Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973)

The last Hammer movie to feature Christopher Lee in his most iconic role and the last Hammer movie in which he would share screen-time with Peter Cushing, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula should have been a better swansong for the battling duo but, well, it is what it is. Which is rubbish, but entertainingly daffy rubbish.

It's the 1970s and Scotland Yard are investigating a strange cult based in London after an undercover agent escaped from the place and tried to provide them with more information before inconveniently dying. Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) and an agent named Torrence (William Franklyn) visit noted occult expert Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) for help and as secrets are uncovered Professor Van Helsing starts to worry about his granddaughter (played by Joanna Lumley this time), the possible return of Dracula and a plan that may involve the use of some truly horrendous, and deadly, bacteria.

There's something sad about seeing the Hammer movies in which they tried to modernise their material and appeal to a dwindling audience. They were trying to change with the times, but instead ended up losing part of their charm, losing their ability to release something that looked like a quality product and feeling more desperate with each release. To highlight the losing battle that they were fighting, just compare this movie to the other big horror titles of the year - films like The Exorcist, Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man, and The Legend Of Hell House.

Thankfully, the sadness of just how dated and poor this movie is ends up being tempered by how it's also completely bonkers. Even the weak ending is more enjoyable because of how ridiculous it is. Don Houghton is the man who came up with the script and Alan Gibson is in the director's chair, both men returning to continue the modern day Dracula saga that they started with Dracula A. D. 1972.

Lee and Cushing are, of course, great in their roles while Michael Coles and William Franklyn both do well with what they're given. Joanna Lumley is better in the role of granddaughter Van Helsing than Stephanie Beacham was and small roles are ably filled by the likes of Richard Vernon, Freddie Jones and Barbara Yu Ling.

The best thing about the film is that, if nothing else, it allows for the stories of the characters to come to a natural, and satisfying, conclusion. Cushing would return as Van Helsing (fighting a version of Dracula removed from the Christopher Lee incarnation) in The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires, but it's easy to view that as just a curio piece, separate from this series and cinematic universe. Because it is.


No comments:

Post a Comment