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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

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs.