Friday, January 10, 2014

Hammer Rewatch: Scars of Dracula (1970)

            A look at Hammer’s Dracula series, Part 6…

            One thing you have to admire about Scars of Dracula is its willingness to waste no time - whereas the previous film took nearly forty minutes before it bothered to resurrect the Count, here he is revived in the very first scene, via a not-very convincing rubber bat puking blood over the red dust he was reduced to in the previous installment. What makes bat puke blood so special that it can restore Dracula back to life from a pile of dust? The film has no time for such questions, as Dracula immediately sets about murdering village people left and right. Fed up, a number of villagers gather together and storm Dracula’s castle, burning it down in the process. But the Count manages to send his rubber bat buddy out just in time to cause a little havoc back home, and the villagers return in time to find their families slaughtered in a church, in one of the film’s most effective and creepy scenes.

            In true Hammer, Simpsons structure-esque fashion, we cut from there to the birthday party of Sarah, a pretty young student who has a pair of brothers competing for her affections. The oldest is Simon, the stand-up type who only has eyes for her, and the other is Paul, a young lothario whose inability to keep it in his pants constantly gets him into trouble. One such incident sees Paul chased out of town, where through a most fortuitous turn of events finds himself a guest at Castle Dracula. He soon goes missing, leading Sarah and Simon to follow after him.

            The biggest mistake the film makes is focusing on the wrong brother. For the first few scenes, we follow the roguish Paul, a much more interesting character played excellently by Christopher Matthews. But upon entering Dracula’s castle, the focus shifts over to the far less interesting Simon, who even director Roy Ward Baker thought was horribly miscast in Dennis Waterman. Simon is far too much of a bore to carry the picture on his own, especially having to follow after his own far more charismatic brother. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a host of Hammer regulars and a bevy of beautiful actresses, with Michael Ripper (in his fourth appearance in the series to date) and Anouska Hempel leaving the biggest impressions. Christopher Lee also returns as Dracula himself, getting more screen-time here than nearly all the other movies combined - in the process becoming something of an actual character this time out.

            Most of the film is a welcome change of pace, as the increasing need for Hammer to up the violence winds up serving the movie rather well (this was the first Hammer Dracula to receive an R rating), but there’s still an inherent cheapness to the proceedings that the film can’t escape. Baker was a reliable director for the studio, but the constant cutting back-and-forth to the rubber bat - with no real attempt to make it look the least bit convincing - really hurts what otherwise could have been a creepily disturbing romp.

           Still, Scars of Dracula overcomes Waterman and that damn rubber bat in the end, resulting in one of the better sequels in the series.    

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