Freddie Francis, 1968
Starring: Christopher Lee, Veronica Carlson, Rupert Davies, Barbara Ewing
In another attempt to preserve continuity following Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the Count has supposedly been dead a year, thanks to being buried in a frozen mountain stream in the last film. A skeptical monsignor is tired of the vampire phobia that grips the town of Kleinenberg, so he marches up the nearby mountain to Castle Dracula and, in an incredible act of hubris, performs an exorcism and bars the Count’s entrance from his own home with a huge golden cross. This leads indirectly to the Count waking up majorly pissed off and declaring unholy war on the monsignor and his family: a widowed sister-in-law and beautiful young niece, Maria. When Dracula kills the monsignor and kidnaps Maria, it’s up to her skeptical boyfriend, Paul, to save her.
Hammer’s fourth Dracula film and its third to star Christopher Lee as the titular Count is admittedly one of the more uneven entries in the series. The screenwriters really did a number with the film’s moral message. The majority of the runtime seems to be staunchly anti-Christianity, though this takes an inexplicable, weirdly reactionary twist. The obviously Christian characters are presented as ineffectual buffoons — like the drunk priest too terrified and useless to even enter the local church — or self-righteous, power-mad leaders — like the smug monsignor. In the excellent prologue, a young boy enters a church and finds blood dripping from the massive bell above. He soon makes a grisly discovery: Dracula has killed a young woman and stuffed her broken body into the bell, effectively desecrating the church. And it is the unnamed priest who sets the events in motion. Too drunk and afraid to help the Monsignor exorcise Dracula’s castle, he injures himself and his blood brings the Count back to life. In turn, he is transformed into this movie’s version of Renfield.
The film’s moral center is the upstanding, decent Paul, who faces early conflicts with the monsignor because he is an atheist. While Dracula and The Brides of Dracula don’t specifically posit Van Helsing as an atheist, he is a firm rationalist, a man of science who views vampires not as creatures of folklore, but as real evils set loose in the world. Paul is of his ilk and his future plans involve going to study at a university. It would then stand to reason that his inevitable showdown with Dracula would involve some sort of science-based way to put the Count to rest yet again, but Dracula Has Risen From the Grave makes a sudden, alarmingly conservative switch. Hammer snuck in another pointless, plot-driven detail to the Dracula mythology in a move that I can only describe as embarrassing: in order for the Count to stay dead, you have to pray over him with firm religious belief while he is dying. Convenient. Also never used again. To no one’s great surprise, Paul, rejects his “ignorant” atheist views by the end of the film, just in time to save Maria.
Probably the best thing about Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is the introduction of the absolutely gorgeous Veronica Carlson. She went on to star in a couple of Hammer Frankenstein films after this, but I don’t know why they didn’t use her more. Carlson is also a strong example of the film’s reliance on style over substance. Though Dracula stalwart Terence Fisher was intended to direct, a broken leg forced Hammer to replace him with cinematographer Freddie Francis, who may not ratchet up the tension, but who introduces a dazzling sense of visual style. Many scenes involve characters coming and going across Victorian rooftops. These moments, along with the Gothic sets and stunning opening sequence in the church — visual proof of Dracula’s sadism — make this one of the loveliest films in the Dracula series. It doesn’t hurt that there is also more sexual innuendo and a few dangerously plunging cleavage lines.
Other than that, it’s business as usual. Thankfully, Lee is around more in this film and actually has dialogue. He’s hypnotizing as always, but when Dracula realizes someone has exorcised the castle, it leads to plenty of unintentional hilarity. Nothing can make up for the absence of Cushing, though Rupert Davies (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Oblong Box) replaces him as best he is able and gives a solid performance. There are also nice supporting performances from the wonderful Michael Ripper (The Creeping Flesh) and Barbara Ewing (Torture Garden), while Barry Andrews (Blood on Satan’s Claw) is a likable enough lead.
I’m not sure if I can recommend Dracula Has Risen From the Grave to anyone except for die-hard Dracula, Christopher Lee, and Hammer fans, but if you decide to check it out it’s definitely not a waste of time. Weirdly, it’s one of Hammer’s Dracula films with a wide number of releases: a Blu-ray, DVD, and as a four-pack with Dracula, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Dracula A.D. 1972.