24 November 2011

SCARS OF DRACULA/1970/HAMMER/CHRISTOPHER LEE

SCARS OF DRACULA

1970/Director: Roy Ward Baker/Writers: Anthony Hinds as John Elder

Cast: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Christopher Matthews, Patrick Troughton, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper, Wendy Hamilton, Anouska Hempel

For people who say that this is the worst Hammer Dracula film ever made they must have stopped at this 1970 feature and never checked out Dracula A.D. 1972 and then The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the last of the Hammer Dracula features. This is the last of the Hammer series to feature the Count in a Gothic setting however. In this one the Count is back in Transylvania and the continuity the series had followed fairly well over the last three films (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Taste the Blood of Dracula) is jarred by the fact that at the end of Taste the Count is left a pile of powdery, desiccated blood in London. Scars does have the Count start off as powdery blood but there are some a couple gaps here we will look at later. The film was shot on a budget and shot quickly. It was released, sometimes on a double bill with Horror of Frankenstein, only a few months after Taste the Blood of Dracula. It was director Roy Ward Baker's first stab at a Gothic film and the absence of such maestros of the style like Terence Fisher or Freddie Francis is sorely felt. But to be honest Ward does the best he can with a script that offers very little in the way of something new to add to the series and a small budget and tight schedule. He just does not have the flair that Terence Fisher had but those are pretty big shoes to try and fill in the first place.

But is it really a horrible feature? The worst of the Dracula's films that Hammer produced? I would say it is not a horrible film at all and certainly better than the two Lee films that came after it, though I think Lee and Hammer films would agree with that as well. In those final two films it becomes clear that Hammer felt it had exhausted its limits with a Gothic Dracula and that is too bad. I think a lot more could have been done before transporting the Count into modern and swingin' downtown London. A couple things that put some distance between this film and it predecessors is the amount of sex and violence in the film. It was the first Hammer Dracula film to earn an R rating. Another is the character of Lee's Dracula himself. In prior films the Count was content to appear every ten or fifteen minutes and stare wild eyed at his victim before hypnotizing them and then partaking of their blood. The Count barely spoke at all after the 1958 Terence Fisher film Dracula. In fact at times he seemed more of a backdrop to the stories than a central character. It is the only fault I found in those films. I felt the stories would have been more interesting had Lee's Dracula talked a bit more. In scars Dracula not only talks but does more things unexpected. He kills a female vampire with a knife and tortures his man servant with a red hot saber blade. In fact Lee's Dracula in this film is his most vicious and sadistic and, therefore, in some ways his most interesting Dracula to date. The count also displays some powers he possessed in the novel but that not yet been exlpored in the earlier films. He is able to control some animals (like rubbery bats) and scale the walls of his castle like an insect.

The storyline line is so derivative of past Hammer Dracula stories, and past vampire films in general, that it hardly deserves repeating but, what the hell, lets repeat it anyway. In essence a group of people wind up having to stay the night in Dracula's castle and then wind up fighting for their lives and sometimes losing their lives. In this film the people don't even seem to have heard of Dracula before. When they are warned of the castle and told it belongs to Dracula they seem to not know who the man is even though the town they live is only a couple hours away by coach.  The short story is that Simon Carlson (Dennis waterman) and his girlfriend Sarah (Jenny Hanley with voice dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl) have to go off looking for Simon's horndog brother Paul (Christopher Matthews) who has yet got himself in trouble by getting caught in the sack with the Burgomaster's daughter. Seems there may have been some hanky panky between Paul and Sarah or that she is simply attracted to his bad boys way but we are never sure. Paul is kicked out of an inn by the cantankerous innkeeper played by Michael Ripper (this was Ripper's last Hammer film and Ripper has the distinction of having had played in more Hammer films than any other actor) who is wary of strangers after he and the other villagers tried to burn Dracula to death a few years before but only wound having their wives and children killed by rubber bats while they hid in the church. He is never heard from again and Paul and Sarah wind up at the castle and meet manservant Klove (played by Dr. Who actor Patrick Troughton). Klove develops a crush on Sarah and this is crucial in her escape later in the film of course. Dracula loses his cool easily and at one point kills sexy vampire girl Tania (Anouska Hempel) with a dagger. Later he tortures Klove with a hot saber blade. Dracula is really moody in this one. There is a final confrontation on the castle roof where Dracula is killed by lightening while he is preparing to impale Simon with an iron rod. That's is basically the film and there are moments that make it watchable though they are more like cheesy moments than brilliant ones.


This is not really a, horrible, horrible movie but is certainly the beginning of the end for the Hammer Dracula films. The next two would feature the count in modern (70's modern) London and they really are confusing films at best and will get a write up here eventually but I am going to explore some of the earlier Dracula films before delving into those. The five films, four of with Christopher Lee, before this one are simply classics and by now the studio had let itself run out of steam. There certainly moments that harkens back to the previous films and Lee is great as the sadistic Count and it is wonderful to hear him speaking lines again. Not a total waste of time in my opinion but usually Hammer purists distance themselves from this one.


2 comments:

Danièle said...

I have an issue with memory big time, but I think I kinda liked the Satanic Rites. Started collecting Dracula movies some centuries ago that's why :-) Great review, and I'll be sure to catch this one, I'm not really fussy about plots either.

Bill D. Courtney said...

Yea. If I am watching a David Lean film p[lot is important but if I am watching Scars of Dracula or something simulacra I need to lighten up a bit. This was pretty good overall and one of the last Hammer Gothic styled films though there were a couple more Frankenstein ones I believe.