Last week, we began by watching one really good Dracula movie and one pretty good Dracula movie, and we learned that with the absence of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, Christopher Lee’s Dracula is unable to die in a particularly dignified fashion. But, he has five more appearance in this franchise, so plenty of opportunity to turn it around. Let’s get back to our study of Dracula’s diminishing returns on life and death with…
3. The Curtain, a Funeral Paul*
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
The film opens shortly after Prince of Darkness lets off. A couple of priests decide to head up to the castle to sanctify it against Count Dracula’s persistent evil. One of the priests loses what little nerve he had and wimps out. Alone now and frightened, he falls over some rocks and winds up breaking the ice Dracula has been frozen in. He bleeds onto the vampire, resurrecting him. We’re three movies in, and the resurrections are already starting to feel a tad unlikely.
Well, now that Dracula has risen from the grave once again, he starts doing what he does best. Taking the paunchy priest as his thrall, he strikes out against the other priest—the one who successfully sanctified the castle—and prepares to take his vengeance, setting his sights on the priest’s beautiful young niece, Maria. Unfortunately for Dracula, and the audience, Maria’s hotshot suitor Paul is on the case, armed only with the love in his heart, the late ’60s hair on his head, and a strong sense of atheism that precludes such nonsense as “vampires” and “pure evil” and “shirt buttons”.
In the end, Paul learns the errors of his atheistic ways, discovering that vampires are indeed real, and religious faith has its uses (namely vanquishing the undead). Paul and Dracula tussle at the entrance to Castle Dracula, and eventually tumble over a cliff. Paul manages to catch himself on a branch. Dracula plummets down and gets impaled through the heart on a golden cross. With his last ounces of strength, the now-redeemed cowardly priest says a quick prayer and Dracula is defeated once more. But for how long?
Killer: Though the physicality of the death is pretty cool, Dracula here is done in by A) an irritating, cowardly priest, and B) Paul. Not ideal.
Time spent alive (undead): Not very long at all.
Movie title bonus points: 8/10, good title. They don’t name movies like that anymore. Extra 2 points for excellent movie poster.
Death: 6/10, though pretty gnarly, the two humans involved ultimately spoil this one a bit. Nobody wants to get killed by Paul.
*I’m back with a Poe reference. The curtain, a funeral pall, comes down with the rush of a storm. It’s the best I could do today.
4. An Acquired Taste
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Taste opens up just as Risen ends. A lost English salesman is wandering through a foreign wilderness when what should he see but a man, impaled through the back with a golden cross, dissolving into dust! Damn, I hate when that happens. Anyway, long story short, Dracula’s ashes wind up back in Merry Old England (or Moe, for short). Our focus shifts to three noblemen who, bored with the trappings of good, clean, ethical living, have sought excitement in debauchery. Soon enough, they fall in with a Satanist who wants to use them to resurrect Dracula in a deconsecrated church. They get a bit freaked out and kill the guy, but not before he successfully summons Dracula, who sets out to wreak a terrible vengeance on the men who slew his servant.
From here things get pretty fun and the plot tosses in a few unexpected twists. Dracula enthralls the gentlemen’s children to do his dirty work for him. The main focus lands on Alice, played by Linda Hayden, whom I’d previously seen in The Blood on Satan’s Claw and the Vincent Price/Peter Cushing-starrer Madhouse. I’ve never seen her outside of the context of ’70s British horror, and that’s totally okay. She clearly had a ton of fun with it, lending a lot more to the role of “vampirized blonde damsel” than the other actresses in this series.
Unfortunately, we must also contend with Alice’s beau, Paul. Yep, Paul again. Different guy, but still very noticeably Paul. Dracula makes the most of his time back from the grave here, but we’re swiftly learning that the most evil, most vile and powerful and despicable vampire of all time has an Achilles’ Heel: teenagers named Paul.
Killer: A re-sanctified chapel, I guess. And Paul again. Different Paul, but still. Ugh.
Time spent alive (undead): Not long, but he fully optimized his time, managing to get revenge on everyone he set out to.
Movie title bonus points: 8/10, it’s a cool title for a movie.
Death: 2/10, there’s a lot of flailing about and the sequence itself is a little random. I feel like they phoned this one in at the end of a pretty cool movie deserving a better demise. Plus, you know, Paul.
5. Scar Wars: Episode V – The Vampire Bites Back
Scars of Dracula (1970)
In the opening sequence, a large bat flutters through an open window of Castle Dracula and regurgitates red paint on the ashes of the good Count, conveniently located in a lidless coffin. That’ll do the trick, but given his death in the previous outing, I’m not 100% sure how his remains got from A to B and, more to the point, how the resurrection was possible at all. Maybe I’m overthinking it.
Scars gives a bit more screen time to Christopher Lee as he terrorizes the local villagers (who should really consider moving at this point) and a few young people from the nearby Big City. For the first half of the film, we follow the insufferable Paul (yes, Paul again, but a different Paul), an arrogant daguerreotype photographer with a bad haircut who believes he can and should, and therefore will, sleep with any pretty woman he sets eyes on. Choosing this path in life eventually leads Paul to the homey Castle Dracula, where things end poorly for him. Paul’s brother Simon and their friend Sarah soon follow looking for the wandering cad. Eventually, they’re forced into a showdown with Dracula.
At this point, typically, our hero-with-a-bad-haircut (Simon) would kill Dracula a little too easily. In this case, facing off against Simon in the courtyard and with Sarah cornered, Dracula seems to have the upper hand. Desperate, Simon grabs an iron rod and throws it at Dracula, impaling him, although someone has just explained to Simon that you can’t kill a vampire that way. The Count smiles, pulls out the spear and prepares to throw it back at Simon when…
Killer: Act of God/freak lightning strike. The lightning hits the metal conductor, setting Dracula on fire. Burning to ashes, his corpse falls from the parapet a hundred feet onto sharp rocks.
Time spent alive (undead): Honestly, maybe a week or two this time around. Special bonus points for killing Paul.
Movie title bonus points: 2/10, generic horror sequel title with no relation to the story. Alternatively would propose Scarves of Dracula for a more fashion-forward take on the vampire.
Death: 9/10, despite cheap special effects, this death is metal as hell, and could signal a new era of good deaths. A deathaissance, if you will.
Tune in next week to find out! We’ll mark Halloween with a special, extra-groovy look at the final two episodes of Lee’s tenure in Hammer’s Dracula saga!