The Satanic Rites of Dracula is an odd one. It’s the final Christopher Lee Dracula film but it honestly feels like a completely different movie that they forced Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing into for the hell of it. It’s more like a thriller to do with a satanic cult being investigated than anything else, complete with lots of sitting around, developing photos, making plans and other such espionage stuff… plus a world ending threat, for added over-the-top cartoon villainy! Does this mishmash of genres work? … No. Let’s have a look anyway!
In 1974, a Secret Service agent barely escapes from an English country house in which satanic rituals are being celebrated. Before he dies of his wounds, he reveals to his superiors that four prominent members of society – a government minister, a peer, a general and a famous scientist – are involved in a cult led by Chin Yang. In order to avoid any reprisals by the minister, Secret Service official Colonel Mathews calls in Scotland Yard’s Inspector Murray to work on the case independently. Murray suggests consulting a noted occult expert, Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Van Helsing finds out that Dracula wants to wipe out humanity and therefore his little side-hobby just became rather more important…
Well, it goes without saying at this point, but really the only highlight is Peter Cushing’s straight and serious Van Helsing and Christopher Lee’s surprisingly chatty and frankly suddenly insane version of Dracula. Seriously, Drac’s plan this time round is to create a new type of bacteria that will spread across the globe and wipe out humanity… where the hell did that come from?! Van Helsing thinks that Dracula is fed up of being revived and thinks the only way to end his life for good is to kill everyone, hench he dies due to having no blood to drink and there are nobody around to revive him once he goes. Basically Dracula’s going to kill himself but wants to take the whole world down with him, which is an interesting idea and certainly fresh compared to the seven films that came before this, but it doesn’t stop it from feeling… weird. Dracula wounds Helsing at one point and decides to keep him alive and make him one of his “four horsemen of the apocalypse”, or one of the first four people to be given the new plague, but his lab is destroyed before that happens. It’s a good scene though!
I wonder if Dracula really thought that large desk lamp would hide his identity… Still, better than The Master just making up a name and then doing nothing to alter his very distinct features on the then-airing Doctor Who series!
The film has a lot of talking, it has to be said. Discussions on the unfolding plot to do with the mysterious cult, a long talk by Van Helsing about vampires (where he completely telegraphs the end of the film by claiming vampires are weak to Hawthorne bushes, which we never knew about before…) and a weird scene where Van Helsing believe the head of a corporation might be Dracula so goes and has a chat with him behind a desk, and sure enough despite the headlamp making it hard to see, it was indeed Drac going under the name “Denham”. It’s scenes like this where it feels like some sort of other espionage film they wrote Dracula in, though I assume the part where Helsing slips a bible onto his desk and burns the vampire’s hand wasn’t in the original script… Also Helsing tries to shoot Dracula with a silver bullet but misses, and I’m pretty sure that’s Werewolves, but hey-ho…
Apart from that it has some callbacks to previous tropes. Dracula turns a few women into his slaves, targets Helsing’s granddaughter Jessica (now played by Joanna Lumley, oddly…) as a way to get his personal revenge against his nemesis, and a few vampires get staked but not before taking down some extra “good guy” characters like MI5 agent Torrence (William Franklyn). Newly introduced Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) survives to the end though, and even defeats a bunch of vampires by turning on the sprinkler system (man, vampires are weak in the Hammer films…) but he’s incredibly dull, so that’s not really a good thing.
As mentioned Dracula gets taken down by happening to walk into a Hawthorne bush, weakening and trapping him long enough for Van Helsing to stake him. What a crap final confrontation between Cushing’s Helsing and Lee’s Dracula…
“Argh! …. *sigh*, really? A bush this time? Screw it, I’m not coming back next time even if you resurrect me.”
The Satanic Rites of Dracula isn’t much of a Dracula film. It’s more spies and espionage, with a little bit of evil cult and a vampires thrown in, and Dracula turned into a supervillain planning on wiping out all of humanity. It has one or two moments but overall it’s not very exciting to watch and as the final Christopher Lee Dracula film it’s a bit of a let down… Still, one more film to go and it has Peter Cushing as Helsing in it! Let’s have a look… Oh. Speaking of mishmashing genres, see you tomorrow for the finale!