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The return of Dracula

Christopher Lee made seven Dracula movies for Hammer Films.  Over the past few weeks, I have gone through the sequence and in this post, I’ll discuss the final two movies (having already discussed the others).

Dracula A.D. 1972 is Hammer’s attempt to modernize the series.  Breaking from any sort of continuity with the previous five films, this movie opens with a prologue set in 1872, with Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in mortal combat (for Cushing, his first reprise of the role since the Christopher Lee-less Brides of Dracula).  At the end of the fight, both will be done for.  Fortunately for Dracula, one of his minions is around to preserve some of his remains and pass them on to a descendant.  Fortunately for Van Helsing, he will also have a descendant who looks remarkably like him.

A century later, the plot turns into a rehash of Taste the Blood of Dracula.  In the earlier movie, three bored rich men help resurrect Dracula thinking they’ll find some new entertainment.  In this movie, it’s bored hippies  who assist Dracula’s minion’s descendant in bringing back Dracula.  The first victim will be 1970s B-movie beauty Caroline Munro.

While bringing Dracula to swinging early ’70s London is theoretically a good idea, the movie suffers because Dracula never leaves the desanctified old church he was restored in.  And as is typically the case, the symbols of Christianity come off as an easy way to control the vampire.  Also, the general rule still holds that dark-haired women (such as Munro) die while lighter-haired ones (Stephanie Beacham, playing Van Helsing’s granddaughter) live.  Quality 5/10, Fun 5/10.

The series concludes with the movie’s direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which comes off feeling more like a James Bond film than a Dracula movie.  In this tale, Dracula has entered the modern world as a mysterious billionaire who is orchestrating the end of humanity through a deadly plague.  Helping him are an evil cult which includes some powerful government figures.  Opposing him are various MI-5 sorts, Van Helsing and his granddaughter (now played by Joanna Lumley, who is actually a redhead instead of a blonde!).  Despite bits of cleverness, the series does look like it’s  tired.   Cushing would, however, reprise his Van Helsing role one last time in the kung-fu/vampire film The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a movie that fits nowhere in the series of other movies.  Quality 5/10, Fun 5/10.

Lee did play Dracula in a non-Hammer movie.  Count Dracula is an attempt by Spanish director Jesus Franco to make a sincere adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel.  For Lee, it must have been refreshing to play Dracula differently.  Franco, however, is a schlock director and even in this, perhaps his best movie, things are only passable.  Franco’s strength is his location selection (filled with creaky old castles), but that can’t atone for a generally slow film that I was hard pressed not to nod off while watching.  Quality: 4/10, Fun 3/10.



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