To say that Christopher Lee was a busy actor during the sixties would be an understatement. Playing Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes, corrupt English Lords, and smaller parts in pop culture pastiches like The Magic Christian, Lee returned to the role of Dracula after a two-year absence, still capable of delivering his dynamic blend of sleek evil and surges of blood-thirsty rage.
Screenwriter John Elder (er, producer Anthony Hinds) managed to freshen up the franchise by adding some deliciously bawdy humour between the film's leading lovebirds and a hungry barmaid, and former ace cinematographer Freddie Francis directed the film and designed the visual style by sticking to more realistic colours, but adding an amber filter that frames every shot of Dracula, giving the fiend a hallucinatory look that intensifies in colour saturation when he gets closer to claiming another busty victm.
The basic story has Dracula once again being awakened, this time from an icy tomb near the base of the castle. With a Bozo-haired priest as his minion and slave, Dracula makes his way to the town of the Monsignor (straight-faced Rupert Davies) who rammed a great big golden cross into the front doors of his castle. Apparently there was no back door nor catacombs in the original castle blueprints, so Dracula must first get rid of the Monsignor (really just an exercise of pure revenge) and claim the holy man's niece, Maria (stunning Veronica Carlson), as his latest concubine to keep him happy once she's removed the offending cross from the castle grounds.
The sole thorn in his plans is her boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews, and his mighty forest of cranial hair),
an atheist who eventually realizes that in order to battle vampires, one needs to believe in a Holy Spirit, making this 1968 production a bizarrely pro-Catholic film within the Hammer canon.
Hinds' script obviously made allowances for director Francis to indulge in some teasing visuals, and the director went a step further in several scenes. The best example is the eroticization of a carriage chase, turning it into a violent S&M metaphor: as the Bozo priest chases down tarty barmaid Zena (Torture Garden's Barbara Ewing), Francis cuts back and forth between the running wench and the priest, whipping the horses with increasing ferocity yet clearly thinking of the base pleasures in applying the whip to the wench's supple skin.
Another sequence cross-cuts between the wench standing teasingly in the basement near Paul, wearing in a corset and snappy garters, and pure-at-heart Maria who sleeps in her childhood bed with her little china dolly. A big plus is the film's enture cast, some of whom manage to add accents to enhance their character's working class roots. Ewing is a delicious wench, and Andrews and Carlson have great chemistry, and one never doubts their characters share a genuine devotion and hunger for their first sexual consummation.
The quantity of BPS [bosoms per scene], mixed with mild splatters of grisly violence certainly separates the Hammer films from the older Universal classics, so it's rather surprising to see this DVD now classified by the MPAA with a "G." Who knew Bambi and Dracula would one day share the same ratings letter?
Barry Andrews would later appear in the classic occult thriller Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), whereas Veronica Carlson would co-star in Hammer's Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed the following year.
This Warner Bros title is also available as part of the Hammer Collection that includes The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Horror Of Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959) and Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970). The 2010 TCM set repackages all but the last two titles in a budget-priced set.
© 2004 & 2011 Mark R. Hasan