Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Taste the Blood of Dracula - review

Director: Peter Sasdy

Release Date: 1969*

Contains Spoilers

Taste the Blood of Dracula follows directly on from 1968’s Dracula has Risen from the Grave. The opening is Hammer enough with a coach travelling through the countryside. Inside is Weller (the wonderful Roy Kinnear). He is an English trader who has just bought Transylvanian snowglobes (go figure). He shows them to the other travellers and a very strange man wants one, though not for money, and Weller gets thrown out of the moving coach. He awakens at night and stumbles through the woods, until he hears a scream. Scared, he falls and comes face to face with Dracula impaled on the cross, as in the last film. When he has dissolved to naught, Weller approaches and picks up a clasp that says Dracula. The blood has thickened, to the consistency of strawberry jam, and then turns to very red dust.

Cut to England and families leaving church. There are three main families and it is as well we check out who they are now. There is William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), his wife Martha (Gwen Watford) and daughter Alice (Linda Hayden). There is Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and his son Paul (Anthony Higgins) and daughter Lucy (Isla Blair). Finally there is Jonathon Secker (John Carson) and his son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis). The children all know each other Lucy and Jeremy are romantically together as are Paul and Alice. The parents, on the surface, do not know each other. One problem with the film, though the fault is mine and not the film or actor, is that it is very difficult to watch with Peter Sallis there; after all he is now the voice of Wallace!

The Hargoods get home and William admonishes his daughter for flirting with Paul (incidentally William Hargood is a thoroughly dislikeable character). It is clear he loathes the lad and calls her actions provocative. She is sent to bed whilst he goes to do his monthly ‘charity work’ in the East End. The charity work consists of the three fathers going to a brothel. They have formed a debauched club, whilst hiding behind respectability, and are desperately seeking new experiences. They are shown to a room by the very camp Felix (Russell Hunter), and the entertainment sees them with a girl each on their lap whilst another woman dances with a serpent. Suddenly a brash young man appears (Ralph Bates) and summons the girl on Hargood’s lap away. It turns out that he is Courtley, son of Lord Courtley, disowned by his family for performing a black mass in the family chapel. Bates is marvellous in the film, if short lived, exuding a fantastic arrogance and over-acting to the perfect point.

The club catch up with him and take him to supper and he hits the nub of their situation straight away. He asks if they would be willing to sell their souls to the devil, and promises experiences they will never forget. All they have to do is buy something for the ritual. That something is the cloak, clasp, signet ring and powdered blood of Dracula, which Weller returned from Transylvania with. The men pay the princely sum of 1000 guineas. Weller’s words, “May the devil take good care of you,” ring in our ears.

They attend a deserted chapel in the woods, where Courtley has set up the tools of his black mass. He pours the powder into three goblets and a chalice and adds a drop of his own blood to each, which causes the powder to re-liquefy (accompanied by thunder and lightening). The three refuse to drink, so Courtley does. He drops to the floor, crying for help and grabs at Hargood, so the three beat him to death and race home. Cue the camera zooming in and out to the sound of a heart beat, dry ice and a lot of sand – Dracula is reborn from the body of Courtley. “They have destroyed my servant. They will be destroyed...” vows Dracula, in one of the few and yet consistently poor lines that poor old Christopher Lee is forced to utter. In fairness he still maintains a great presence, but the dialogue is awful and he is under used.

He starts with the Hargoods. He hypnotizes Alice and has her brain her father with a spade. “The First,” intones the Count, predating Count von Count’s first appearance on Sesame Street by three years. The police, the next day, are useless and refuse to even look for Alice who has vanished.

After the funeral of her father, Alice calls to Lucy from a hiding spot in the bushes. Her friend’s reaction is astounding given that she has been missing and Paul has been frantic. Lucy agrees to meet her that night. Alice drags her to a carriage, which takes them on a ride to the chapel – Alice laughing maniacally – and straight to Dracula. Lucy is vampirised.

The next day Paxton has gone to Secker to relay his worry that Courtley is not dead and is exacting revenge. They go to the chapel and the body has indeed gone. Secker checks a recently disturbed sarcophagus and finds Lucy, he realises that there is vampirism afoot. He wants to stake her but Paxton shoots him in the arm and tells him to get out (an interesting side note is that Secker says that, should she not be staked, she will spend her nights drinking the blood of animals and humans – this is the first reference in the Dracula cycle to vampires drinking animal blood). Secker stumbles away and collapses outside the chapel. Night falls and Paxton suddenly decides to stake his daughter. He is about to strike when her eyes open. Dracula appears as does Alice and the two girls stake Paxton. “The second,” the Count points out in case we were not paying attention. It’s a pity he didn’t bother looking outside or he could have finished with the business there and then.

The next day Paxton wakes and struggles home. He writes a letter for Paul, explaining what is going on, and then passes out. Jeremy comes in and sees Lucy at the window. He goes to her and she bites him. Jeremy returns into the house as Secker awakens. He realises what has happened as Jeremy stabs him. “The Third,” the Count reminds us, before striding off into the night. Lucy follows after him, whining for approval. Now we know that Dracula hates whiny, clingy women, remember the fate of Zena in the previous film, and so it comes as no surprise when he kills her; what is surprising is that he bites Lucy and, apparently, drains her to death. She was already vamped, so the scene makes little sense – nowhere has it been suggested, so far, that Dracula biting another vampire will kill that vampire. He gets to the chapel and is about to bite Alice when the cock crows.

The next day the police give Secker’s letter to Paul; they have read it and concluded it was the ravings of a madman. But at least they have the perpetrator of the stabbing, Jeremy. Paul tries to convince them that Jeremy would not do such a thing but they won’t listen. He reads the letter and heads to the chapel, with a handy carpet bag of conveniently available items. On the way he fishes Lucy out of a lake, where she has been floating, making me wonder how she didn’t turn to dust in the daylight.

Now, so far the film has been weak, with a lot of style but little else. Now it hurtles into absolute ridiculousness. Paul gets to the chapel and bars the door with a cross. He then dismantles the black altar and creates a white altar, with a couple of candles, a white cloth and a cross. It is clear that this is a sanctifying process of some sort – though Paul is no priest. There is an unexplained sound that causes him to grasp his own ears and Dracula and Alice appear. He holds Dracula off with a cross, which glows (something that hasn’t happened in the Hammer Dracula films before), and tells Alice she is free to choose good or evil. She pulls the cross from him and he is thrown aside by the Count. Alice follows Dracula, whining to him, and he says he has no further use for her (told you he doesn’t like whiny women). Then he gets to the door and finds it barred. In, what amounts to, a fit of pique Alice throws a cross at him.

Somehow Dracula has ended up on a balcony, Paul tries to get Alice out of the chapel but she won’t leave without him (fickle thing, she chose evil 2 minutes ago). Meanwhile Dracula has started throwing stuff at them from the balcony, in a manner that simply does not become the Prince of Darkness – a candlestick in close quarters fine (and traditional) but lobbing debris just seemed unbecoming. He edges around to a window but the centerpiece is a cross. He smashes it and then hallucinates that the chapel is pristine again and a mass is being said. He falls to the altar and crumbles to dust.

It just doesn’t make any sense; in fact it is just a load of old rubbish really. Anyhoo, Alice and Paul go off into the woods together. Nothing is mentioned about Jeremy, but presumably he’s doomed to hang for murder.

The film really lets its predecessors down and it is a shame because there are some good ideas lurking in there. I loved the idea of someone ingesting the blood and the Count being resurrected through their body. I loved the fact that we were now, finally, in England. The Count was almost an avenger against hypocrisy, which was different, and the use of the children to slay the parents was great. However, we have limited amounts of Dracula and an ending that just kills the movie off, a half decent ending might have made some of the weaker aspects of the movie forgivable.

I can only give this 3.5 out of 10, and it is probably a generous score, one that has been bolstered by Lee’s presence (against the odds unfortunately), plus Ralph Bates performance – and I guess just a tiny bit for Linda Hayden who, I have to admit, I was a little taken with (when she was evil at least). For those who perhaps think the score a little harsh then think on about the ending. In truth two of the most important aspects of a Dracula cycle movie are the resurrection and the death – whilst the resurrection is both interesting and unique, the death is awful, and that has got to lower the score.

For the imbd page go here. *at the time of review imdb lists this film as 1970, but according to the DVD it is 1969.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I thought I owned the entire Hammer Dracula series, but I don't have this one, nor have I seen it.

It looks like I'm not missing much.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mark, to me it is the ewakset of the cycle - specially the ending, but the beginning is quite good...

That said, I'm sure any completist tendancy you have will begin to wonder... lol

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm already looking for it! I can't believe I let this one pass me by.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mark, whilst you are looking - the version I have, which is region 1, is actually a horror double feature with "the Curse of Frankenstein"; costs me about £5.00 (including P&P from amazon) which is around $9 - 10.

Well worth it if you don't have the other already.