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Friday, May 7, 2010

Scars of Dracula (1970) review


Christopher Lee (Dracula), Jenny Hanley (Sarah), Dennis Waterman (Simon), Patrick Troughton (Klove), Michael Gwynn (Priest), Christopher Matthews (Paul)

Directed by Roy Ward Baker

Castle Dracula is burned after local villagers gather their courage to march on the shadowy bastion. Returning home, the villagers discover the women have been butchered by Dracula's flock of giant bats. Meanwhile, a young man named Paul, chased by the Burgomaster for a sexual tryst with his daughter, finds himself a guest at Dracula's home. Paul's brother, Simon and his lady friend, Sarah, go looking for Paul and soon discover his fate. The couple then must combat the evil of Dracula and free the village forever.

SCARS OF DRACULA marks a lot of firsts for this series. It's the first R rated Hammer Dracula movie released in the United States. It's enhanced (or hindered depending on ones taste) by a heightened amount of gruesome violence including a scene where Dracula stabs one his vampiric slaves to death(!). It also contains a nifty shot of Dracula scaling the walls of his castle and also, after many years of complaining, Christopher Lee gets a wagon cart full of dialog to speak throughout the movie.

It also contains the most amazingly distasteful method for Dracula's resurrection. Right at the outset, a huge bat flies into Dracula's inner sanctum and proceeds to puke up a thick, sanguinary substance on his ashes thereby bringing him to life. It's not explained just how his ashes got up into this small room which has no means of getting in, or out. It's also the first Chris Lee Dracula movie to show him holding dominion over animals; in this case, a group of huge bats. Also, Lee's make up really makes him look like a member of the undead. His powers are also given a hint of the supernatural such as doors opening on there own when he enters or exits a room.

SCARS OF DRACULA is also a first in that there was no funding from an American studio. For whatever reason, Warner Brothers passed on the project. Possibly due to the lackluster receipts for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, American audiences were becoming accustomed to a more rowdy and raw approach to horror. These types of movies with oldeworld appeal were on their way out. Hammer was desperate to win over this new audience by adding more sex and violence and SCARS had a little sex and an abundance of violence.

Dracula frequently savages his servant, Klove by burning his back with a red hot sword. A body is chopped up, one character is impaled, a group of women are mutilated inside a church and one scene that was removed from the film, saw Dracula drinking blood from the belly wound of his female vampire slave after repeatedly stabbing her with a knife. Patrick Troughton (Klove) was one of many actors to play DOCTOR WHO and also acted in other Hammer horror movies such as THE GORGON (1964) and briefly during the opening of FRANKENSTEIN & THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974).

Over the years the film amassed a bit of a cult following despite a lot of people displaying detestation for it. It was the very first Hammer movie I ever saw on VHS tape in the early 1980's and I was blown away by it. At that time, it was my favorite Hammer picture. It definitely grows on you over time. Even Chris Lee, who on the DVD commentary, shows some admiration for the movie now.

Despite a shorter schedule and less money afforded the budget, the crew made do with what they had. Regardless of how cheap some of it looks, the film has some strikingly Gothic matte shots of the castle exterior such as when Simon is trying to lower himself down to Dracula's hidden hideaway. The movie is also unique in that it's strictly a stand alone affair. It bears no connection to any other series entry. It's just there. The film fails in its ending. The death of Dracula would seem to be spectacular, but death by lightning bolt, while creative, comes off sloppy in the finished movie. Not to mention Eddie Powell is clearly wearing a mask the few seconds you seem him on fire. BENNY HILL fans will recognize Bob Todd as the Burgomaster.

Roy Ward Baker directed some choice Hammer films in his career, at least by my estimation. He did THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE (1971) as well as Hammer's last Dracula production sans Christopher Lee, LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), an action packed co-production between the then dying Hammer and world renowned Shaw Brothers studio. SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) is deserving of reevaluation and isn't nearly as bad as some of the company's other 70's output like the boring COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) and the slapdash LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971).

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay two disc edition


dfordoom said...

I recall not being overly impressed by Scars of Dracula when I first saw it, but my affection for Hammer films has grown since then. I probably should take another look at it.

The Vampire Lovers, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires are all great movies. They show that late Hammer movies could be every bit as good and as interesting as their earlier productions.

I do agree with you on Countess Dracula - it just didn't do very much for me either.

The Mike said...

Great post! This has always been one of my favorite Hammer flicks to go to as mindless entertainment. It does lack some of the previous films' allure, but it has its own Jenny Hanley.

venoms5 said...

@ D: Yeah, this one does seem to go either way for fans. It's seems to pop up on people's fave lists, though. I like it a lot for how different it is from the other entries in the series. And I absolutely LOVE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES! Huge fave right there!

venoms5 said...

@ The Mike: Thanks! It's a huge fave of mine, too. And you're so right about Jenny Hanley! A shame she didn't appear in any other Hammer movies, at least none of their remaining horror output.

Sean M said...

This movie may not bear the same classic status as the first two Dracula films but i've always found it to be as entertaining and certainly more fun.i'm sadly lacking the Chris Lee commentary on my Hammer box set disc but i'm glad to hear he has affection for it now.Does he say anything about those other latter Dracula films?

venoms5 said...

I honestly can't remember, Sean, although I recall him saying he detested the two modern day films saying it was wrong to have placed the character there. I'll have to listen to the commentary again. He does cover the other films if I remember right.

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