Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

Title: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

Director: Alan Gibson

Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Coles, Joanna Lumley

Dracula A.D. 1972 is universally considered to be the worst of the Hammer Dracula films, it took Dracula out of the gothic setting and put him right smack in the middle of 70’s London hipster scene. I guess it was a way for Hammer Films to attempt to connect with a younger crowd, after all, it was mostly the kids who went to see these movies and they couldn’t risk losing a connection with that market! As a result, we have these long scenes of young dudes and dudettes partying and grooving to the tunes of some hippy rock band as Dracula is being resurrected by a young dude interested in the black arts. For me it didn’t work because honestly, what I enjoyed about those old Hammer Dracula’s was the gothic setting, I liked the castles, the full moons, the cemeteries; it’s what made those films special for me. Taking Christopher Lee’s Dracula out of that and bringing him to swinging 70’s London felt like suddenly Dracula was in a fish out of water story? And that’s not what Dracula’s about! So anyways, I hated that film, it was directed by a guy called Alan Gibson, a director whose career was mostly centered on directing television. So here’s a guy who made one of the worst of the Hammer Dracula’s and what does Hammer do? They let him direct the next Dracula film as well! It’s not surprising that the end result was a less than stellar film.

On The Satanic Rites of Dracula the Count has become the head honcho of a major corporation, he runs things from this shadowy office at the top floor of his office building.  Apparently Dracula has grown tired of eternity and is looking for a way to end it all, in other words, on this film Dracula wants to hang his cape and die! But he doesn’t just want to die, he wants to take all of humanity with him, so he enlists the help of some of his followers (who also happen to be Satanists) in order to create a deadly plague that will eradicate all of humanity by way of a deadly flesh eating virus! It’s up to Van Helsing and a couple of detectives to stop Dracula’s plans!  

The thing about this Dracula movie is that it is kind of uneven in tone. For example, at times it feels like a James Bond movie, at times it feels like a satanic film and at times it goes into sci-fi territory and then at some point it attempts to turn into one of the old Hammer Dracula films, so it’s kind of like a mish-mash of genres that never quite works in my book. I will elaborate. On this movie, Dracula’s followers are a group of Satanists who kidnap people in order to sacrifice them to Satan, so part of the film focuses on their little operation, you kind of get the idea that they are here to resurrect Dracula, but it’s not even about that. Anyways, their operation hasn’t passed unnoticed to local authorities who have sent secret agents in order to infiltrate the satanic cult and find a way to stop their evil schemes. Now here’s where the James Bond type of thing comes into play! The secret agents use micro films and gadgets in order to record the secret meetings that these cultists perform! Then the film takes a turn towards sc-fi/post apocalyptic territory with the deadly plague plot line, and the idea that this plague could possibly destroy all of humanity. Of course, we never actually see the plague take over the world or anything, but the idea is there, the virus is set and ready to go on the petri dish! Where the film completely fails in my book is that it doesn’t even feel like a Dracula film at all! It might as well have been a film about the satanic cult and that’s it. Dracula feels like he was shoehorned into the plot, which is sad because what we want to see is a Dracula film, not a James Bond wanna be.

And here’s the most disappointing thing about this movie, we hardly ever see Dracula on this one! Now this doesn’t surprise me at all because Lee always did a lot of these Dracula movies without any real interest in doing them. Actually, he was quoted as saying that he thought this particular Dracula film was unnecessary. “I am doing it under protest!” he said, Lee also used words like pointless, fatuous and absurd to describe this particular film and I have to say I agree. This is probably the reason why we don’t see much of Lee during the film. Actually, the film is close to hitting the 50 minute mark and still no Dracula! Can you imagine seeing an Indiana Jones film with no Indiana Jones after 50 minutes into the movie? Exactly. Instead we are treated to Satanists performing rituals involving naked girls and killing roosters. The film also centers a lot of its time on the Satanists escaping snooping cops.  The one moment where you feel you’re finally in one of those old Hammer Dracula movies is when the cops stumble upon a dungeon filled with a couple of Dracula’s vampire brides, but if it wasn’t for that, you’d think you were in some other movie. I also liked some of the visuals they pulled off during Dracula’s demise that I really liked, they did this thing where Dracula gets entangled in thorns which was pretty cool, Lee’s face on those scenes has all the evil and all the rage that should have been present on more of the film, not just the last 15 minutes!

Thank god we do get some Van Helsing! And this movie got me to thinking about what an important element Peter Cushing was in these movies, he was in them a heck of a lot more than Lee himself. Cushing was one of the most vital components of the Hammer Dracula formula. Gotta say, even though this isn’t the best of the Hammer Dracula’s, Peter Cushing gave it his all. By the way, this was the last time that Lee and Cushing worked together on a Hammer Dracula film, so it’s notable for that alone. This is the last time you get to see Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing vs. Christopher Lee’s Dracula, after this one, Cushing would go up against Dracula again one more time in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), a film that brought together the worlds of Shaw Bros. Kung Fu movies with Hammer Films Dracula universe, it’s one of the more offbeat Hammer films, but also, one of the most fun, highly recommend checking that one out! So anyhow, The Satanic Rites of Dracula doesn’t hold anything special to it, save for it being the last Cushing/Lee collaboration in the Hammer Dracula films.

Rating: 2 out of 5 



jimmie t. murakami said...

This was one of Hammers 'last gasps' (as it were), and although its pretty mediocre its still infinitely better than any of the garbage thats produced in Britain today ! ! !. Just to put things into the proper perspective with regards to how good (relatively speaking) Hammer horror movies were.

venoms5 said...

I don't care much for this either, Fran. It has a great story behind it, but bland execution. Considering how much scfeen time Lee got in SCARS OF DRACULA, he actually gets even more lines here, amazingly enough -- despite not appearing till late in the picture. Had Stephanie Beacham returned, it might of made this one a bit more interesting.

Franco Macabro said...

Jimmie: Yeah, definetly, you can smell some desperation on these films, I don't know why but Hammer kind of lost focus during it's last days, they just didn't take the opportunity to make good films that would help them get back on track and survive into the 80's. I guess by then Hammer had "run it's course".

Venom5: Yeah, it was that double whammy of crappiness...A.D. 1972 and Satanic Rites that eventually killed Dracula, it wasnt a stake through the heart after all. Ha ha..Scars of Dracula is one of the better ones for sure, Dracula is more sadistic on that one and as you mentioned, he gets more screen time. Would have loved to see Beacham return.


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