TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

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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 energeticGibson 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.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 fangs and it only gets that for sentimental reasons.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

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DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Hammer Films tried to freshen up the Dracula series and did so by bringing The Count (Christopher Lee) to modern day London and brought back Peter Cushing as Van Helsing! They also brought in a new writer and director and the film appears to have no continuity with the other previous films in the series.

The story opens in 1872 with a stage coach hurtling through the forest with Dracula and Van Helsing battling on and about it. The coach crashes and both the good doctor and the fiendish vampire die in one final battle. A disciple (Christopher Neame) of Dracula’s takes his remains and buries them outside the cemetery that now holds the body of Van Helsing. We cut to 1972 London were a group of thrill seeking, young hipsters, including Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), are planning a dark ritual at a de-sanctified, abandoned church. Their leader Johnny (also Christopher Neame) is actually a decedent of that Dracula disciple from the prologue and the black mass he holds, raises Count Dracula from his grave to start feeding on the members of the group. Now it’s up to Jessica’s grandfather, Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), to take up his ancestor’s cause and send Dracula back to Hell where he belongs!

I understand why purists of the series might consider this one a low point for bringing Dracula to the 70s and surrounding him with swinging hipsters and funky music, but I think it’s good fun. Don Houghton wrote the script and while it may not be the strongest of stories, it is refreshing to have a different setting and Cushing back as Dracula’s arch-rival. It also gives a fairly good reason for Dracula’s return as Johnny resurrects him to gain immortality. Alan Gibson directs fairly by-the-numbers, but imbues the film with so much of the 70s youth culture of the time with it’s music and fashions that, if nothing else, it gives the film a heavy 70s nostalgia to make it a treat. Sadly, the film also gives Dracula limited screen time focusing on Van Helsing, but as Cushing has been away from the series since 1960’s Lee-less Brides Of Dracula, we’ll allow it. There is some blood spattered, but after Scars Of Dracula’s R rating caused distribution problems, they went back to PG and it is limited and there is no nudity. The film has a fairly moderate pace, but there is a lot of action and there is some nice cinematography from Dick Bush and a jazzy 70s score by Mike Vickers, who replaced series regular James Bernard. A fun entry with a very 70s vibe and while Dracula’s screen time is limited, there are two nice confrontations with arch-nemesis Van Helsing bookending the film.

A good cast as usual. Again, Lee is in top form giving Dracula a sense of menace despite limited screen time. A testament to his work ethic that he performed so well, a role he came to hate. Cushing is as charming as ever and he provides a welcome boost to the film and gives his performance a nice energy and sincerity as the occult expert and ancestor of the legendary Lawrence Van Helsing. Stephanie Beacham’s Jessica Van Helsing is pretty and a bit more independent than some of the series’ ladies, but ends up being a damsel anyway. Christopher Neame seems to be channeling Malcolm McDowell’s Alex here, to a good degree, but it works in context to the character and setting. Michael Coles is functional but, a bit by-the-numbers as Inspector Murray, a cop investigating the ‘mysterious’ deaths. Last, but not least, we get hot British bird Caroline Munro as an unfortunate member of the hipster group and future Dracula snack.

So, while many feel this was the series’ low point, I respectfully disagree. I really love the 70s vibe and despite a minimal appearance by The Count, it is evened out a bit by the return of Cushing as Van Helsing. The film is loaded with 70s nostalgia, there are some very effective set pieces and is definitely enough fun to make it an entertaining watch. Lee and Cushing would return one more time to battle it out in the follow-up, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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Even surrounded by Dracula A.D. 1972‘s bevy of Hammer beauties, Lee can’t help express how tired he is of all this.

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