AVAILABLE ON DOUBLEPLAY BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from STUDIO CANAL
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Blood drips from a vampire bat on to Dracula’s remains and the Count is ressurected. Soon afterwards, the local villagers are enraged that yet another young woman has been murdered by Dracula and set fire to his castle, but the Count is safely asleep in his solid stone chamber and, when the villagers return home, they find that every single woman and child has been slaughtered in the church by bats. Meanwhile libertine Paul Carlson is falsely accused of rape by the local burgomasters’s spurned daughter and flees to Castle Dracula where he meets Dracula, his servant Klove and his prisoner Tania who tries to vampirise him. While all this is happening, Paul’s more sober brother Simon Carlson, and Simon’s fiancee Sarah Framsen, come searching for him….
One of no less than four films released in 1970 where Christopher Lee played Dracula [the others being Hammer’s Taste The Blood Of Dracula, Count Dracula where he was lured to Spain on the promise of starring in a close adaptation of the book but being a Jess Franco film it was never going to be much good, and the Jerry Lewis comedy One More Time which was just a cameo], Scars Of Dracula is rather unfairly considered to be one of the worst [or even the worst – it really is a strange world we live in when people consider this film to be worse than Dracula A.D.1972] of the Hammer Dracula films. Partly rehashing elements of Dracula and Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, it does look a bit cheaper than the previous entries, totally lacks any continuity with them, and is a little lacking in atmosphere, but it has a faster pace, more screen time for Dracula, and a bit more violence and gore. The criticisms of the latter seem absurd to me; while subtlety certainly has value, violence and gore can most definitively have their place in a Dracula film, and there’s only a little bit more than there was in the last entry. The film is no gore fest whatsoever. While The Horror Of Frankenstein’s attempt to reboot the Frankenstein series with half hearted attempts at humour was a total failure artistically, the more conventional Scars Of Dracula, while showing signs of its rushed production, comes off far better and I don’t understand the hate for it some writers seem to have.
In fact the lack of continuity, something which used to bug me, was intentional. Anthony Hinds was asked to rewrite his first script draft to remove all links with Taste The Blood Of Dracula just in case Christopher Lee didn’t return as Dracula. As usual, Lee said no several times, and John Forbes-Robertson, who later played Dracula in Hammer’s The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires, was considered for the role, but then Lee finally agreed to do it, this time because Hammer said that he’d have more to do this time round, Hinds rewriting portions of the screenplay again to accommodate this. As with The Horror Of Frankenstein, this was made with EMI money, and they demanded an opening ressurection scene to bridge continuity with Taste the Blood of Dracula, though the one that was devised actually totally screws up the continuity so one wonders why they bothered. Shot at Elstree and Scratchwood Park in Barnet, the film lost shots of Dracula lapping blood from Tania’s chest wound, Klove sawing off Tania’s legs, and the Priest’s scarred face during the bat attack due to the BBFC. A further BBFC-requested cut to the torture of Klove with a poker was waived after the distributors made a music edit instead. The double bill with The Horror Of Frankenstein did quite well in the UK but Hammer could only get American Continental Films, which lacked the funds for a wide release, to put it out in the US.
The opening resurrection doesn’t really get the film off to a good start, and not just because it introduces the first of several very unconvincing bats [sometimes with visible wires] which just don’t inspire any fear at all. The bat flies into the castle and drips blood onto the Count’s remains. It is established later in the movie that the bats feed off only animal blood and only attack humans under Dracula’s command, so how can this bat bring him back to life, and yes he can control the bats but is not alive at this moment so how can this happen? And how did his remains get to Transylvania all the way from England anyway? Oh well, he’s soon back to his old tricks and the villagers understandably set out to burn his castle like in a Universal Frankenstein film, but stupidly fail to check to see if the fire has done much damage. This time the village is called Kleinenberg as in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, though I believe it was a province then. There’s also another nearby village which is unnamed. Anyway, we then get quite a gruesome scene for Hammer. The men return to the church to find the women and kids have been slaughtered by bats, with Lucio Fulci-style zooms into the very gross makeup including even a gored eye.
Now we switch to the womanising Paul Carlson who appears to be the hero for a while. He takes part in a virtual re-run of some of the early stuff in Dracula, except this time he sleeps with the vampire woman and Dracula stabs her to death with a knife, which makes no sense as she’s a vampire and knives aren’t supposed to be able to kill vampires, are they? That’s one annoying thing about most of these films, so much stuff happens which clearly hasn’t been thought through. On the other hand, this film’s most famous and most criticised scene, the one of Dracula branding Klove’s back with a red hot poker, is not a moment I consider to be out of place or gratuitous myself. It’s something I can certainly imagine the thoroughly evil Dracula doing to somebody who’s gone against his wishes. By this time Paul’s brother Simon has become the ‘hero’, and the plot thereby consists of little more than to-ing and fro-ing between Castle Dracula and Kleinenberg, replete with some idiocy like Simon’s fiancee Sarah heading off towards the castle after the person in charge of protecting her has been killed off. I mean, why? But there’s plenty of gusto to the proceedings, plus the neat idea of Dracula’s resting place being only reachable by him if he crawls down the castle wall which is actually taken from Bram Stoker, [though the crawling has been done better since], and Dracula being suitably killed from the heavens, a bolt of lightning hitting the iron rod he’s holding and causing him to burst into flames.
The day for night stuff in this one really is bad, in fact during one forest walk supposed to be taking place at night time they’ve made no attempt to hide the fact that it’s broad daylight at all, and cuts from characters in the woods right to being inside the entrance to Dracula’s castle are jarring and clumsy, while this time the castle no longer requires lots of hill climbing to get to, yet still seems to be on the edge of a cliff. At least most of the outdoor scenes do actually take place outside unlike in The Horror Of Frankenstein. Of course one just doesn’t know whether to cheer or yawn when Simon and Sarah find themselves in a pub where all the other patrons go silent and stare at them as they come in, and with Michael Ripper again playing the landlord, though, unlike his publican in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, he’s a depressed, grief-ridden character and the actor gives one of his best performances in a Hammer film. Elsewhere there’s slightly more humour than normal, such as two cops where one virtually echoes the other, though these characters disappear around half way through. Despite the amount of blood on display, the one sex scene remains pretty coy, though at last we get to see Dracula biting a victim in almost total detail. Many prefer it when the action is left up to the imagination, but I think it was good to see it here – it’s a different approach, valid, and not really exploitative if you think about it.
Director Roy Ward Baker only seems interested in creating a Gothic feel intermittently, but he does give it all plenty of pace and also a few nice touches like several close-ups of eyes. I like Lee’s pasty white makeup, though most don’t. He looks positively ill at times, but wouldn’t you if you only drank blood? He does seem to enjoy being the urbane host and having a few more lines to deliver, and his relish just before he tortures poor Klove is chilling, though he overdoes the grimacing when confronted with a crucifix. Talking of the ill-treated-by-everybody Klove [who’s nothing like the Klove of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness], he provides some surprising pathos and Patrick Troughton, who hung a still of him being branded by Lee in the toilet in his house, is excellent in the part. Dennis Waterman and a dubbed [by who else but Nikki Van der Zyl] are adequate as the obligatory young lovers. Composer James Bernard must have been asked to really go to town on this movie as it features more music than normal. As in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, he oddly replaces his usual three note Dracula motif with a new theme. There’s lots of diversity in the score – swirling string and harps for the biting scenes [similar to a cue in The Devil Rides Out], a jaunty march for the villagers which becomes an ‘action’ theme, even a full love theme. The bats get the same sinister accompaniment as they did in Kiss Of The Vampire. While it does show signs of sloppiness in places and in story terms doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, Scars Of Dracula is nothing to be ashamed of and, while not as visually stylish, ranks about the same as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave in terms of overall entertainment value, which isn’t bad at all for the fifth film in a series.
Studio Canal’s Blu-ray of Scars Of Dracula looks magnificent, the colours [especially the reds] often popping out at you. It’s slightly darker than the Region 1 Anchor Bay DVD I own, though this certainly isn’t to the film’s detriment. The picture is virtually flawless and show off this movie to be a much better looking effort than I used to think. The 18-minute Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula has Jonathan Rigby, Kevin Lyons, Alan Barnes and John J. Johnston go through the film’s production and offer honest appraisals of it – Rigby doesn’t seem too impressed by it. There are a few details I didn’t cover in my review, and as an added bonus Jenny Hanley is there to reminisce. She seems happy to have been in the film and tells an amusing story about the always-serious Lee reprimanding her for sniggering when the model bat attacking her bounced off her chest. As someone who owns the Anchor Bay, Studio Canal’s release is definitely worth the upgrade, though if you’re a big Hammer fan you may still want to hang on to the Anchor Bay if you have it, as it has that great Lee/Baker commentary.
*new featurette: Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula