Monday, November 23, 2015


Roy Ward Baker, 1970
Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Christopher Matthews

Incapable of meeting a girl without taking her clothes off, a young man named Paul gets himself into a bit of trouble and runs from the arms of the law right into Dracula's somewhat restored castle. After more sex and misadventure, he stupidly wanders into Dracula's private chamber, which is a room with a lovely view looking down over hundreds of feet, a coffin, and no doors. Paul’s loyal brother Simon and his beautiful girlfriend Sarah go in search of Paul. They get no help whatsoever from the local villagers and somehow make it through the first night alive, but Simon soon realizes what kind of diabolical force is between the rescue of his brother and the well-being of his lady love. Will he save them all in time?

If you’ve been following along with my Hammer review series, you’re probably wondering how much longer the studio can stay on this gravy train? And yet Scars of Dracula is only the sixth film out of nine. Despite its position near the end of a long list of Dracula Hammer films, this is a fairly entertaining entry in the series and is representative of the middle three (Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Scars of Dracula) in the sense that it expresses how obviously confused the studio was about what to do with the character. There are plenty of low moments — including an obviously a lower budget and much cheaper production values than previous Dracula productions.

Despite these issues, there are also some bright points. Aside from the next and best sequel, Dracula A.D. 1972, Scars of Dracula probably has the most imaginative — or at leas the most brazen — plot. Though he died for the fourth time in Taste the Blood of Dracula, His Unholiness is resurrected again in this film because — wait for it — a vampire bat vomits a mouthful of blood onto the Count’s dusty cape. Et voila. This film actually involves bats more than any other entry in the series. The beginning is a tour de force of bat-related violence: the local villagers launch an impromptu march on the castle mere hours before dark and burn most of it to the ground. Dracula avenges himself by slaughtering every last man, woman and child hiding in the local church by way of a group of vampire bats. This shocking act of violence is really just an exaggerated version of a much tamer scene from Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, but it’s one of the finest in the entire Dracula series.

And for those of you who remember Klove, the completely random manservant in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, he's back, hairier, grungier, and more inexplicable than ever. Scars of Dracula in general is sort of a plot break from the previous films, as the action is moved from England to Transylvania and Dracula’s servant from the third film, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, is inexplicably present here. The Count also has a mistress, Tania, who he stabs to death when she betrays him by trying to feast on Paul. She’s then destroyed by Klove, who dismembers her and dissolves her in a vat of holy water in another surprisingly violence sequence. This film also arguably has the most sex of the series. There is actual sex for the first time, naked girls running about, and the camera can't keep off of Sarah's (Jenny Hanley of The Flesh and Blood Show) well-proportioned bosom. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are also the usual plot holes and faux-pas, including the fun Hammer tactic of shooting night scenes during blatant daytime hours, which is worse than ever in this film. And forget Klove’s random reintroduction, by this point actor Michael Ripper has been in so many of these movies that it doesn’t even make sense — he’s like the Dwight Frye of Hammer horror. It’s easy to see this as the beginning of the end for Hammer, but the last three sequels are — and I’m not ashamed to say it — fantastic. It’s clear that director Roy Ward Baker was making the most of cheap production values and a script that the studio obviously ran roughshod over. Some of his bright touches include Lee scaling the walls of Dracula’s castle, a scene from Stoker’s novel that doesn’t often make it to filmic adaptations.

I am reviewing the two-disc, U.S. Anchor Bay DVD with impressive extras, though that version sadly seems to be out of print. On the same disc as the film are two trailers and some photo galleries. The real treat is the commentary track with director Roy Ward Baker, Christopher Lee, and Hammer film historian Marcus Hearn. The second disc includes The Many Faces of Christopher Lee and two music videos. Words cannot express — there is nothing the man can’t do. The Many Faces of Christopher Lee has one major flaw: it's too damn short. Lee graciously gives an hour of his time to discuss some of his most famous roles and usually introduces each segment with a prop from the film.

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