Second Breakfast Octoberween: The Lives and Deaths of Count Dracula, Part 3

When we last saw our dear Count Dracula, he’d just died the illest death. So sick. Scars of Dracula (1970) gave Count Dracula plenty to do: savage murders, commanding animals, drinking blood, and—most importantly—he overcame that most horrid of existential obstacles: teenagers named Paul. Capping that all off with pretty rad demise, the Count was due some time off, I think. You know, a few decades.

6. Drac to the Future

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, you guessed it)

Ah, if ever a movie were too groovy for its own good. Perhaps feeling the enigmatic youth of early ’70s Britain were not quite vibing with Gothic castles and classic monsters, Hammer Studios decided to roll the dice a bit and update the franchise. We open on a carriage hurtling along the English countryside in 1872. Christopher Lee’s Dracula wrestles with Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing (we’re delighted to see him again). The fight ends with both dead, effectively retconning the whole series, including the seminal original, 1958’s Horror of Dracula. I’m not totally sure why they did this. Fast-forward to the funky 1970s, and swingin’ no-good teen Johnny Alucard (there’s a great scene where Peter Cushing realizes Alucard is Dracula backwards) enlists his friends, including a descendant of Van Helsing’s, to resurrect Count Dracula. Fortunately, Cushing is back as a Van Helsing descendent as well, and he and his granddaughter are on the case.

Hammer Studios
Look at the pile of cigarettes in the ashtray. He’s really been agonizing over this Alucard/Dracula thing.

Man oh man, where to begin? I know I’m meant to just focus on Dracula’s death scene here, but there’s just too much going on in this movie. I’ll try to be brief.

To begin with, Hammer’s clumsy attempts to connect with young people are amazing, especially since the hero of the story is still a 59-year-old Peter Cushing (who looks about 70, because the tragic death of his wife aged him significantly). A recurring theme throughout the franchise has been the tetchy intergenerational relationships between young people and their parents. You have traditional old priests trying to tell Paul that vampires are real, Dracula hypnotizing children to murder their parents, Paul not listening to anyone’s advice, etc. And I get it. Surely there is no greater generational gap in history than that between Britain’s WWII generation and its rock ’n’ roll generation. Dracula A.D. 1972 picks that up and just rolls with it about as far as you can in a Christopher Lee vampire movie.

The soundtrack is composed by Michael Vickers, flautist and saxophonist for Manfred Mann (oh yeah), and its grooviness cannot, will not, and should not be stopped. Shockingly, the entire thing is available on Spotify. I would highly encourage a listen.

Now, down to business. How does Dracula die in this one? Van Helsing fills an open grave with stakes as a trap before his final showdown with the Count. They wrestle a bit, a silver knife gets thrown around, and eventually Van Helsing splashes holy water on Dracula, sending him tumbling into the pitfall. Seeing his nemesis impaled, but not quite dead, Van Helsing grabs a shovel and forces Dracula farther down, plunging the stakes through his body until the job is done. For now, anyway.

Killer: Van Helsing’s back! Dracula’s death here is actually not as cool as Johnny Alucard’s—Cushing gets him, too, stretching the old “vampires can’t cross running water” bit by throwing Johnny into a shower. Flower power, meet shower power, am I right?
Time spent alive (undead): I don’t know why I made this a category. Time is difficult to measure in these movies. He did have a prolific time, though, killing a lot of young people.
Movie title bonus points: 10/10, I really love how they’ve specified that this is A.D. 1972, so as not to be confused with 1972 B.C., although I would watch that movie. Consider a possible mummy crossover. Bonus points for soundtrack.
Death: 7/10, it’s worth so much just to see Peter Cushing back in action, fighting with Christopher Lee, his best friend.

Hammer Studios
Friends for life. Or death. Undeath?

7. How can something so wrong feel so Rites?

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

Inexplicably back once again, Count Dracula decides enough is enough. He has had it with these pesky humans, who have either killed him six or two times, depending on what is still considered canon. Who knows? Previous Satanic rites he’s conducted generally just involve vampirizing young people and slaughtering peasants. This keeps the trend, but ups the ante as “slaughtering peasants” makes the leap to “creating a powerful new strain of bubonic plague to wipe out all of humanity and allow vampires to inherit the Earth (inherit it without their main food source, I guess).”

Anyway, Cushing’s Van Helsing is understandably perturbed to see Dracula back in action. There’s a good amount of vampire violence, an odd dose of spy thriller cliches, and eventually Van Helsing leads Dracula into a hawthorn bush, where a thousand tiny (and holy, I guess) thorns tear his flesh before Van Helsing stakes him through the heart once again. End of franchise.

Hammer Studios
Look at that triumphant Rocky pose. Maybe striking that a little prematurely, bud.

I don’t really have much to say about Satanic Rites. The series ends with a whimper, but considering the narrative inconsistencies and only loose coherence of plot and characters spread out across fifteen years and seven movies, it’s difficult to fully consider this movie the ending. It would be like if they never made another James Bond movie after Die Another Day or something. Not really a final chapter in the traditional sense.

I will give Satanic Rites one thing: it is definitely the cheapest looking of all Christopher Lee’s Dracula outings. 1972 is not a good movie, but coasts on pure, exuberant novelty and camp value. Satanic Rites is just sort of forgettable and, probably, by far the worst movie in the series.

For the purposes of this series of articles, we see Dracula’s diminishing returns on life and death illustrated in stark clarity. This is just bad, man. Stay dead. It’s not worth it for you to keep coming back to life. Just let it go.

Killer: As the final death in the franchise, it’s not quite as good as, say, rapper-turned-actor Busta Rhymes killing Michael Myers with kung-fu in whichever Halloween movie that is. But Peter Cushing is a fine substitute.
Time spent alive (undead): Ambiguous, because there’s no resurrection scene.
Movie title bonus points: 7/10, it’s certainly evocative, but what if they’d actually stuck with the film’s original title: Dracula Is Dead…And Well and Living in London?
Death: 4/10, I’m glad to see Cushing back, and creating a new bit of lore this late in the game with the hawthorn bush is admirable, but as Dracula’s final demise it all too nicely illustrates my point. Just stay dead, man.

So, to recap, Dracula’s deaths as ranked by me from best to worst:

  1. Horror of Dracula (1958)—10/10
  2. Scars of Dracula (1970)—8/10
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)—7/10
  4. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)—6/10
  5. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)—5/10
  6. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)—4/10
  7. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)—2/10

And with that, another Octoberween draws to a close. How long will it lie dormant? Will it come back from the grave year after year like a certain vampire? Will its next adventure be even groovier than this? One can only hope and dream. Until next time, happy Halloween!

Hammer Studios
Until next time!

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