The Satanic Rites of Dracula is interesting for one notable thing, which is not the actors, though Cushing and Lee are excellent, nor the direction by Alan Gibson which was pretty good, but simply because even though this movie falls under the horror umbrella, it contains a multitude of genres within it. While the title might convey to the average person that this is indeed a horror movie, and it is, it is also a spy-thriller and a pretty good one at that. Sure, there is no KGB or East German Stasi present, but there are Dracula’s servants, not to mention the man himself as well as secret agents. It also happens to be fairly dramatic, suspenseful and be part action film as well. Unlike all the previous Dracula films, this one is a real hodgepodge of a picture and one that almost seemed to reflect the movie-going public’s taste in film the year it was released. People enjoyed The Day of the Jackal, Live and Let Die, The Mackintosh Man and To Catch a Spy, so why not take some elements from those films and apply them to one of Hammer’s most successful franchises? What could go wrong? Nothing is what, absolutely nothing at all. This film might seem strange on the surface, but it is one of the best and most original Dracula films to come out of the Hammer Horror machine.
During this film, Christopher Lee is seen hardly at all, and when you do see him, he plays the classic Bond villain stereotype to a tee. He sits in the shadows across from Peter Cushing and warns him what will happen if he should continue to meddle in his affairs, disguising his voice of course, until the moment that Cushing exposes him in probably the best scene of the movie. Later in the film, Dracula goes on to describe his diabolical plan in all its glory and all just before our hero can escape and put a stop to him. And for all its ham-handedness, for it being incredibly corny, it works because as stated before, this is not your average horror film. What also abetted this movie was Lee’s minimal screen time. He was the absent and hidden power, whispered and talked about, but never seen. It is said that by this point in the series that Lee was getting tired of the role and thus his involvement in the film was lessened because of it. Whatever the case might be, having Lee appear sparingly really aided in that feeling of suspense and eventual horror for the times when he did indeed show up.
Peter Cushing meanwhile, appears in the film as a consultant at first, helping the Secret Service and Scotland Yard with a case involving a cult. Things start to heat up though when Cushing’s granddaughter Jessica, played by Joanna Lumley this go-round, and a Secret Service agent investigate the house where the cult is supposed to reside and run into a basement full of Dracula’s brides. Cushing then starts to put the various pieces of the puzzle together and finds that his old nemesis Dracula has returned and is out to put the hurt on mankind. Once again, Cushing puts in quite the admirable performance, much of the time in somewhat of an agitated state, brought on no doubt because of Dracula and his plans. It was interesting to see that Dracula had that effect on our hero as Van Helsing is usually fairly calm and collected. Cushing of course would appear in the bulk of the film, unlike Lee, and would almost seem to revel in his last outing as the famed professor, also unlike his compatriot Lee.
New to the franchise would be Don Houghton with a story that could only be set in the early seventies and with director Alan Gibson, they would make it the most psychedelic, action-packed, Euro-spy horror they could. At times the film did feel a little draggy and at others completely frenetic and it was during these moments where that mix of genres would work against the film as the pacing was all over the place. The movie, like the previous one, would once again sport an absolutely crazy, funky jazz score, this time by John Cacavas and it was an absolutely perfect fit. The film also managed to sport a smattering of science fiction elements which included the plague that Dracula wishes to unleash and even some biblical ones as well, with Dracula referring to his ‘four horsemen,’ and being killed after walking through a hawthorn bush, the same material of which Jesus’ crown of thorns had been made of. With all of these things in one picture, it is hard to imagine this film not being one of the greatest ever made, and yet sadly, there have been better films. This is not a bad picture as some might suggest, far from it actually, as it is highly entertaining. It has Cushing and Lee in one of their last movies together, it has beautiful women, it has vampires and it has spies. It might be a mixed bag when it comes to film, but it is one of the better Dracula movies you will ever see.
4 out of 5