This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Go to www.classicfilmtvcafe.com to view the complete blogathon schedule.
Y’know, you’ve kinda gotta think once you get down to the struggles of Lorimer Van Helsing versus Dracula you might be scraping the bottom of the barrel. I mean, seriously, Lorimer? Who names their kid Lorimer? Okay, considering we’re talking about a family of vampire hunters who have passed this legacy down through the ages, perhaps picking on him because of his name isn’t exactly fair, but there you go.
And, in a lot of ways, 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula is a very long stretch from where Hammer’s Dracula movies started. Yet, it also does fit into the ongoing series that Hammer had been developing over the years.
Starting with their own take on the classic story, Hammer’s series began with 1958’s Dracula (also known under its U.S. release title of Horror of Dracula). Over the years, the studio had moved its films through different ages, changing their take as the times changed, until the previous year in which they released Dracula A.D. 1972 which personally I consider the series low point, bringing the vampire lord into contact with a group of Satan worshiping hippies.
This time out we find Dracula consorting with another coven of Satan worshipers, but these characters are much more serious about it, actually incorporating human sacrifice (and resurrection) into their practices, and also calling upon the power of the devil to enhance their earthly wealth and power. Among these coven members is a bacteriologist who is working on a new, incredibly virulent strain of the bubonic plague which Dracula, now masquerading as businessman D. D. Denham, wants to unleash upon mankind for the purpose of… well, honestly, the reason for this is never really explained, at least not in any coherent fashion, except for some general mumbo-jumbo about revenge upon mankind and perhaps a death wish of his own.
This, of course, is where the spies come in. Did I mention yet that there were spies? Oh, yeah, there are spies, as Britain’s Secret Service has apparently been trying to trace and track down the coven members / conspirators and figure out exactly who is involved and what they are up to. The movie actually starts with their inside man barely escaping from the country house where the rituals are taking place and managing to alert his superiors to the ongoing plot. That’s when they decide to call upon Lorimer to help them figure out exactly what is going on.
As it is, what we, as viewers, actually get is kind of a mish-mash movie that is never really sure whether it is a spy flick or an actual horror show. As a matter of fact, there are times throughout this movie where it seems as if Lee’s character of Denham could actually have been simply any corrupt businessman, and that he really only turns out to be Dracula so that Hammer could tie the film in to its ongoing franchise, and in a way, this is also an indication of where Hammer itself was at the time, as it was in a struggle to maintain its own identity as a studio and still find a way to appeal to an audience that was demanding a different style of movie than what they had been producing.
Fortunately, we do finally get a confrontation at the end between Lee and Cushing, and it is this pairing, as always, that saves the film from being the losing effort to update the series that was its predecessor, and actually makes it worthwhile viewing.
In the end, it seems strange to be criticizing Hammer, a studio with a reputation earlier for its buxom women and liberal use of blood and lurid colors for not being over-the-top enough with this film, but it really feels like they were feeling the strain between trying to serve two masters or perhaps two audiences, and thereby never really satisfying either. Nonetheless, the movie can’t be considered a true failure as it turns out to be one of those “guilty pleasure” flicks that I’ve actually turned to a number of times over the years as simply a good way to pass an hour and a half or so.
And really, sometimes, that’s all that one can ask for.
Here’s the trailer:
And, for those interested, the entire film is available on YouTube, and I’m sure it can be found streaming elsewhere. Also, if you’re a Hammer Horror fan you’ll definitely want to check out the other postings for the blogathon. For the complete schedule of all of the blogs and the films being covered, just click here.
- Movie of the Week 9/17/13 (screamingbraincomics.com)
- Horror Film Review: Horror of Dracula (dir by Terrence Fisher) (unobtainium13.com)
- Horror of Dracula (1958) (canadiancinephile.com)