Sunday, October 3, 2010

Retro View: Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

With October now upon us, it's time to bring out the pumpkins and scary movies. So let's catch up with the world's most famous non-sparkly vampire...

The small village of Kleinenberg has been living in fear of the vicious Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) ever since he desecrated the local church, causing poor turnouts for mass and the local priest (Ewan Hooper) to take up drinking even though the count has apparently died. When a visiting Monsignor Mueller (Rupert Davies) comes calling he decides to put to rest the villagers' fears by performing an exorcism on the Count's castle and takes the local padre with him. But when the priest flees he slips, cutting himself and releasing Dracula from his icy tomb. By this time Mueller has stuck a big cross in the door causing more havoc than an eviction notice. And as we learn, hell hath no fury like a Dracula without a castle as he follows the Monsignor back to his hometown and sets his eyes on the innocent Maria (Veronica Carlson), the Monsignor's niece. Standing in Drac's way is Paul (Barry Andrews), the local boy who is in love with Maria. He's also an atheist which causes some problems, especially when Drac gets a stake shoved in him and he can't perform a simple religious ritual. Can Paul save his true love from the Count before she becomes one of the undead and find his religion?

By 1968 when this film was released, Hammer Films had already staked the market with numerous vampire flicks, including two other entries in the Dracula series (well three if you count The Brides of Dracula which does not feature Drac at all) and were beginning to run out of ways to keep the series going. For this entry, director Freddie Francis (best known as an award winning cinematographer on films like The Elephant Man and Glory) adds some offbeat visual touches, like filtered lights when Dracula appears and a city with narrow ledges that people can walk on over the city below, to liven up the proceedings. Also keeping interest is Christopher Lee who brings a mix of sex appeal and menace to his vampire. The rest of the cast kind of pales in comparison. In fact the film's major fault is the lack of a good protagonist to square off against Dracula. This film desperately needs Peter Cushing's Van Helsing from the earlier films, even though Davies does OK as the Monsignor.

The film does deliver though the Hammer touch-the staking of the Count is a bloody delight while the female characters have the lowest cut dresses they could get away with in 1968 (and with a G rating!) along with some rousing action scenes. Also interesting is the religion angle of the script. Most vampire films and TV shows of late have disposed of this element but this film makes it clear waving a crucifix around just doesn't work. You do have to have faith, something that causes our hero an unique problem. In the end it isn't the best of Hammer's Dracula series-that honor goes to the original Horror of Dracula-but it's still fun for fans of Hammer and 1960s horror. At least there are no sparkly teen heartthrob vamps. Rating: *** out of 4.

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