may be one of his best performances as the legendary vampire. Davies makes a good foe as Mueller, though his arrogance as a man of the cloth leaves him vulnerable. Ewan Hooper is actually sympathetic as a priest whose has lost his faith and now is the servant of the very evil he once vowed to oppose. Hooper plays the constant inner conflict very well. Andrews makes an interesting hero as the rambunctious student and atheist Paul. He is more impulsive and yet, noble and brave when Maria’ life is threatened and the film doesn’t ignore his having to face an evil he thought didn’t exist. A character that is in contrast to the prim, proper and religious characters of Fisher’s entries. Barbara Ewing is simply hot as serving girl/beer wench Zena and she is a lively and sexy woman, also in contrast to the chaste ladies that served as our female characters in the first two films. Even Carlson’s Maria is adorned with a playful sexiness that the female heroines of the series lacked so far. Still a damsel but, one not afraid to sneak out across the rooftops to visit her boyfriend.

I really enjoyed this sequel. It may be my favorite after the classic Horror Of Dracula, and certainly one of the most fun of the series. The film casts off the more restrained atmosphere of the Terrance Fisher films and gives us some blood and boobs (though still covered somewhat) and lets Lee really cut loose and revel in his Dracula’s bedside manner. The colors are vivid and bright and the characters, lively and more fun. There is plenty of action, bloodshed and best of all, plenty of Dracula! A very entertaining entry and possibly the best of the sequels in this series that maintained a level of quality almost till the final entry.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 fangs.

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