Tag Vampires

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Two no-hopers. One cursed village. One hell of a night!

Best friends Jimmy and Fletch decide to get over girlfriend and job worries by going camping to a place chosen at random. They arrive in Cragwich where they learn that a curse was put upon the village by the vampire Carmilla in which every girl there becomes a lesbian vampire when they turn eighteen. Directed to stay at a remote inn, the duo befriend a group of female tourists but soon they all fall prey to the lesbian vampires who roam the forest. Jimmy and Fletch must join forces with the local vicar when it turns out that Jimmy is a descendant of the lord who killed Carmilla in the first place.

 

In an era of ridiculously straightforwardly titled films which feature exactly what they promise in the title (no ambiguity here!), I’m guessing that someone thought of this title first and then came up with a plot to write around it. Lesbian Vampire Killers has exactly the sort of shock title that would draw anyone to it in much the same way that something like Zombie Strippers or Snakes on a Plane has. Though I’m guessing the more ‘lurid’ elements of this and the Zombie Strippers title are the main attractions to the majority of its clearly male-orientated fan base.

Lesbian Vampire Killers desperately wants to be Shaun of the Dead. Featuring a flavour-of-the-moment comedy duo from TV and pitching the film along similar not-so-serious comedy-horror veins, the film falls flat trying to be funny and never features anything remotely scary. I’m not an avid viewer of anything that James Corden and Matthew Horne have made on British TV so my opinions on them were unbiased going into this. I’ve heard of them but I rarely watch anything on TV nowadays so have never been exposed to the brand of comedy that Corden and Horne provide. I can’t say that I’m overly impressed. Horne comes off the better here, the more likeable of the duo whilst Corden is simply playing up the irritating fat man stereotype to perfection. Maybe with a better script I’d have found them funny but with the exception of a few throwaway lines here and there (“gay werewolves” springs to mind), the laughs are hard to come by. I guess if you’re a fan, then their brand of comedy would appeal to you. However I faced the same issue going into Shaun of the Dead, having never seen anything with Pegg and Frost, but that script was genuinely funny and didn’t rely on me ‘getting’ Pegg and Frost’s comedy shtick.

Lesbian Vampire Killers isn’t that bad in truth but that’s coming from a huge fan of the old Hammer horror films. From a technical standpoint, the film reeks of the same Gothic vibe that the late 60s and early 70s Karnstein trilogy films had and it’s like a modern day throwback. I think they lost a trick here as the film isn’t designed to be a deliberate parody or send-up of anything like Shaun of the Dead was for the zombie genre. Although there are a few weak references to the sub-genre, Lesbian Vampire Killers is played straight, well almost as straight as the barrage of schoolboy humour jokes will allow. There are some amusing moments but there’s nothing side-splitting and the most it’ll get out of you will be a smile or two. British comedy-horror has been getting a revival over the last few years with the lad’s mag culture being the target audience. The likes of this and Doghouse are clearly aimed at the ‘boozy geezer’ crowd where the idea is to get a bunch of mates around and watch in a group setting with a few cans and maybe a curry or burger afterwards. Crude, low brow humour where women are the focus of sexual innuendos and genitalia jokes is the name of the game here and whilst I’m up for a laugh and don’t mind a bit of this type of banter, the jokes soon outstay their welcome. Jokes about penile-shaped swords may be funny the first time but not the tenth time.

If you’re marking the film on what the title delivers then you’ll be disappointed. It’s got vampires in it. It’s got lesbians in it. But those expecting a gratuitous orgy of flesh and blood will be sorely disappointed. Nudity is almost non-existent so you’ll have to make do with the buxom ladies wearing revealing clothing for the most (a major crime considering how hot some of the girls are). And gore-wise, the film is hardly going to set tongues wagging. In fact the older Hammer films contained far more nudity and gore. But this is the underlying problem of Lesbian Vampire Killers – it never knows what it wants to be from the start and tries to do too many things and cover too many bases at once, never fully realising the potential of any of the directions it tries to take.

 

One can’t help but compare Lesbian Vampire Killers to the far superior Shaun of the Dead as two British TV comedy duos attempt to conquer the big screen in comedy-horror settings. Unfortunately, this one tries to hard to sell itself on its title alone and the end result is relatively poor false advertising: it never goes far enough with the laughs, the gore or the nudity and ends up turning into a safe but very lacklustre comedy-horror.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004)

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004)

Everybody is Zombie Fighting!

Two competing Shaolin monks are forced to team together to save Earth from a devastating army of darkness when one of them accidentally awakens the immortal King of the Vampires.

 

Trying to recapture the successful horror-comedy formula that spawned the likes of Encounters of the Spooky Kind and Mr Vampire in the 80s, Shaolin Vs Evil Dead fails pretty miserably. It’s got all the right ingredients: a wise monk, his bumbling apprentices, hopping vampires, rotting corpses, plenty of crazy martial arts and not a care in the world. So where does it all go horribly wrong?

Well Shaolin Vs Evil Dead just doesn’t mix the elements in a very exciting way. Yes we’ve got hopping vampires at the start but there’s no real purpose to them in the plot. We get zombies early on but again there’s little reason for them to be there. Things happen in the film that look pointless and a bit more context and story would have greatly helped to give meaning to everything. For instance why is the white monk travelling from town to town with a line of hopping vampires behind him? (I asked the same question in Mr Vampire – it seems to be a common occurrence in these films) It seems to be included solely for the convenient purpose of the vampires breaking their spells at some point which causes the monk to fight them and put them back under control. It’s hardly the ‘army of darkness’ that the plot promised and the action is very low key. You’d be expecting a whole lot more than it delivers.

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead contains the single-most infuriating ending ever. It’s not even a proper ending. The film just ends abruptly out of nowhere and without a proper resolution to what has been going on. Or so you think because what is worse is that the action continues. You would assume that the end credits would feature outtakes as many films do. But as the credits roll, footage of the big pay-off fight between good and evil is shown in a small box on the left hand side of the screen. We can see hundreds of hopping vampires, explosions and crazy martial arts but there’s no dialogue because the credits music has hit. It clearly looked like the best part of the film and it clearly wasn’t outtake footage – this is all new and unseen footage. Apparently, this was a ‘preview’ of a planned sequel which was eventually made the following year. Whilst one can understand the strategy of such a decision to include previews of the sequel (look at the post-credits sequence in Captain America: The First Avenger and its preview for The Avengers), the decision to just end the film as it did is a disgrace. Nearly everything that is promised in the plot for Shaolin Vs Evil Dead clearly takes place in this little box.

Gordon Liu, who appeared in Kill Bill, does a very good job of stepping up to the role of the white monk, a role personified by the late Ching-Ying Lam in the Mr Vampire movies. This sub-genre sort of died when he did and it’s good to see Liu step up to the plate with a solid performance, reflecting some of Lam’s mannerisms, attitude and ability to get the comedy timing down to a tee.

 

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead isn’t a bad attempt to revive the old Hong Kong horror/comedy genre so popular in the 80s but just fails to capture any charm and magic of those classic films. And that damn ending is a total kick below the belt. I would only recommend this if you had a copy of the sequel on hand to watch straight away to alleviate the pain of the sudden stopping (which I haven’t seen at time of writing, it’s near impossible to track down).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Seven Mummies (2006)

Seven Mummies (2006)

Greed never dies!

Six escaped convicts and their female hostage make a desperate run for the Mexican border, only to hear out about the lost gold of the Tumacacori from a Native Indian. Stumbling upon an old frontier tow, the group decide that the opportunity to look the treasure is too good to pass. However they don’t realise that the town’s population are vampires and that they don’t want anyone stealing their precious gold.

 

A really confusing and cheap From Dusk Till Dawn rip-off, Seven Mummies is one of the sorriest films I’ve seen for a long time – and I watch a lot of bad films. Sometimes I just can’t get my head around the ideas that films are trying to present – the above plot sounds simple enough to follow but what ensues is a ridiculous mish-mash of ideas of which no attempt has clearly been made to get them to work cohesively.

I’d have thought that the title would give you some clue as to what the convicts would encounter in the desert but alas we get a load of vampires as the main villains of the piece and the mummies themselves don’t show up until the final part – even then you’d be hard-pressed to count seven of them! So, already being misled by the film’s title, you’d look at the cast list on the front cover and it’s full of genre and character actors like Danny Trejo, Billy Drago, Martin Kove and Andrew Bryniarski. Again a misleading venture as most of these guys aren’t on screen for that long and seem to have been thrown in there for name recognition only to put on the DVD cover.

Moving on to the film itself, it’s a mess of badly-written ideas and logic-defying twists and plot. It starts off simplistically enough, with the cons escaping and taking one of the guards as a hostage – simply your generic cons-on-the-run story. But as soon as they meet Danny Trejo’s wise old Indian and get told about the gold, it goes downhill quickly. The director presses the explode button and everything goes out of the window. The cons can either escape across the border or go and look for some mythical treasure so what do they do? Do the convicts question the existence of a town which has come right of the Wild West? Everyone still dresses and talks the same way yet the cons don’t worry about that when they’re getting their leg over. What are the townspeople supposed to be? Vampires? Zombies? Mummies? Some stand there waiting to get shot like zombies whilst others leap around with fangs bared. There is also the fact that the townspeople are portrayed as evil, demonic monsters but most of the cons are written up as assholes too. Just who are we meant to be rooting for?

Interestingly enough, it’s the one sequence in the bar where the townspeople reveal to the cons their true identity, about half way through this mess, that is the film’s best moment – and it’s been lifted right out of From Dusk Till Dawn. The rest of the film involves the town’s evil sheriff and his cronies trying to catch the survivors. I honestly can’t really tell you what is going on after this point because I don’t think anyone knows – not that I had much of a clue what was going on to begin with. The screenplay is a mess with, almost as if the writing team used the scattergun approach and decided to throw everything that they could think of in there with the hope that something stuck a chord with the audience. But there’s nothing holding everything together – no story, no purpose and certainly no logic. With a running time of a meagre seventy-six minutes, even that is too long to sit through this without shuffling around and twiddling your thumbs.

 

Seven Mummies looks highly polished and at least it looks way better than its budget would suggest. However that’s the only thing this film has got for itself. It’s a plagiaristic and downright pathetic mess of incoherency, inconsistency and lack of intelligence – you have been warned!

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dracula 3000 (2004)

Dracula 3000 (2004)

In space, the sun never rises

A salvage ship on a routine mission in space discovers a transport vessel that had been reported missing 100 years earlier. When the salvage crew boards the vessel, they discover 50 long black coffins and find out that the captain locked himself in his cabin when his crew started acting weird. Opening one of the coffins, one of the salvage crew accidentally cuts his hand, unwittingly unleashing ancient curse – that of Count Dracula.

 

Some of the horror ‘brands’ of the world have sent their antagonists into space in one form or another, usually when the creative teams have failed to come up with any new material for them. Pinhead did it. The Leprechaun did it. Jason Vorhees has done it. So it was a little odd to see one of the oldest horror creations going to finally take the leap into the blackness of outer space. Welcome to the stars, Count Dracula.

If there was one creation that has never needed new material it is Dracula. How many times over the years has the tale of the Count been told on film? Too many to remember but it is a winning story that has never really needed altering. So why the hell send him into space and why turn him into some weak-assed slasher when Dracula has never been about the killing, just the manner in which he does it (that whole seduction thing, using his female victims like cattle when he needs to feed, etc). Having him lurking around a spaceship (in full 19th century outfit I might add) chasing after dudes with guns isn’t what Bram Stoker had in mind when he dreamt up this fiend.

If the idea of Count Dracula turning people into vampires on a spaceship isn’t enough to make you cringe, just check a load of the cast. Casper Van Dien – his last cinematic release was Sleepy Hollow way back in 1999. Since then he’s been churning out countless TV movies like Python and Skeleton Man. Erika Eleniak – one of the hottest pieces of ass on the planet when she was in her Baywatch days but now looks like some skanky LA hooker with a breast job. Coolio – a former rapper who thinks he can act and has ‘starred’ in such genre greats as Red Water and Pterodactyl. The only person who comes out with any shred of decency is Udo Kier who doesn’t actually appear in the film with anyone else: his scenes have simply been taped in a room and played back whenever someone accesses the computer to find out what happened to the crew. It’s a Z-list cast for a Z-list movie.

There’s hardly any blood. There’s nothing scary. There’s no nudity. There’s no special effects budget (as in evidence by the explosion at the end). To say this is the year 3000, the equipment and clothing that they are using looks remarkably old. Dracula is on-screen for a total of about two minutes (kind of defeats the object of calling it Dracula 3000 doesn’t it?), opting to leave the rest of the vampire antics to a hyperactive Coolio pretending to be a vampire. The script is also full of horrible quotes like “”I want to ejaculate on your bozonkas.” I mean what the hell is that really?

I could keep going on and on but the film is one of the biggest wastes of time and effort (if there even was any in the first place) that I’m going to watch. And to top it all off, the film has the worst ending ever. I turned my head for a brief moment and then turned back to see the credits rolling. I had to rewind to make sure the film hadn’t skipped a chapter but it hadn’t!

 

Dracula 3000 will ruin your life if you watch it. Do not watch under any circumstances. Please for the love of all that is horror, do not watch this film!

 

Countess Dracula (1971)

Countess Dracula (1971)

The more she drinks, the prettier she gets

In medieval Europe, the aging Countess Elisabeth rules over her kingdom with the help of her lover, Captain Dobi. However one night she inadvertently discovers that bathing in the blood of young virgins makes her young again. She gets Dobi to start bringing her virgins with the promise that she will marry him. However when she reverts back to a younger age than Dobi, she wants someone of her own age and poses as her own daughter to fall in love with the young soldier who was to marry her.

 

What do you do when a posh man with a fake set of fangs, a tatty black cape and more make-up than a drag queen convention becomes boring and unfashionable? Well that was the dilemma facing Hammer at the end of the 60s when the Dracula series had pretty much run its course. Well the answer is a pleasing one – get Ingrid Pitt in the buff on the screen and pretend she’s the new threat facing Eastern European villagers the world over. Technically not a vampire film, this is based on the infamous story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a rich aristocrat from Hungary who is believed to have killed around 300 young girls in an attempt to look younger. The similarities with vampirism are evident enough, the only difference being that the countess here just murders her victims instead of sucking their blood.

Admittedly the film is pretty slow and plodding. As with most of Hammer’s films, the film keeps to the same couple of locations and it gets a bit tiresome after the third visit to the dining area, the servants quarters or the courtyard. Characters are always essential to a good Hammer flick and here is no exception. Ingrid Pitt’s Countess Elisabeth is a ruthless, selfish bitch who never for once thinks of anyone else during the film, be it her wannabe lover Captain Dobi, her loyal servants and advisors in the castle or even her own daughter. The way Pitt switches between the role of the older, fragile Elisabeth and the ravishing temptress is one of the highlights here. The scene with Ms Pitt giving herself a bloody sponge bath is one that will certain linger in the mind too and is one of Hammer’s more iconic images of it’s ‘sexing up’ of horror. It’s actually Nigel Green who steals the show here as Dobi. He’s a man obsessed with love and although you can never reason for his actions (kidnapping and murder to name a few), he’s always done it for Elisabeth. The way she cruelly brushes him aside in favour of younger men is pretty harsh on the old fella.

I get the feeling that this film could have done with the talented touch of Terence Fisher in the director’s chair. That’s not to say he’s a bad director, he just doesn’t seem to get the look and feel of the film right, especially for a Hammer film. It’s got a great set (a leftover from a Universal film I believe) which expands on the usual Hammer vision but despite the bigger set, the film itself seems content to keep itself confined. Sasdy seems to be holding a lot back. Whether it was the studio, the censors or the script, the film seems to imply a lot more than actually happens. Yes, Elisabeth does kill a few virgins but there’s not a great deal of scope in the whole thing. It’s all very low key, something that the film should have tried to expand on. No further proof is needed than the final third of the film which ends in a damp squib. Fisher’s talent at creating atmosphere out of nothing is sorely lacking here too.

 

Countess Dracula is a solid Hammer effort held back by a lack of depth to the whole thing. It’s talky and largely uneventful but come on, they don’t make them like this anymore so what’s stopping you from watching Ms Pitt take a sponge bath of blood?

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

A group of medical students find out that the barbequed dead body that they have just received is in fact a vampire. Realising the potential to use it’s blood to cure one of their own from a crippling disease, they set about trying to resurrect the monster in a remote location. However they don’t account for a priest-turned-vampire hunter who has been tracking the infamous Dracula and believes that he has found his body to destroy once and for all.

 

Dracula 2001 wasn’t particularly enthralling, especially after seeing something like Blade. However horror films with any medium of success in the cinemas must mean that a slew of straight-to-video sequels, which have little to no relevance to the original, will be rattled out. ‘Cashing in’ as you would call it in any other walk of life. Sometimes they’re alright but most of the time they’re just poor imitations or remakes with a lower budget. When you get gullible fools like me rushing to the shelves to rent or buy them when they get released, you’d think I have no right to complain! Anyway enough ranting because all of the ranting in the world isn’t going to make Dracula II: The Ascension any more bearable than it is.

The criminal thing that this film does is wets our appetite with a kick ass opening scene in Romania involving the bad ass (and best part of the film by a mile) Jason Scott Lee as the priest-turned-vampire hunter who dispatches two vampires with some weapons that Blade himself would be proud of. However the film suddenly shifts gears to the team of medical students and the rather dull plot of them trying to resurrect Dracula to use his blood to cure their sick comrade. The priest reappears a few times throughout the film but he’s never given enough screen time considering the explosive start he made. Talk about pulling the rug from underneath you.

Given that the film is about Dracula, it seems stupid to keep him locked up for about three quarters of the running time but that’s exactly what happens here as the Count is chained up for most of the film, only escaping towards the end to set up the inevitable sequel (which was filmed at the same time at this one and involves the same cast and crew). From a technical point of view, the film is up to scratch. It’s got a lot of style going for it, with slow motion action scenes, plenty of blood and some moody sets (the opening in Romania is great – the film should have been set here). It’s not on for too long and the film tries to keep the pace going with an odd twist and turn thrown around. But the problem is that no one cares less about it. The characters are terrible save for the priest and the plot is just an excuse to keep the cast down to minimum by setting it in some remote lab. Ideas were obviously being banded around between the writers but in the end they just ditched them all for a pointless story which goes nowhere.

As I’ve said, the best bit of the film is Jason Scott Lee. He owns the screen every time he is on but that’s maybe because there’s not a lot else to go off. The student cast just waste their times and mine with inept performances, the extremely wooden Craig Sheffer being a particular culprit. Stephen Billington takes over the role of Dracula from Gerard Butler (couldn’t see him wanting to get the fangs back on after hitting it big, can you?) but he looks like a catalogue model gone wrong with his stupid bleached blonde hair. And even Roy Scheider, with his name so visible on the front cover, is given maybe twenty seconds of screen time as a blind cardinal giving advice. Talk about an easy pay day.

 

Dracula II: The Ascension has some neat points but just had no clue what to do with them. The character of Father Uffizi is quality and kicks ass but he’s totally wasted in this pointless sequel which offers nothing and delivers even less.

 

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

They taste his blood and the horror begins!

A merchant witnesses the death of Dracula and scoops up some of his remains, his cloak and an amulet for safe keeping. Years later a trio of respectable gentlemen who are fed up of their bourgeois lifestyle decide to indulge in a bit of black arts. They meet up with Lord Courtley, one of Dracula’s disciples and together they set about resurrecting the Count. But during the ceremony the gentlemen lose their nerve and bottle it but are unaware that Count Dracula has been brought back to life anyway. Dracula sets out to get revenge on them by targeting their children.

 

The late 60s and early 70s was a testing time for Hammer. With 1968′s Night of the Living Dead bringing a more realistic and downright scary approach to horror, The Exorcist just around the corner and their own films becoming stagnant after hardly changing their formula since the late 50s, the studio was really struggling to find their next hit. So as they always did in times of need, they churned out another sequel to their ‘safe’ franchises of Dracula and Frankenstein.

Whereas the Frankenstein series always continued to reinvent itself with new ways for the Baron to experiment, the Dracula series simply rehashed the same old repetitive cycle of events. Dracula is resurrected. Dracula gets revenge for something. Dracula targets someone’s young female relative. Dracula is defeated. It may have worked the first few times but there were only so many times you could do the same thing with the Count before audiences began to groan. In my opinion, the series reached its peak with Dracula, Prince of Darkness – the first of the sequels to feature the Count and the one in which that whole cycle of events felt fresh. Hammer churned out Dracula Has Risen From the Grave which was more or less the same thing and then along comes Taste the Blood of Dracula, another almost like-for-like rehash.

Taste the Blood of Dracula starts off well by showing us the death of Dracula from Dracula Has Risen From the Grave from a different viewpoint and builds from there, adding some continuity to the story. We at least know that this is set in the same canonical universe as laid out in the previous film. Well, at least until it fast forwards into the future. It’s this change in time period which is the film’s saving grace. A new director in charge heralds a new direction in most film series and out went the rich and lavish Technicolour sets of Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis (of which audiences had been saturated with in the countless Hammer horror films since the late 50s) to be replaced by a more grittier, darker and realistic Victorian setting.

The newer setting works in the film’s favour as this is the first time that Hammer audiences could see Dracula roam free in his iconic Victorian locale. The dark, grim setting is a nice contrast to the sometimes fairytale-like colour of the previous films but it’s all for nothing really as there’s little atmosphere to the film. Predictability and the lack of any constant genuine threat throughout the film keep things off the boil. Dracula is hardly around, Courtley makes an early departure and the three children, converted to do Dracula’s bidding, are hampered by the actors’ inability to get into the roles. The finale is also a let down. One of the trademarks of the series had been the unique ways in which Dracula was killed off at the end of each film but here, instead of a roaring or melting demise, his death turns into somewhat of a damp squib.

Like the majority of the sequels, Taste the Blood of Dracula simply doesn’t know what to do with its title character and this is its main weakness. It’s all well and good spending time building up to his resurrection and these scenes are generally the highlights of the Dracula films. But once the Count is back, the script doesn’t know what to do with him barring the usual stuff. In fact the Count has little control over most of the events in this film and he’s almost a bystander. Christopher Lee had long been sick of playing the character by this point but continued to appear and get top billing, almost sleep walking through the film. Apparently he wasn’t supposed to be in it at all and the script originally centred around Ralph Bates’ shadowy Lord Courtley character (Bates making his Hammer debut here).

So it’s no surprise to find out that Dracula gets little screen time as he let’s his minions do most of his dirty work. The revenge motif isn’t new to the series but here, Dracula’s revenge is not so much of the neck-biting and blood-drinking kind. The vampiric elements hardly get a look in as Dracula simply corrupts children to do his dirty work – children who were already on the brink of corruption thanks to the indulgent and hypocritical lifestyles of their fathers. It’s ironic that he decides to take revenge for his disciple’s death since he didn’t know him at all and his death was necessary for Dracula to be resurrected in the first place but this is just petty nitpicking. The supporting cast do better including Geoffrey Keen (whom most people would recognise as the Minister of Defence from many of the James Bond films) and Peter Sallis, who is more famously known for his vocal work as Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit claymation films.

 

Taste the Blood of Dracula tries to give the Count some new life by bringing him ‘home’ into the Victorian era but apart from that, it ticks all of the usual Dracula boxes and this is where its problem lies. It’s not the worst of the series, just one of the most routine. Dracula is more like a passenger in his own film and whilst I can understand the reasoning behind it, it doesn’t work well with the title!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scars of Dracula (1970)

Scars of Dracula (1970)

After being caught in bed with the burgomaster’s daughter, Paul Carlson jumps into a nearby coach and makes a hasty escape. He winds up at Castle Dracula where he becomes Dracula’s latest victim. His brother, Simon, and girlfriend find out that he’s missing and set about trying to track down his last whereabouts. This leads to an eventual confrontation with Dracula.

 

Yeah, it’s pretty thin on the ground for story but I guess it beats Dracula setting out for revenge again. The sixth of the Hammer Dracula films, Scars of Dracula is often heralded as the ‘point of no return’ for the series in which the films got really bad after this. That’s being a bit harsh on The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, a hugely enjoyable kung-fu horror romp not to be taken too seriously. But the next two sequels, in which the story was transported into the then-current time period, are shambolic.

However in my opinion, the series really lost its way after Dracula, Prince of Darkness and the following sequels simply rehashed the same sort of story with lesser results and ever-diminishing budgets. This is clear with Scars of Dracula, a film in which its lack of budget works to destroy any sort of suspense or dread better than any shocking script could do. I bleated in my reviews for the previous couple of sequels that the first half of them were all about building up to a pivotal resurrection scene halfway through when Dracula would burst back onto the screen. Then the last half of the film would involve characters trying to kill him again. But you won’t get that here, at least with the resurrection bit.

Dracula is revived within the first few minutes here and there’s no point in trying to make any sense of it as it involves a cheap bat-on-a-string and a few drops of blood. Like Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees many years later, it’s best not to try and think about the ridiculousness of the situation and just focus on the fact that the main villain is alive and kicking again. Compared to the amazing resurrection sequence in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, this one looks downright feeble. So with Dracula all ready to within the opening act, the stage is set for us to finally see more Christopher Lee. He gets more screen time here than the previous few sequels combined and is a lot more like the character he was portrayed as in the original – coming off as a well-mannered distinguished gentleman when he needs to and then turning into a snarling, ravenous beast when he gets the urge. The irony now is that we perhaps see too much of him and any sense of mystery or aurora of the supernatural just evaporates. The more you see of him, the less you think of him as Dracula, the ultimate vampire, and the more you just see him as a run-of-the-mill bloodsucker.

Scars of Dracula is probably the bloodiest of all of the Dracula films and the gore quota has been upped dramatically. Like any horror series, you know the creativity is decline when there’s more blood on show and this is evident here. Dracula doesn’t care how he gets the blood from his victims this time around, even going so far as to stab a woman in the stomach just to be able to drink her blood. A massacre inside a church and a torture scene makes this one of Hammer’s most violent and graphic films. But when everything else is as routine as it is, the only thing you could really change is the amount of blood.

Like the majority of their output, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ Hammer horror film. It does its job adequately in almost every department. It’s just that the series had never really tried to do anything new (until the next couple of sequels) so the vampiric shenanigans all seems forced. There’s decent support from the likes of Patrick Troughton, Hammer regular Michael Ripper and the attractive Jenny Hanley but they can only inject so much energy into proceedings before they are engulfed by the film’s stagnant appearance. The script could really have done with a Van Helsing type character because without the famous vampire hunter, Dracula always seemed to be one step higher on the food chain than the rest of the characters (until he was killed at the end of each film however!)

 

Scars of Dracula is the weakest of the period Dracula films. It is derivative of its predecessors, fails to inject any new life into the tired story and simply goes through the motions very awkwardly. It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just perfectly demonstrative of Hammer’s later output when they tried and failed to keep interest in their big franchises.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Satanic Rites of Dracula, The (1973)

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

There Is No Hope Left…

In London in the 1970s, Scotland Yard think they have uncovered a case of vampirism and head off to seek the expert advice of Professor Larimer Van Helsing. Investigating further, Van Helsing discovers that some extremely rich and powerful figures are ploughing money into a huge foundation with a boss who has never been seen. It turns out that this boss is in fact the resurrected Count Dracula who is finally sick of the endless pain and suffering of eternal life and is plotting to unleash a new enhanced strain of the Black Death thus taking everyone in the world down with him when he dies.

 

Talk about flogging a dead horse. There’s no wonder Christopher Lee got sick of donning the fangs whenever Hammer came calling! This penultimate Dracula film is slightly better than the abysmal Dracula A.D. 1972 but still suffers from placing the film in a contemporary setting, instead of the traditional period settings which Hammer were exceptional at recreating. However The Satanic Rites of Dracula has always been given a lot of bad press and a lot of it is undeserved. Hammer clearly didn’t know what to do with Dracula anymore and so this ends up a random mix of traditional elements from Hammer, the newly popular Devil/occult themed films (The Exorcist) and bizarrely enough, the James Bond films.

The plot, whilst it may not be keeping with the historical legacy of Count Dracula, is still chillingly believable as Dracula wants to end his life and take everyone down with him as the ultimate act of revenge. However we see so little of the Count during the majority of the film that one could be forgiven for thinking it was Dr No or someone trying to take down the world. Speaking of Bond, this film does seem to smell a little of being a spy caper. There’s plenty of espionage, underhand dealings, sinister headquarters, secret agents, conspiracies and of course, the plot to take down the world. It seems as though Hammer was throwing caution to the wind and trying to contemporise Dracula a little too much. Like the similarly-themed Fu Manchu films, the horror aspect is thrown away for most of the film and it turns into some low-brow action/spy flick. It’s so obvious that the writers were struggling to find worthwhile things for Dracula to do – having him running a massive corporation isn’t exactly what Bram Stoker would have thought his character would be doing.

Thankfully Christopher Lee is back as Dracula and Peter Cushing is back as Van Helsing so at least Lee’s last appearance in the series ends on a pretty respectable note with the two titans battling each other one final time. Even if the script fails them, these two icons are always worth their pay cheque and this is no exception. Dracula’s demise is a little weak though and I would liked to have seen Van Helsing finally hammer home a massive stake through his heart to end the personal vendetta between the two. Comparing the final showdowns in the previous films where Dracula is turned to dust or drowned, this one ends on a little whimper.

Apart from the Dracula-fighting, the older Van Helsing seems a little out of place in the ‘action man’ environment and most of the hero stuff is left to one of the younger supporting investigators. Again the old guard and the new breed are brought together with mixed results and I would have preferred the action elements to be left alone so that Van Helsing could stake some more vampires in grisly old school fashion. After this, Christopher Lee said he was done with Dracula and hung up his cape. Cushing would stay on for one more vampire flick, the quite enjoyable The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires which dealt with Dracula but only fleetingly at the beginning.

 

The Satanic Rites of Dracula isn’t a bad way for Christopher Lee to bow out as Dracula, especially compared to the previous instalment and the plot is interesting in theory. But when you look back to some of the highlights of the series including Horror of Dracula and Dracula, Prince of Darkness, you can see how much they were milking this series, and milking it badly too. It’s fallen a long way since 1958.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Brides of Dracula, The (1960)

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

He Turned Innocent Beauty Into Unspeakable Horror.

A young teacher on her way to a new job in Transylvania gets stranded at an old castle. There she is persuaded by a young man to help him escape the shackles with which his mother has kept him locked up in for years. Unknown to her, the man is actually a vampire and a disciple of Count Dracula. Finally freed, he begins to unleash his reign of terror on the local village. That is until Dr Van Helsing shows up to put an end to the vampire plague once and for all.

 

When Christopher Lee stated that he wasn’t going to reprise his role as Dracula, Hammer had two options. Either recast the role which could alienate a lot of people and they had to be sure they got the right man in the first place. Or the alternative was to switch the focus of this franchise from Count Dracula to Van Helsing and base the films around him and his vampire hunting. Let’s face it: Dracula was hardly in Horror of Dracula so this decision was a smart move on the part of Hammer. Having said that, the title is extremely misleading and a little shameless too, designed as a cynical marketing ploy and no more. Dracula does not make an appearance at all here so one must wonder just whose brides these are! Although calling the film The Brides of Dracula’s Disciple just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

The Brides of Dracula is well structured and although it does take time to get its wheels turning, it gets there in the end. We’re introduced to the lovely Yvonne Monlaur, obviously cast for her European beauty rather than her acting skills and there are plenty of plot twists which actually set about the releasing of the vampire. These are all reasonably executed so that you’re never at the point where you wonder if everything in the film is going to be a coincidence. It might be a little sluggish for some but it’s never boring and perhaps the only reason the film drags in these early stages is that you’re reminded of how much you’re missing Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing tearing it up on screen.

Fear not because the film kick starts itself once Van Helsing turns up and Brides of Dracula suddenly turns into one of the more memorable entries into the entire series. He doesn’t appear until the half-way stage so not only does the film rob the fans of Dracula but their new main star, Van Helsing, has to take a back seat in his first solo outing. You’ll feel a little duped for a while but there are enough tricks up this film’s sleeve to make you forget that. It has many stand-out scenes including but not limited to one of Dracula’s victims rising from her grave, a scene in which Van Helsing is bitten and takes drastic action to stop himself from becoming a vampire and, of course, a wonderful finale inside an old mill in which Van Helsing tries to end the vampire menace by using the sails of the windmill to create a huge shadow of a cross to dominate the landscape. You’d be hard pressed to find as many entertaining set pieces as this in the later instalments.

Atmospherically the film is top notch, with misty forests, dark and eerie castles and humble Transylvanian villages all providing some exquisite sets in which the actors can strut their stuff. Terence Fisher could have produced his most visually-impressive Hammer film here with everything erupting in glorious Technicolor. It has dated in some respects but in others, it’s beautifully shot and captures the Hammer period vibe down to a tee. It’s the perfect set-up for Peter Cushing to come in and do what he does best – command the screen with his screen presence. He carries this film and because he doesn’t turn up till half-way through, that is a heavy burden to shoulder. He is, in my opinion, the greatest genre actor to have ever lived and you can do worse than watch this film to see why. Watch his gentle, courteous and esteemed character suddenly turn into a brutal, cold-hearted man on a mission to destroy vampires when confronted with danger.

It’s a pity that he’s not up against someone a little stronger because you get the sense that Cushing underplays his role, for fearing of overshadowing his on-screen nemesis. David Peel is just too weak and bland and doesn’t have any menace or presence about him whatsoever, thus making the vampire threat somewhat of a damp squib. It’s a good job they didn’t recast Dracula because this guy would have ruined the part. As a minion of the Count, he’s passable. In this respect, Brides of Dracula shares the same fate as many other non-Dracula Hammer vampire films in that they just couldn’t top Dracula as the main villain. Once you’ve had the Prince of Darkness as your villain, everyone else seems second best. As with many Hammer films, it’s always the bit roles which provide the most entertainment – Miles Malleson almost stealing the show as a drunken doctor. The actual ‘brides’ of the title don’t get much to do except for parade around scantily-clad.

 

Coming directly after the genre-defining precedents that Horror of Dracula set was going to be no easy feat and thankfully The Brides of Dracula does it’s best to live up to standards. It takes it’s time to get going and has a weak villain (I can just imagine what Lee would have added to the film with his presence) but the final third is as exciting and entertaining as anything Hammer has ever done.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆