Monday, June 28, 2010

Scars of Dracula (1970)

We open with a slab in Dracula's castle on which rests his cape and powdered blood. Suddenly a squeaking rubber bat flutters into the room and drools a few drops of blood, which causes Dracula to regenerate. This marks the first time in the series that Dracula's resurrection has not been a direct continuation of the previous movie's finale. Unfortunately the lack of continuity, visual style, budget and common sense in this opening is carried over into the rest of the movie.

We then follow a man carrying the vampirised body of a young woman to the local inn, where the innkeeper stirs up the town into vigilante action. The women and children are all deposited in the church while all the men storm the castle and attempt to burn it to the ground. This accomplishes two things: 1/ it gives Dracula an excuse to not have many expensive things left later in the movie, and 2/ it royally pisses him off. When the men return to the church, they discover that all the women and children have been gruesomely killed by large rubber bats. The camera lingers over their mutilated faces as the men stoically grieve.

The gore the merrier

The movie then follows Paul, a young rogue who is caught in flagrante with the burgomaster's daughter and goes dashing about in a series of unfunny slapstick scenes, passing through his brother's girlfriend's birthday party for plot convenience, until he arrives at Dracula's castle (having been turned away at the inn). Despite being freaked out by Dracula and his hairy uncouth servant Klove (played by former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton and clearly not the same Klove from Dracula: Prince of Darkness), he elects to spend the night there. That night he is seduced by the young woman who had greeted him at the castle gates. Just as she is about to bit him (post-coitally - the first vampire nookie in one of these movies) Dracula barges in, knocks Paul out, and stabs the woman to death with a huge knife.

Yes you read that right - Dracula stabs someone, and despite being a vampire she dies.

Dracula forsees the '80s slasher boom

The next morning Paul finds himself locked in with the corpse, so he makes a rope ladder out of torn curtains and climbs out the window into the room below. This turns out to be Dracula's sleeping chamber, which has no doors. Meanwhile in the room above, Klove cheerfully whistles as he dismembers the woman's corpse, tossing the pieces into an acid bath (or perhaps a holy water bath) where they dissolve.

Paul's brother Simon and his girlfriend Sarah go looking for Paul, and after meeting a hostile reaction at the inn they head to Dracula's castle. They spend the night, but are able to leave relatively unmolested as Klove has taken a fancy to Sarah. When Dracula discovers that they are gone, he punishes Klove by searing his back with a red-hot sword.

Simon resolves to go back to find Paul, leaving Sarah in the church under the protection of the priest, and manages to end up trapped in Dracula's sleeping chamber with Paul's impaled corpse. Dracula awakens, climbs up the wall (in a sequence taken directly from the original novel - I believe this was the first time it was ever filmed) and goes after Sarah, who has come to the castle after the priest was killed by a squeaking rubber bat.

The goddamn Batman?

Everybody converges on the room of the castle, where Klove is thrown over the battlements to his death by Dracula. It seems that Dracula is about to get the upper hand when suddenly he is struck by lightning, catches on fire, and plummets off the battlements himself.

Divine justice? Lazy scripting?

Shit ending

If you haven't managed to work it out from the summary, this movie is absolutely dreadful. Christopher Lee gets more screen time and dialogue as Dracula than in any prior movie in the series, but Dracula is turned into a sadist who prefers stabbing and branding people to biting them. (He does get to bite two women over the course of the movie, and the sexual nature of these scenes are played up, but they are throwaway bits.) Most of the cast is pretty bad, especially Dennis Waterman as Simon. Patrick Troughton clearly has fun as Klove, and Lee injects a certain glee into his sadistic scenes, but this is easily the worst of the series so far.

Roy Ward Baker directs rather stolidly, with none of the style of Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis or even Peter Sadsy. The script is terrible, from the awful dialogue to the meandering nature of the plot, with too much to-ing and fro-ing. It was actually written by Anthony Hinds, under his usual John Elder pseudonym, who had written the previous two movies and is usually considered one of the real creative masterminds behind the company (as well as being the son of William Hinds - aka Will Hammer) but he had left the company by this stage and it's likely that his original script was monkeyed with.

Worst of all, it all looks so very cheap. All of Hammer's movies were low-budget affairs, but this is the first to lack the lush production design and cinematography that had distinguished their earlier gothic horror movies. Baker tries to compensate by piling on the gore, which has a certain camp charm, but it isn't enough.

That one brief sequence of Dracula climbing the walls is rather good, but it's the only part that suggests anyone involved had read Stoker's book. Despite some parts bearing a superficial resemblance to Jonathan Harker's visit to Castle Dracula in the novel, the character is further from his original conception than ever before.

Holy Moses, does this movie stink!

I don't really have much positive to say about it. I really hope that the series doesn't continue to get worse. The title of the next movie gives me some hope, though. It seems that it will be a period movie of a different sort.

Tomorrow, the one I've been looking forward to most. Dracula: AD 1972

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