Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula

By the 1970s Hammer were desperate to inject new life into their film franchises. One of their most successful, of course, was the Dracula series, featuring the Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee partnership, but even that was requiring a new spin; and so in 1972 they decided to bring The Count and his nemesis Van Helsing (albeit further down the family tree) into the present day for the wonderfully camp Dracula AD 1972

Two years later, Hammer decided upon a sequel and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula came into being, and cast and characters were reprised; Lee and Cushing once more as Dracula and Lorrimer Van Helsing as well as Michael Coles as the dogged Inspector Murray (any relation to Mina Harker nee Murray from Stoker's original do we think?) and whilst the character of Van Helsing's 'with it' granddaughter Jessica returns, this time round she is played by Joanna Lumley as opposed to Stephanie Beacham.

 Biguns, I mean Beacham Out

Bumley, I mean Lumley In

Another notable difference is behind the camera too; Don Houghton making way for Alan Gibson in the sequel.

Whereas AD 1972 was determined to cash in on the Swinging London scene (admittedly already about seven years too late!) Satanic Rites is concerned with tapping into the craze for espionage and the appeal of the James Bond market, as Special Branch and the Intelligence Service become intrigued by several powerful Establishment figures attending Black Masses. As a result what we have is a strange hybrid of horror, spy and detective movie that ironically, given Joanna Lumley's presence, pre-dates The New Avengers in terms of style and look, complete with stone faced motorbike riding assassins wearing Sonny and Cher style sheepskin waistcoats, like hippies gone bad!

This specifically action orientated style gives Coles plenty to do after his more peripheral role in the previous film. 

Pack it in luv, I've enough on my plate with this bad hair day!

In this he gets to really play the action orientated leading man and rescues Jessica, three times in fact, has a punch up and stakes Valerie Van Ost before she gets a chance to sink her teeth into urbane spymaster William 'I could have been Bond' Franklyn.

But is it any good? Well, no. Don't get me wrong it's not bad and in no way does it deserve some of the hate it has been the brunt of over the years since its release - and often just from its star Christopher Lee, as much as its critics or its audiences. Lee, a great actor, is terribly sniffy about these later stages of Hammer you see, despite it not stopping him gratefully or greedily picking up his wages. And when you consider the work he did in the 80s and 90s, well....
Like the previous film it deserves kudos for trying something different, but Gibson fails to fully capitalise on bringing Dracula into the modern day, or indeed, even seem sure what he wants to do with the super villain. As such it does seem a little odd and bemusing that the long undead vampire is now content to masquerade as reclusive business mogul DD Denham and hoping to unleash the bubonic plague across the entire world. 

The best scene for me is the scene when Lumley investigates the cellar of the mysterious mansion house and unwittingly disturbs some brides of Dracula. The slow motion effects as their long fingernails claw and grasp at her, eager for her blood, is still gripping to this day

Ooh who does your hair sweetie? It's absolutely fabulous!

Girls chained in the cellar...Chez Fritzl ? ;P

It's really naff though and not naff in an enjoyable way, which AD 1972 was. Looking back on that film now it's quaint and fun and wears its, admittedly, out of date attempts at swinging coolness on its ruffled shirt sleeves. Whereas this is too po faced and concerned with being tough that it ultimately seems to be a cinematic sneer.

Lee looks bored throughout, and it really is no surprise he held such material with contempt behind the scenes. But then he has very little to do really, beyond looking tall dark and menacing and as such, and it's really odd to say this, but he's quite a non entity; a cardboard cut out of a villain, not helped by his bemused motives that seem more in keeping with Lee's other arch villain Fu Manchu

And for my next trick....

It's a shame Lee never took a leaf out of his co-star, Peter Cushing's book. Cushing was never less than dignified no matter how dire the material. Once again he gives a wonderfully solemn, elegantly weary performance; an old man in a rapidly changing age who should be adrift in the tide but surprisingly, as much to himself than the authorities, has the key to all the answers.

I'm looking for a book...Vampire hunting by JR Hartley...You have it? Oh good!

Indeed Cushing and Coles are probably the best things in it (Franklyn and Richard Vernon as an 'M' style figure - something he'd later do brilliantly as 'C' in Yorkshire TV's excellent gritty spy drama The Sandbaggers -  have great potential but are stupidly and pointlessly killed off mid way through) I'd love to say Joanna Lumley is superb as well, because I worship the ground she walks on, but sadly her Jessica Van Helsing is too vapid and generic to make an impression and all trace of her cultural savviness is gone in this instalment. Beacham was much better, but then she was more integral to the plot of the first film.

All in all it's a shame this was the last proper Dracula movie from Hammer (they went on to make Legend Of The Seven Gold Vampires, a kind of Kung Fu/Vampire mash up in China, reverting back to the 1900s for the era) as I do think there was, despite my reservations of this film, some more mileage in the modern day Dracula movies. With some more fine tuning and thought into what the vampiric Count meant for the present day they could have run and run. I mean, even this inferior film is a damn sight better and more relevant  than Dracula 2000 which America vomited up twenty odd years later!

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