After years of Dracula period pieces, Hammer decided to put the Count in the present era with Dracula 1972. Despite, at best, mixed reviews, the film received a sequel. Better than its predecessor, Satanic Rites of Dracula still does not rank among the great horror classics. It does, however, provide an excellent glimpse into the state of the horror movie in the early 1970s.

We’re in the dying days of the older-style monster movie, post Rosemary‘s Baby, in the culture that produced Charles Manson, Vampirella, Jack Chick tracts, and Man, Myth, and Magic. The same year as this film appeared, The Exorcist changed the face of horror movies. At the same time, the old monsters, popculturized by Universal and kept alive by Hammer and Forrest J. Ackerman, retained a powerful appeal. This film blends the old (Dracula, vampire brides in the cellar) with the new (occult rituals, big conspiracies, Antiente MagickTM in modern times).

Title: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

aka Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Alan Gibson
Written by Don Houghton

Peter Cushing as Lorrimer Van Helsing
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula / Denham
Michael Coles as Inspector Murray
William Franklyn as Torrence
Freddie Jones as Prof. Julian Keeley
Joanna Lumley as Jessica Van Helsing
Richard Vernon as Col. Mathews
Barbara Yu Ling as Chin Yang
Patrick Barr as Lord Carradine
Richard Mathews as John Porter
Lockwood West as General Sir Arthur Freeborne
Valerie Van Ost as Jane
Maurice O’Connell as Hanson
Maggie Fitzgerald as Vampire girl
Pauline Peart as Vampire girl
Finnuala O’Shannon as Vampire girl
Mia Martin as Vampire girl

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb

This film may be purchased at Amazon (Which inexplicably lists 1978 as the film’s year of release).

Premise:

Occult rituals revive Dracula, who sets himself up as a billionaire industrialist and launches a world-threatening scheme. Can a low-rent James Bond and a descendant of the original Professor Van Helsing stop him?

High Points:

1. The film drags out familiar tropes of vampire films and cop/spy thrillers. Combining the two, however, represents an original idea.

2. Regardless of script and circumstances, Christopher Lee proves why, for more than a decade, he owned the role of Dracula.

Low Points:

For a centuries-old vampire mastermind and a brilliant human scientist, Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing show shocking lapses in their thinking. Instead of just shooting Dracula with his prepared silver bullet once he confirms the Count’s identity, he announces his intention to do, thus providing an opportunity for the henchmen to intervene. Dracula, instead of killing Van Helsing, decides “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond! Ahahah!” “It cannot be made so easy for him!” and devises a more elaborate scheme that provides plenty of opportunities for escape.

Finally, when Dracula is ready to launch the final stage of his fiendish plot, he informs his high-placed minions, who believe they’re part of a different, much less destructive plot, of his real intentions— which he has to know they will oppose. Soon after, the Count gets lured into a growth of vamp-power-sapping plants which grow, conveniently, outside his headquarters.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6

Effects: 4/6 Hammer went for low-level special effects.

Story: 4/6 The bizarre, comic-book plot presents a fresh take on the vampire legend, but story-telling suffers from plot developments born from stupid decisions the characters wouldn’t make, and a least one Amazing Coincidence.

Acting: 4/6 The acting has a hamminess that some modern viewers will find hard to take, if they’re not used to vintage horror movies. Peter Cushing fares best as Van Helsing, and Christopher Lee plays a convincingly demonic Count. His interpretation owes much to the source material. This vampire isn’t cuddly, brooding, sparkly, or particularly romantic; he’s evil.

The extras are less consistently convincing.

Production: 4/6. The 70s cop-show/spy-thriller soundtrack not only clashes with the horror movie ambience, it sounds bad in its own right.

Emotional Response: 3/6 Possible +1 bonus for being so very much of its time and place.

Overall: 4/6. After Vampire Lovers, this is about the best of Hammer’s early-70s oeuvre. If you really like vampire films or this era in horror, you’ll want to watch this movie. Everyone else can give it a miss.

In total, The Satanic Rites of Dracula receives 26/42.

(Or is that 27?)

Lingering Questions

1. Why are the female vampires so weak?
2. Why would Dracula stock his cellar/vampire bridal suite with tools perfectly suited to killing vampires? And why would he permit the anti-vamp shrubbery in his back yard?
3. Water kills vampires? Not Holy Water, mind you, but regular sprinkler-system water? This takes a little too far the notion that vampires cannot cross running water under their own power.
4. Why do Dracula’s guards all wear groovy fur-trimmed vests?