I honestly cannot count (no pun intended) the number of times I have watched this classic movie over the years. And with each new watch, I still enjoy it just as much as I did when I first watched it on TV, as a kid, back in the early 1970s. And, naturally, I am so pleased to now have it in my Blu Ray collection to watch whenever I want.
In Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, Christopher Lee is back for the third time as Count Dracula. He is resurrected when the ice covering the moat in which he was entombed at the end of Dracula: Prince of Darkness is cracked open by a jittery priest (Ewan Hooper of Hunter’s Walk fame), who slips and falls whilst accompanying his superior, the Monsignor (Rupert Davies), to perform an exorcism rite outside Dracula’s castle. Sustaining a cut to his head, the priest lies there as blood from his wound trickles down on to Dracula’s lips (how convenient!).
Emerging from his icy tomb, Dracula stands there on the rocks, in his usual tall and commandingly menacing manner. His black cloak flowing behind him in the night breeze, his arm outstretched intently as it points towards the dazed priest, the vampire lord hypnotises the clergyman into becoming his servant. And the first thing Dracula makes him do is to remove the large gold cross, hung there earlier by the Monsignor during the exorcism rite, from the door of his castle.
Before I go any further into the events following Dracula’s resurrection, I must say a few words about the opening scene – or prologue, if you like – of the movie, which I know has caused much head scratching among Hammer fans and critics alike as they ponder its relevance.
Even though, as we know from the end of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula has been officially dead for around a year, this scene shows the body of some unknown girl found hanging upside down from inside a church bell. From the bloody marks on her neck, it is obvious that this girl has been another victim of Dracula. But how could she have been, if the count is still in his watery grave? Strange. Maybe she was one of Dracula’s unshown victims during his previous outing, and Hammer just decided to slot it into the movie for opening dramatic effect. Who knows?
Anyway, to get back to the count’s latest return to life, he soon learns that the Monsignor has a rather stunning niece, namely Maria, played by the lovely Veronica Carlson. Naturally, Dracula resolves to make her another one of his vampire brides, thereby killing two birds with one stone as, by doing this, he exacts his revenge on the Monsignor too. However, standing in his way are both Maria’s uncle, the Monsignor himself, and her jack-the-lad barman of a boyfriend, Paul (Barry Andrews). Devout priest and confirmed atheist vs Dracula. Wow, what a mismatched couple of heroes if ever there was! Having said that, though, the way these two protagonists bounce off each other is just fantastic.
The movie also offers some quite thought-provoking additions to the vampire mythology as far as belief vs atheism is concerned. This is especially born out in the scene where Paul is invited around for dinner with the Monsignor and his family. The Monsignor’s face is an absolute picture when Paul, quite flatly, tells hims that he does not go to church, but is an atheist. It is moments like these in the movie that make the romantic sub plot involving Paul and Maria run very nicely alongside the main story of Dracula’s horrific exploits.
Another great scene in the movie, again touching on the matter of religion, is where Paul, accompanied by the Monsignor, invades Dracula’s lair and stakes him in his coffin. But he is then urged to pray by the clergyman so that the vampire – still writhing and screaming in his coffin, blood pumping from his penetrated chest – can be destroyed completely. However, as expected, Paul’s atheism makes for very poor vampire slaying indeed, and as Dracula defiantly pulls the stake out of his heart and aims it at Paul, we know that the two heroes have a real fight on their hands here. OK, some die-hard vampire traditionalists might decry Hammer’s decision to make belief in God an essential precondition to the successful staking of a vampire, but it did add an interesting aspect to the story.
Dracula himself is one big, fearsome, cruel beast here. And his sepulchral tones only add to his general creepiness. The ultimate Prince of Darkness, and of course, as always, Lee does a brilliant job here in portraying him. He stalks the rooftops like some hellish demon of the night, invading Maria’s bedroom to sink his fangs into her neck – only to be foiled in the act as the Monsignor suddenly bursts into her bedroom and scares him away. The subsequent chase over the rooftop setting is another cool aspect of the film.
Even though his voice was dubbed, Ewan Hooper provides a good performance as the pathetic, weak-willed priest who so easily comes under Dracula’s hellish power. And Barbara Ewing, who plays the unfortunate barmaid Zena (Dracula later kills her and orders his servant to dispose of her body by burning it in the bakery ovens), also delivers her part superbly.
All in all, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave makes for a very entertaining sequel indeed. It is full of many familiar and proved effective Hammer staples, with some new ones thrown in as well. It also has strong atmosphere: creepy, colorful lighting, and a solid, well-written storyline. In the good old Hammer horror tradition, it has a beautifully lush, Gothic atmosphere. And the acting by every cast member is just awesome. Hammer composer James Bernard’s hauntingly exciting score enhances the movie’s enjoyment factor (the opening dramatic theme, accompanying the background of weird, psychedelic red and blue, is one of my all time favourite intros in any horror movie). Hammer was so good at composing some pretty memorable music to go with their iconic horror movies.
You can buy Dracula Has Risen From The Grave on Blu Ray now by clicking on the image link above this review.
If you enjoyed this Hammer horror movie review, you might be interested to know that I have written three books about the studio. For more details, just click on the relevant book links below.