Watching Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is a little like getting a really ordinary blowjob from an extraordinarily beautiful woman. You want to enjoy the experience a lot more, just based on how great the accompanying visuals are, but, when all is said and done, the experience, while admittedly good, definitely ain’t great.
The third in the immortal Hammer Studios’ famed Dracula series (not counting The Brides Of Dracula or Kiss Of The Vampire, which didn’t actually feature Dracula at all), Dracula Has Risen From The Grave picks up one year after the end of 1966’s Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, which closed with the titular Count meeting his end in a watery grave at the bottom of his castle’s own winter-frozen moat. The townspeople still tremble in mortal terror of Dracula’s very name, but a visiting Monsignor from a neighboring village is having none of it. Pissed off by the fact that the local yokels refuse to go to church out of superstitious fear of incurring Dracula’s wrath (the church, ya see, sits smack-dab in the daytime shadow of Castle Dracula), the Monsignor decides to go up to the abandoned castle and sanctify the damned place, dragging the local priest (a whimpering wuss if ever there was one) along for the ride.
Somebody, it seems, never heard the expression “let sleeping corpses lie,” because, before you know it, one of our duo’s Catholic kooks has accidentally wounded himself and (wouldn’t ya know it?) the blood from that wound inconveniently manages to find its way directly into the mouth of the deceased Count (what are the odds?). Talk about shit luck. Anyhoo, Dracula rises once again, seizes the whimpering wuss priest as his Renfield-esque slave, and proceeds to wreak bloody vengeance on the life of the miserable Monsignor who dared to try and consecrate Drac’s happenin’ party pad. How best to wreak said bloody vengeance, you ask? Why, by making the Monsignor’s beautiful, busty, blond niece the object of Dracula’s sanguinary (and sexual) appetites, of course.
Too bad for ol’ Drac that the girl in question is already the focus of somebody else’s affection, namely a local atheist/pastry chef (!) who has plans to take the Monsignor’s daughter’s hand in marriage. From there, you can probably guess how the story goes. Dracula lays siege to the girl’s soul, puts the bite on the odd tavern wench, uses his priestly acolyte to gain intel about and access to his sadistically selected target’s inner sanctum, yada yada yada. And our hero, an outspoken non-believer, must leave his doubts at the door to face off against a creature born not of God, but of The Devil. Oh yeah, this is given added emphasis due to a handy li’l retcon which decrees that the only true way to kill Count Dracula (for this outing, at least) is to not only impale his heart… but also pray to Jesus Christ, Our Lord & Savior ™ whilst doing so.
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave was directed by Freddie Francis, one of my favorite British directors from this era, right up there in my eyes with the often more widely lauded Terence Fischer. Francis’ other noteworthy credits include Hammer’s The Evil Of Frankenstein and several efforts from primary Hammer competitor Amicus, including Torture Garden and Tales From The Crypt. Back in the day, Francis’ directorial style was frequently criticized for being too flashy and too weird. Nowadays, though, it’s obvious the man was a visionary ahead of his time. Take for instance the brilliant color-filter with which he lensed so many of the most memorable moments in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Anytime the Count is up to his usual terrible tricks, a burnt aura can be seen on-screen, giving the appearance of a perpetual scarlet halo framing the unfolding events. Pairing that with his bold lighting choices and sped-up action sequences, one finds Francis’ arch, psychedelic visuals bring to mind the iconic rainbow-hued Famous Monsters covers of Basil Gogos. Monsterrific!
Unfortunately, the substance of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is not as tantalizing as its style. The plot here is fairly predictable and cut-and-dry: Dracula is, oops, brought back to life by short-sighted meddling. Dracula finds some reason to seek vengeance (that’s all he ever seems to care about in Hammer’s Dracula flicks: vengeance …ever notice that?). Dracula proceeds to seek vengeance. Dracula’s quest for vengeance leads him right into the path of some dashing hero (usually Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, though sadly not this time ’round). Dracula ends up dead as a doornail yet again, through some new means of execution not alluded to in earlier series entries. Roll credits.
That’s not to say a movie with such a simple and formulaic plot can’t still be a hoot. Indeed, there’s nary an installment in Hammer’s Dracula series that I wouldn’t describe as, at the very least, entertaining, not even the much-maligned Dracula A.D. 1970 nor The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (both of which I’m actually rather fond of). But it (like Peter Cushing’s tragic non-involvement here) is nonetheless a disappointment.
Having said that, there are still a few other items that make Dracula Has Risen From The Grave stand out from the pack, aside, that is, from Freddie Francis’ stupendous eye for imagery. For one, the acting here is quite good. The wimpering wuss priest (played by Ewan Hooper) who becomes Dracula’s acolyte is especially memorable, and I quite liked the idea of him being turned into this picture’s Renfield of sorts (I also liked how said priest did pitch in at the very end, ultimately redeeming himself… though it should be noted that there’s something to be said, subtext-wise, about the image of a superstitious, slow-witted priest acting as the manservant of the most evil being in existence). Not all the performers here are superb, mind you. The resident damsel in distress (played by Rupert Davies) is serviceable, but nowhere near as unforgettable as some of Hammer’s truly iconic glamour girls (a la’ Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith). What really sells this flick, though, is that one key thing that ultimately makes or breaks any Dracula flick, and that’s the Count himself.
Though Dracula’s screen time is extremely limited (something common of pretty much all Hammer’s Dracula movies) the impact he leaves behind from the time we do spend with him is indelible. There’s a reason Christopher Lee is a genre cinema legend, and it’s not just because he’s so absurdly prolific. Lee’s Dracula is just as suave and otherworldly as Lugosi’s, but Lee is savage, feral, cruel, and downright evil in a way that no interpretation of Dracula I’ve ever seen has been. To trot out the importance of visuals once again, another thing I’ve always loved about the Chris Lee iteration of Dracula is his look. Gone is the stately opera enthusiast’s wardrobe as modeled by Universal’s Count. In the Hammer movies, only the cape remains, with a stark, blood-red satin interior offering the sole splash of color in an otherwise utterly bleak costume. Black, black, and more black. The streaks of grey in the Count’s hair imbue him with a feeling of seasoned immortality. But what really does it for me (hmmm, putting it that way gives this whole discussion an air of homoeroticism doesn’t it? …eh, whatever) is that cape. Actually, not so much the cape… but the way he wears it (again with the homoeroticism). It completely envelopes him, to the point where he quite often looks like little more than a human head plopped like some gaudy ornament atop a jet-black Christmas tree. When he moves, he floats (lest he be caught up in the heat of battle, then he lashes and lunges with the occasionally awkward ferocity of some dreadful animal predator). His presence conjures up a potent aura of doom and evil.
Evil. There’s that word again. If Hammer’s version of Dracula was ever meant to symbolize any concept in all the world, evil would be it. Dracula is Hammer’s answer to Satan. He’s the worst of the worst. And Hammer’s admittedly overdone flogging of that notion, of the black-and-white conflict of “good versus evil,” remains charming, a refreshing escapist simplification of the world that could easily be balanced out by an analysis of the company’s other, more salacious obsessions. Really, if you took out all the sex and violence, all those heaving bosoms and blood-dripping fangs, you could easily pass off Dracula Has Risen From The Grave as a piece of Christian propaganda. Hammer’s ideas are Old World and, to some, outdated. But their presentation of said ideas was, at the time, cutting edge. Even now, that presentation strikes a jarring juxtaposition against the actual content being, uh, presented. A product of psychological repression perhaps?
Ah, who cares?!? Dracula is Dracula and Hammer is Hammer, and that means cleavage-gazing and blood-letting. What’s more fun?
Before, I said that watching Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is like getting an everyday blowjob from an unusually hot super-babe. So, yeah, the tongue-and-lip action is unexceptional, but the eye candy is still worth the price of admission alone. And, let’s not forget, just like Dracula is Dracula and Hammer is Hammer, a blowjob is still a blowjob. There’s no good reason to turn it down.
– Wilhelm Screem, The Werewolf Of The Comic Shop