Alan Gibson, 1973
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Michael Coles
The British Secret Service uncovers a secret society performing Satanic rituals. Unfortunately for them, the society includes key members of the government, so Scotland Yard is called in to quietly investigate. Inspector Murray (Michael Coles reprising his role from Dracula A.D. 1972) consults occult expert Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). When a secretary from the Secret Service is kidnapped and turned into a vampire, a few agents and Van Helsing’s granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley, who is replacing Stephanie Beacham from Dracula A.D. 1972) investigate and discover a basement full of Dracula’s brides. Van Helsing contacts a scientist friend, Julian Keeley, who is developing a new strain of the Black Plague. Before Van Helsing can help his friend, Keeley is killed and his research, including active cultures of the plague, is stolen. A mysterious businessman funded the project and the savvy Van Helsing believes a reincarnated Dracula is behind the diabolical plot.
For years, I passionately hated The Satanic Rites of Dracula and I can honestly say that I have no idea why. It’s a loose sequel to my favorite film in the series, Dracula A.D. 1972, and while it has nothing on that gem, it’s about a million times better than I remember it being. Which is a real shocker, considering that it’s the eighth film in Hammer’s Dracula series and the last to star Sir Christopher Lee — though “star” is a bit rich, because he’s in all the films but the first (and second, Brides of Dracula, where he totally absent) for between five and ten minutes of total run time. The wonderful Peter Cushing also returns, along with much of the cast of Dracula A.D. 1972, and it’s honestly refreshing that Hammer kept the setting to (then) modern day England.
Like the whimsical Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula was an attempt to revitalize the franchise and prove that Hammer can do more than atmospheric, Gothic horror with plunging necklines and period costumes. Unfortunately this absurdly complicated plot attempts to include too many new elements at once: spies, government conspiracy, Scotland Yard, an end of the world plot involving a new strain of bubonic plague, science fiction, a scheming, Fu Manchu-like Dracula who has a serious death wish, vampire “brides” for the first time in the series, and new vampire mythology, including susceptibility to hawthorne and silver bullets. The last time Hammer included new mythology — the misguided Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, where allegedly only “true believers” can kill Dracula — it went over like a lead balloon and it doesn’t fare much better here.
This mix of sci-fi, horror, and espionage penned by Doctor Who scribe Don Houghton would probably have been a great film if Dracula and Van Helsing hadn’t been included, because — as with Taste the Blood of Dracula, which was supposed to be about one of the Count’s disciples rather than the man himself — these two characters feel like they were added as an afterthought, merely to please some money hungry studio executive. This is not helped by the fact that Dracula has minimal screen time, probably less than 15 minutes, though at least he has dialogue in this one. I do have to admit that it’s great to see Lee and Cushing together again, even if they feel a bit out of place in an a plot that belongs to either The Avengers, James Bond, or Fu Manchu (another role mastered by Lee). The surprisingly bleak, apocalyptic theme moves away from the Gothic elements of most of the series and far, far away from the fun, campy romp of Dracula A.D. 1972, which will likely please the many viewers that hated that film.
With that said, the film comes recommended, much to the chagrin of my 16 year old self. It’s a solid entry in the series, even though it comes so late. It should especially please fans of Blacula and Count Yorga, Vampire. Though there are several cheap versions of The Satanic Rites of Dracula that should be avoided, Anchor Bay presents a nice region 1 disc as part of their Hammer Horror series. This release includes trailers and a documentary, Dracula and the Undead, narrated by Hammer-regular Oliver Reed. Avoid any prints under the stupid U.S. title, Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides, which has several minutes shaved from its running time — though I have no clue why you want to censor any parts of this film.