To all those of you who knock Scars of Dracula as a “corny film”, I urge you to please belt up! Contrary to all your negatives views, I think Scars of Dracula is a fantastic movie.
Oh, I can certainly see why some of you disparage the film. For example, the way Dracula is brought back to life by a blood-vomiting bat has definitely not gone down too well with those who would have preferred a more credible resurrection. But the way I see it, who the heck cares just how Dracula IS brought back? Hammer had to figure out SOME way to resurrect its beloved Count. And I know how the obviously fake rubber bat makes some of you cringe. But at the end of the day, such unusual motifs are all part of the Hammer horror fun. Parallels with the old Universal monster movies can be drawn here. Who cared if the Wolf Man wore the same chest-pocketed shirt in every film? And did it really matter if the Frankenstein Monster somehow miraculously survived yet ANOTHER fiery exit? Though some logicality is, admittedly, cast to the wind in these movies, at the end of the day, we true horror fans still love them for what they are: just a whole lot of good, escapist FUN.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker from a script by Anthony Hinds, Scars of Dracula (1970) seems to exist in a world of its own. A reboot, if you like. Unlike all the preceding Lee Dracula flicks, this movie does not seem to follow on directly from the preceding film. The Count is inexplicably back in his native castle when he is revived, whereas at the end of Taste The Blood of Dracula, his remains were left lying on the altar of an old descanctified church in England. Anyway, despite this break in continuity, Dracula is back, and how!
In this movie, the Count is the meanest – and I mean the MEANEST – he has ever been in any previous Hammer Dracula outing. He also talks much more than he did in the preceding films. And we see a lot more of him too (yay!). Despite the lack of Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), the Count’s younger adversaries consisting of Simon (Dennis Waterman), Paul (Christopher Matthews) and Sarah (Jenny Hanley) are quite adequate compensations for the absent professor. Patrick Troughton is also fine as Dracula’s shifty, rather neanderthal-looking assistant, Klove. And then, of course, we have Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper as the obstinate, bad-tempered innkeeper. Add to that another familiar Hammer face, Michael Gwynne, who plays the brave, solicitous, but ultimately doomed priest, and we have a cast that makes for great entertainment value.
There are many memorable – and quite horrific – scenes in this movie, ones that make it really stand out from all the other Hammer Draculas. One that especially sticks in the memory is where Dracula suddenly pulls back the curtains on one of his female vampire servants, Tania (Anoushka Hemple) after she has lustfully attempted to bite Paul in bed, and brutally stabs her to death with a ceremonial dagger. Wow! Never seen our favourite Count THAT vicious before! Not only is he a vampire, but it seems that he is now adopting serial killer tactics here as he repeatedly and viciously sticks the knife in like a crazed lunatic.
And as if this graphic stabbing wasn’t enough, there was apparently another part to this grisly scenario, where Dracula bends his head and laps up the blood from his slaughtered victim’s stomach. But that scene was apparently cut by the censors. Pity, as it would have enhanced the movie’s general horror to an even more jaw-dropping degree. I do remember, though, having a photo still of that particular scene in an old 70s edition of a UK monster mag.
Another notable instance of this now more brutal Dracula is where, in a fit of violent rage, he takes a red-hot sword and sadistically brands the back of his servant Klove with it as punishment for his disobedience. Ouch! This was definitely another first in a Lee Dracula movie in regard to just how vicious the Count could be outside of just biting a neck or two and drinking blood. A real step up for the Prince of Darkness of quite Satanic proportions.
As regards the general storyline, well, it more or less follows the usual Dracula saga: unsuspecting people visit the Count’s castle, only to eventually fall foul to his deadly menace after receiving a superficial welcome from their host. But I’ll say this for this movie: it certainly starts off with a BANG, as right after the blood-spewing bat opening, the villagers try to burn the Count alive whilst he is resting in his castle. Needless to say, their actions have severe repercussions, for when they return to the village church where all their loved ones have been hiding for safety, they are shocked to find every single one of them massacred. Blood is everywhere as the devilish vampire bat has left its horrendous trademark. A really harrowing, quite graphic scene.
Another quite harrowing and bloody scene is where the priest is attacked by the demon bat in his church, whilst trying to protect Sarah, his face totally mutilated as the screeching creature puts paid to his efforts to destroy Dracula once and for all. Now that the priest is dead, the onus falls on Simon to protect Sarah and, God willing, put an end to Dracula’s evil forever.
Dennis Waterman’s scenes as Simon are very enjoyable and well done. I have always liked Waterman as an actor, particularly in The Sweeney and Minder. I especially love the part where, with a little help from the dodgy Klove (who has now become hopelessly smitten by the lovely Sarah after seeing her photograph), Simon climbs down the walls of Dracula’s castle using a rope in the hope of gaining access to Dracula’s resting place, which has no other means of entrance other than the large window overlooking a sheer drop. God, how tense is that scene where the treacherous Klove then attempts to cut the rope with a view to making Simon plunge to his death. Well, thankfully, Simon does manage to save himself, but only to enter Dracula’s rather poky resting place. There he encounters two horrors: the dead, mutilated body of his younger brother Paul, impaled on a wall, and Dracula himself. The stage is now set for the final battle between good and evil.
I won’t say too much about the climax of Scars of Dracula, in case some of you haven’t seen the movie right through. Suffice to say that, again, many Hammer fans have questioned how Dracula makes his exit here. Some hate it, some love it. Myself, again, as a diehard horror fan who can sometimes take a little bit of authenticity bending providing its entertaining enough, I just shrug casually and think, well, after all, Hammer, in their true tradition, have got to give our favourite Count SOME kind of spectacular death, even if it does mean stretching credibility a little. You can’t just stake him or impale him on a giant cross at the end of every film. That would get rather monotonous, for sure.
All in all, Scars of Dracula, despite its deviations from the usual Hammer Dracula story and its cheesy special effects, is a jolly good watch. I never get tired of revisiting this movie, as I think it is a lot of fun. Christopher Lee is excellent, as usual, in the role of the evil Count. And I love the way some elements of Bram Stoker’s novel are included: the part where Dracula scales the walls of his castle like some giant lizard, the references that he has dominion over nature, and where he speaks to his hosts as icily charmingly as he did in the book. Fantastic.
Scream Factory have released a brilliant Blu Ray edition of Scars of Dracula, including commentary by Christopher Lee himself, along with additional commentaries not featured on the UK Studio Canal release. You can buy this Scream Factory edition 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.