Come 1972, Hammer decided it was time to inject some new blood as it was, into their Dracula franchise. So instead of having the property set in the past like all of the other films in the series, it was decided to bring it right up into the present day. So gone were the horse-drawn carriages, the creepy castle, and the god-fearing folk and in their place were cars, a creepy church and the free-loving youth of the seventies. It was a gamble obviously to take a successful set of films and do something drastically different with them, but they were starting to get stale with the sameness of them as near the end of the run, they seemed to stop trying to do different things and just relied on the status quo. While the usual method was good, this new film would breathe some fresh air into the ageing property and it was in the end, a good thing.
There is a lot to love about this film, even though it was looked down upon by critics and audiences of the day. For one, the pace of the movie never dragged or felt tedious. There was always something going on and it was always held your interest. The music of the film, instead of the lush orchestral score that would usually accompany the film, was replaced by a funky jazz soundtrack and feature the rock band Stoneground for the opening scene. When Hammer decided to try something new, they definitely went all out. The script by Don Houghton was fresh, felt current and did what Hammer set out to do which was reinvigorate the franchise. A modern setting with the age-old Count would provide a fun contrast even though Dracula would not leave the church he was resurrected in. What made the film even better though, aside from all of this, was the return of Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing.
Peter Cushing had not been in a Dracula film since the second outing, The Brides of Dracula, and that film did not even feature the fabled vampire. Cushing would play the role of Van Helsing once again, this time the grandson of the original man to bear the name and a man who thought the evil of Dracula gone for all time, though never one to forget his roots. Being ten years older in the film, Cushing is not as nimble as he once was, though he does his best during the action sequences it is not seeing the man in the throws of a fight that we tune in for. Cushing is an actor’s actor, a man that can take any material and turn it into gold, which is exactly what he does here. While Christopher Lee is fantastic as the Count and surprisingly quite vibrant in the role this go-round, Cushing is the star of the film with his performance really drawing you in. When Van Helsing says there are vampires on the loose and that they are an evil that needs to be eradicated, you believe him. It has always been as such with Cushing, being so earnest as to make the things he says credible. It is not often you see that on the big screen anymore, thus always making it a joy to watch Cushing at work.
One thing that this film continued on from the previous movies was to feature some beautiful women for Dracula to feast upon. Stephanie Beacham would play Cushing’s granddaughter Jessica in the film, and the object of Dracula’s obsession. Janet Key and Marsha Hunt would also star, but Hammer actress Caroline Munro would eclipse them as the woman who would be responsible for raising Dracula from the dead, with her sacrifice that is. Christopher Neame was the final standout player of our drama, being the servant of Dracula and quite psychotic in nature. Other than Cushing and Lee, Neame would steal the show with his flamboyant and dangerous attitude, and the way he would go about doing the deeds his master called for.
The film would definitely set a new tone for the series, partly in thanks to writer Houghton but also thanks to director Alan Gibson and cinematographer Dick Bush who would create a very eerie atmosphere one that would totally absorb you into not only the horror of the movie but into that 1970’s ambience. There is an undercurrent of menace in the film, as if there was a fuse being lit, even during the brightly lit party scenes, mainly because of Neame’s presence but also due to the fact that all of it is a facade and you know that sooner or later, the lord of vampires will return. The one point of the picture that raises a bit of contention is the underutilization of Christopher Lee. He is supposed to be the star of the film, his character is in the very title, but he is in the picture for less than half of the movie and never having him leave the church was a mistake. Other than that one minor thing, the movie can be qualified as a success and one of the very best of the series.
4.5 out of 5