Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Coles, Joanna Lumley
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Written by: Don Houghton (screenplay by)
Studio: Warner Bros./ Hammer Films
Original Year of Release: 1973
Run Time: 1h 27min
Order the Blu-ray HERE from Warner Archive.
I first came across the Satanic Rites of Dracula in the bargain bin at a Suncoast video (see that cover HERE on IMDB). I had just picked up my first Hammer Warner Bros. box set and was thirsty for more. The quality of the transfer, for the DVD, was less than stellar. It looked as if someone had shot video of a 35mm projection and then transferred that to DVD. Since I paid $2.99 for it, I guess I should have expected that. It was a tough watch and had a bit more nudity than I expected, especially for a Hammer Film. Now, here we are years later, I have a lot more Hammer Films under my belt, and Warner Archive has released a stunning Blu-ray. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that I know what Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing look like as older gentlemen, the film would appear to be a Seventies period piece shot today.
This is the last time Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing will square off against each other has Dracula and Van Helsing. It is a modern tale with Lee as the Count and Cushing as one of his descendants. Outside of the film being the final installment in Hammer’s Dracula films, it is also a direct sequel to Count Dracula A.D. 1972 (order HERE from Warner Archive). If you are keeping track, Stephanie Beachman does not return as Jessica Van Helsing (his Niece). Instead, she is played by Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley. The Hammer films, with all different plot lines, timelines, and studios have always been a mixed bag for me and not something that I have come to watch in any type of order. Nor have I been thrown off that Lee wasn’t Dracula in a particular film ((cough) The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires). So this being the last one has the significance of the fact that there is nothing released after 1974, that’s all.
Here we find a Satanic Illuminati under Dracula’s direction seeking to bring a great plague upon the world. The British government gets involved by investigating some of its high profile citizens who turn out to members of Dracula’s inner circle. The authorities bring in Van Helsing to check out an old friend and he discovers the sinister truth.
As far as modern Dracula films go, there is a lot to digest here. It starts off with a Black Mass Ceremony, a lot more nudity (as I mentioned) for a Hammer Film, and Dracula is living a dual life as a Howard Hughes type recluse to win over prominent members of the British Society. Plus, motorcycles! Yes, there is a lot of motorcycle action for a Dracula film. When the full “scheme” is revealed by Cushing’s Van Helsing, who is again superb, you see the brilliance of Dracula’s plan. Is he making it easier to feed or simply ending it all for everyone?
I was surprised by this one, this time. Enough time had passed and my pallet for Hammer Films has certainly grown since my first foray into the last Hammer Dracula. It was different, and there were mysteries and intrigue but in a more modern sense. It felt more like a James Bond film with its modern setting than that of a country village plagued by a monster. My one and only issue with the whole film is how they take Dracula out. I guess the powers that be at Hammer just ran out ideas. The concept was different and even appropriate, it just had never been done before or since. I’ll revisit the film again, as I do with all Hammer productions. There is just something about that joy in seeing that Hammer red blood on the screen.