Count Dracula may be immortal, but the sun was bound to rise on the long-running Hammer series of Drac films starring Christopher Lee. Lee, whose career has long been distinguished by scores of horror films, is perhaps the most recognizable incarnation of Count Dracula second only to Bela Lugosi. The Satanic Rites of Dracula was the end of the line for Hammer's version of the famous vampire, which is probably just as well, since it is one of the more laughable attempts to update a horror character to the modern day.
This movie directly follows Dracula A.D. 1972, but where that earlier film was a largely conventional vampire story made modern only by Dracula's victims, The Satanic Rites of Dracula transforms the Drac into a scheming comic book supervillain, more like Blofeld, Ras 'al Ghul, and Fu Manchu than a dark gothic Prince. Perhaps then it's appropriate that Lee took one last turn at playing Dracula, because he had already played Fu back in the sixties.
"No, really, I'm pretty sure
that lamp is in the way."
This time Dracula has a whole gaggle of henchmen to help him out. They include:
- A battalion of Brits in matching sheepskin vests. They ride motorcycles, kidnap people, and occasionally kill Drac's enemies with silenced rifles.
- A Chinese woman who leads the satanic rituals at Dracula's estate.
- The brides of Dracula, kept chained in the basement of the estate. We'd love to see that pre-nup!
- Four captains of British industry and government whom Dracula has somehow convinced to engage in satanic rituals on the grounds that they will be able to blackmail governments. For captains of industry and government, these guys are kind of dumb.
"I hate it when the cameraman
As we find out later, Dracula's plan is actually to kill every living person in the world by releasing a super-bubonic plague on Walpurgis Eve. Basically, Dracula is dead and no longer loving it, so if he's going to die he's going to take everyone with him. That Dracula, it's always about his needs.
Standing against Dracula's array of evil forces are a couple of pale, doughy, overly hairy British secret agents, as well as the dangerously emaciated Van Helsing, again played by Peter Cushing. (As a matter of fact, he's supposed to be the same man we saw in Dracula A.D. 1972.) These guys are so incompetent that they allow their secretary to be turned into a vampire bride, then both of the secret agents get captured. Van Helsing, meanwhile, walks straight into Dracula's office (Drac keeps offices at the site of the church from Dracula A.D. 1972) and falls into yet another trap.
"It's the formula for Lucozade.
I suggest you handle it carefully."
The only thing that saves our heroes is that by this time in the Dracula series there are more things that kill vampires than there are things that don't. In a piece of stunningly bad judgment, Dracula has chosen a residence only slightly less dangerous to vampires than the surface of the sun. Let's summarize, shall we? Here's what can kill vampires in this movie:
- Wooden stakes administered to the heart. The classic means of vampire dispatch, it's lucky for our heroes that Dracula's basement is full of loose lumber and his estate comes with a rickety fence made of... you guessed it, wooden stakes.
- Garlic. It's mentioned, but surprisingly never used. We're surprised the rickety fence wasn't surrounding Dracula's garlic patch.
- Sunlight. This has always made vampires approximately 50% less scary than they could be.
- The sign of the cross. It's doesn't have to be a proper crucifix or anything, just two vaguely straight things held perpendicularly will do. Of course, this won't kill a vampire, but it does make them cower behind their hands, giving you the chance to run like hell.
"I'm telling you, I've never even heard of 'Alderaan.' How can I
have blown it up?"
- Holy words. Yes, just saying your prayers will drive Dracula off. See the caveats above regarding the sign of the cross.
- Running water. That evil creatures cannot cross naturally running water is an old European belief, and it was used well in Dracula, Prince of Darkness. But if you thought the scene in which a vampire was killed in the bathtub in Dracula A.D. 1972 was silly, you haven't seen anything yet. The redefinition of running water to include indoor plumbing continues in The Satanic Rites of Dracula. We're supposed to believe Dracula has a sprinkler system installed in his basement. Good thing too, because our heroes can just turn it on to kill all of the brides chained up there.
- Fire. It wouldn't be a Hammer film if a house didn't catch on fire at the end.
- Prickly bushes. No, really. Because Jesus wore a crown of thorns, prickly bushes can hurt Dracula.
At the end of the film, when Dracula wanders into a thorn bush, is impaled on one of the stakes in his picket fence, and his remains evaporate in the rising sun (wasn't it just striking midnight a few minutes ago?), we were forced to wonder exactly how it was that he had survived all those years. He was probably helped out by the fact that his arch-enemies are all members of a family who are apparently born at the age of seventy. (All, that is, except for Van Helsing's granddaughter Jessica, the lovely Joanna Lumley.)
"A little help here? We've
got another cameraman stuck
in the rafters."
If the plot wasn't enough of a hoot, this movie is shot with a dangerous excess of '70s style. Besides the obvious fashion victims (sheepskin vests?), Dracula has outfitted his mansion with a mod control room, missing only lava lamps. And speaking of lamps, half of this movie is shot from behind various lighting fixtures. Did the cinematographer have some vision impairment that made him incapable of telling when a lampshade was in the way of his shutter? There's also an early scene where apparently they had someone about three feet tall fill in for the cameraman. We guarantee you will learn everything you wanted to know about the interiors of the average British actor's nose during that scene.
Given the above list of vampire weaknesses, it is pretty impressive that Dracula survived until 1974. It turns out the one thing that kills vampires for good, however, is bad moviemaking.