Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dracula has Risen from the Grave - review

Director: Freddie Francis

Release Date: 1968

Contains Spoilers

Dracula has Risen from the Grave sees Christopher Lee reprising his role as the Count and is a direct sequel to Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), and yet something doesn’t quite feel right continuity wise. The film begins with a young boy, Johann (Norman Bacon), cycling to a church. He enters, brushes half-heartedly and then goes to ring the church bell. He touches the rope and gets blood on his hands. He climbs the stair to the bell tower.

The priest (Ewan Hooper, in a major role with no real character name) is then seen going to the church. He hears a scream and runs into the church. Johann flees and he climbs the bell tower himself. There is a trail of blood and then a blood-stained shoe falls from out of the bell, followed by the upside down torso of a bloodied wench, bite marks in her neck. The scene is a great opening and is pure Hammer Horror but, unfortunately, it is also confusing as we know that Dracula is, for the moment, dead. Who was it that attacked the girl?

This confusion is enhanced when we meet Monsignor Ernst Muller (Rupert Davis) riding his cart. He tells us that it has been a year since Dracula was killed. A throwaway line later gives us a clue to help us sort through this confusion, when Muller says something about knowing that the church had been defiled but it had been over for a year. Thus, our opening scene was a year before!

Ah, but that does not help, for if you remember, a year ago Dracula was busy chasing after Charles and Diana and battling Father Sandor, he had no real time to nip to the village and cause mayhem there. Worse still, we later see a coffin that clearly has the date 1885 to 1905. Now, Horror of Dracula (1958) took place in 1885, there was a ten year gap between that and the events in Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) and one year has elapsed in this film. Now I know my math isn’t so good, but to me that should mean that the year should be 1896, not 1905+.

It is also clear that Dracula’s castle has shifted location and design. In the previous film Dracula was drowned and trapped in ice by the castle wall, and not a good distance from the castle as he is in this film – though I guess the current could have taken him lower. Further, the climb to the castle was never so precarious previously; in fact there was a convenient road up to the castle. There is also another change to the killing rules but we’ll look at that later.

Continuity issues aside, the film is still a good outing for Dracula. Muller is informed by the locals that they do not go to church as the shadow of the castle falls across the church and the castle is still evil. Muller and the priest trek to the castle, with church’s cross in tow. The priest cannot make it all the way and so Muller finishes the journey alone. Getting out book, bell and candle he exorcises the castle and seals the door with the cross, assuming it will trap the evil of Dracula within forever (not realising he died outside). Whilst he does this a tempest raises and the priest falls, cracking his head and conveniently bleeding into the cracked ice and straight into Dracula’s mouth, resurrecting him. Dracula returns to his castle, with the priest in tow, and demands to know who has sealed his castle. The film is now set for his revenge upon the Monsignor. There is a lovely scene of the priest tipping the occupant of a coffin, from a nearby graveyard, out of its resting place so that the box can be used by Dracula.

Muller lives with his sister-in-law, Anna (Marion Mathie), and his niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson). When he returns it is Maria’s birthday and they are to have a dinner with her young suitor, Paul (Barry Andrews). Paul works in a café, as a pastry chef, to pay for his studies. The meal seems to go quite well until Paul reveals that he is an atheist, cue much angst about blasphemy. The film is very much about faith, though it is delivered in a quite heavy handed way. Paul returns to the café and gets blitzed on schnapps. He is helped to bed by busty barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing) who clearly has a thing for Paul – as well as half the young men of the town it seems - and is jealous of Maria.

As Zena goes home, alone, she is chased down by the priest in the hearse. She is then confronted by Dracula himself. The sequence would have been great except it is meant to be night and was obviously shot in daylight. The next day the priest asks for a room at the café and is helped to gain entry by the now enslaved Zena. The café has a convenient door into the sewers, where Dracula is now hiding. He discovers that Muller has a niece and she becomes the means for his revenge, Zena’s jealousy shines through again as she wants the Count for herself.

Maria is tricked by Zena into wandering down into the kitchens, has a hood thrown over her head and is dragged to Dracula. He uses those hypnotic red eyes and is about to strike when her hypnosis is broken by Paul calling Maria’s name from the café. Maria has to be bundled back into the kitchen area. Dracula vents his frustration on Zena, his anger burning her mind and then the vampire gorging himself on her. The priest has to dispose of her now fanged corpse in the ovens (as an aside, there is no way those ovens would get hot enough to burn an entire body, at any speed at least, so we have to assume that vampiric flesh burns better than plain old human).

Dracula goes to Maria and, in a fantastic scene, takes her. The scene sees Dracula nuzzling her before the bite and Maria grasping a doll and pushing it from the bed. It is a scene invoking sexuality and the loss of innocence.

Muller realises what has happened and prevents an attack the next night. Unfortunately, in a rooftop chase, he is attacked by the priest and grievously injured. He tells Anna to fetch Paul, the lad may be an atheist, but it is the love between Maria and Paul that will save the day. Unfortunately Paul enlists the help of the priest and Muller dies before he can warn them that he works for the enemy. The priest helps Paul set the traditional protections (note: Sandor’s warnings that garlic is useless once the vampire gains entry, in the previous film, are either not known by the characters or forgotten by the producers) and then brains Paul, when the opportunity arises, with a candlestick, giving him chance to remove the protections again. He has a crisis of conscience and can’t remove the cross, giving Paul chance to wake. Paul forces the priest to take him to Dracula and stakes the Count. Here we have the rule change mentioned earlier. Staking alone doesn’t work, a prayer must be said and neither Paul, an atheist, nor the priest, who has lost his faith, can pray. Dracula pulls the stake out and, despite being showered with hot coals, gets away and kidnaps Maria. There is another marvellous nuzzling scene here, but it is Maria nuzzling the Count’s coffin. The priest, unusually, is not killed for betraying Dracula and has to drive the hearse. There is also a touching scene as Dracula helps Maria down from the hearse.

Paul chases after them and eventually, after an altercation at the village tavern, gets to the castle. Maria has removed the cross and thrown it down the mountainside, where it lands conveniently upright in the road. A bit of a struggle and Dracula is tossed down the Mountain and lands on the cross, screaming and bleeding from the eyes. The priest, who has now rediscovered his path, recites the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, killing the Count. All that is left is blood on the cross and his cape.

This film has problems, and some say it is a little stodgy in places. But despite it all I cannot help loving it. Lee is on fine form, though has little in the way of actual screen time. It is also worth noting that, after the previous film, he is speaking again. The dialogue isn’t the best around, but Lee delivers it with such gusto that it doesn’t matter.

I thought that the clash between faiths was an interesting idea, with Christianity, atheism and the cult of vampirism represented, though the term cult is not actually mentioned directly in this film. The film encompasses loss of faith and redemption, and the idea that love is stronger than belief. Other than the ropey outside shot when Zena is hunted, the film looks great and the music is right on the money.

The barmaid, Zena, is a great character though it would probably have helped to know more about the priest, a name at least would have been good. We can assume that the love he sees Paul display, as the young hero rushes headlong into mortal danger, helps him rediscover his path, but the film doesn’t say that, it merely hints at it a little. Many of the continuity problems I spotted are not as apparent when watching the film for entertainment, but were glaring as I studied it for review especially having just watched the previous movie. The bottom line is that the film is fun, and that is all there is to it. I’m tempted towards 7 out of 10, despite the faults.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Like you, I've always liked this movie despite its problems.

Another fine job!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I can't really add to that, however, have ou noticed how quickly I changed your links to the new site name... the hypno-post obviously works!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Thanks! Maybe I could make a career out of this hypnotism bit.

The T said...

Another favorite of mine. It has its issues but it still has magic.

I always had problems understanding why Dracula didn't ask the priest to remove the cross stopping him from entering his castle the first time they went there. he chooses to first go get revenge, and then have someone remove the cross. Dracula isn't too smart a few minutes after being resurrected, it seems.

One minor gripe I have with this film is that it's the first when Dracula and his victims cease to be the focal point and are (here) equally balanced with a second theme: the love between the two main characters. Here, this is not so evident as in later movies (Taste, 1972). In Horror and in Prince, the main theme was Dracula, and all other character-relations were secondary.

Also, this Dracula marks the start of the "I don't move, bring me my victims" tactic he also uses in Taste and 1972, where he nerver leaves a single room. Here he actually leaves a couple of times but is too dependent on the living aide and most of the time stays in the cellar.

Anyway, even with all of that, is a great film. And great review.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers the T, glad ou like the review. As you point out there are some issues, but I love this one despite itself!