Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) is a fantastic sequel to Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. It carries on right from where that movie left off. And – whoopee! – Christopher Lee is back for his fourth outing as Count Dracula.
Directed by Peter Sasdy from a script by Anthony Hinds (as John Elder), the movie opens with a British businessman, Weller (Roy Kinnear), who is travelling through Eastern Europe in a coach. After a struggle with a rather strange co-passenger, Weller is thrown from the carriage and knocked unconscious.
When he eventually comes to, he starts to wander through the darkened woods. Then he hears a sudden blood-curdling scream ringing through the forest. Panic gripping him, he starts to run, but then falls down a grassy slope. As he looks up, he is shocked to see a dark-cloaked figure staggering around and screaming some feet away. A large cross is impaling the figure from the back.
As the screeching, blood-drenched form finally dies and crumbles to red dust, he leaves behind just his cloak, dried blood and a brooch. As Weller wipes away the powdery blood from the brooch, he is shocked to see the name engraved on it: Dracula. But despite his unease caused by the recognition of the notorious name, this does not stop Weller from claiming the three items for himself.
The story then moves on to centre on the lives of three distinguished, apparently charitable English gentlemen: Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Secker (John Carson). But rather than pursuing their charity work seriously, all three are secretly decadent men, for they regularly indulge themselves in brothels.
One night, the three men become intrigued by a rather curt, bossy young man who enters the brothel. The men are told that this man is Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates). But far from holding any real innocent charm, the stoney-faced Courtley is really some kind of Satanist, for the men learn that he was disinherited by his father for holding a Black Mass some years ago.
The three mens’ uncontrollable desires to seek even greater excesses to enliven their boring lives are instantly stoked by Courtley’s dark charm. They accept his offer to participate in a secret ceremony which, Courtley promises them, will give them untold pleasures. But first there is a precondition: they have to purchase Dracula’s three left-behind artefacts from businessman Weller. Once they complete the deal, although initially with some hesitation from the nervy Paxton, the trio are then off to an unholy appointment at a secluded, desanctified old church with the sinister Lord Courtley.
When they arrive at the church, Courtley is waiting for them, all raring to go as he eagerly asks the men did they bring the three items. The men hand the requisite goods over to him, and Courtley, swinging Dracula’s cloak over his shoulders, proceeds to commence the Black Mass.
Out from Courtley’s mouth come the customary dark incantations essential to the revival of the Prince of Darkness, But as it turns out, this supposedly life-changing ceremony that will bring intense excitement into the drab lives of the three gentleman does NOT go well. And the moment it starts to go downhill is when Courtley produces a ceremonial dagger, slashes his palm, and proceeds to squeeze the oozing blood onto the red powder (Dracula’s dried blood, of course), which he’s sprinkled into each of the three goblets he’s given to the now sombre-silent participants.
You have got to hand it to Hammer here for bringing back Dracula in the most atmospheric, most spectacular fashion. He is revived by a devil worshipper and three sex perverts in a creepy old church. This really is The Mother of All Black Masses Gone Terribly Wrong. The aspects of a completely botched Satanic ritual are all here: the three participants who, in a sudden attack of the willies, refuse Courtley’s crazed urgings to drink from the goblets brimming disgustingly with Dracula’s blood; Courtley’s fatal mistake in gulping down the blood himself, only to end up choking and writhing on the floor, as if he’s swallowed some deadly poison (well, after all, it IS Dracula’s blood); and to top off this unholy disaster, the now-petrified three men beating their host to death as he lies choking and writhing and screaming for help on the floor. They then flee the scene, hoping to put it all behind them. But we Hammer fans know only too well that when any attempts to resurrect Dracula are set in motion, it is never that easy to just bury your head in the sand.
Despite the botched ritual, Dracula does indeed return from the dead. He literally hatches from the dead body of Courtley after swarms of dust, amid a creepy heartbeat sound and a clever in-out-in-out camera shot, completely cover the lifeless figure. I love the way Dracula’s face bursts out of the hardened dust, opening his eyes as twin blank pools of blood-red. He then stands in his customary tall and menacing stance, uttering a sepulchral vow that those have destroyed his “servant” will be “destroyed” themselves. Yet another example of just how charismatic Lee is whenever he plays the Count.
When the Prince of Darkness does start exacting his revenge on each of the three gentlemen, he does it in a most diabolical manner through their offspring. First to incur Dracula’s wrath, albeit in a rather indirect fashion, is the sour-faced Hargood. Some viewers might have even cheered when this man met his demise, for in the movie he comes across as a right bastard to his poor daughter Alice (Linda Hayden), forbidding her from going out, threatening to beat her for defying him etc. Thus revenge is sweet indeed as Alice, urged on by Dracula, batters his head in with a spade.
Next to meet Dracula’s vengeance is Paxton. Whilst blubbering over his now vampirised daughter Lucy (Isla Blair) as she lies in her crypt, he is cornered by both Alice and Dracula and staked through the heart by the seductively grinning girl, again at the instigation of the Count. This murder begs the question: is it really wise to allow sentiment to get the better of you and pathetically procrastinate about whether to stake your vampire daughter, especially when sunset is near and the vampires will soon rise? In this case, definitely not! This begs the eternal question: why does a vampire killer always go to kill Dracula and his acolytes just as they are about to wake up?
The third and final gentleman in the circle to be the victim of Dracula’s vengeance is Secker. After composing a note to Alice’s boyfriend Paul (Anthony Higgins) advising on how to kill the vampire, he hands it to his son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis), little knowing that his offspring has now become a vampire. As fanged Jeremy pounces and his father slumps to the ground dead, we see our third and final shot of Dracula’s eerie eyes as he proclaims, in that demonically sepulchral voice of his, “The thirrrrd!” With this treble termination, Dracula’s vowed revenge is now complete.
I won’t go on too much about the climax of Taste The Blood of Dracula, in case any of you have not seen it and desire to purchase the Blu Ray for your collection. Suffice to say that some of you will love it, some of you will hate it. Myself, I quite liked it, but then again, I like all the different and spectacular ways that Hammer come up with to bump off Dracula. Both those endings and the resurrections scenes are all part of the mass appeal of the wonderful world of Hammer horror.
Taste the Blood of Dracula was originally written with the intention of excluding Lee’s Dracula altogether. As Christopher Lee became increasingly reluctant to return to the role, Hammer intended to replace Lee and Dracula in the franchise with the Lord Courtley character. Apparently, in the original script, Courtley would return from the dead as a vampire, Dracula style, and seek revenge on the three men who killed him during the black mass ritual. However, Hammer’s American distributor refused to release the film if Dracula was absent. This effectuated a change of plan from Hammer, for they eventually persuaded Lee to return, with Dracula replacing the resurrected Courtley. And thank God they did, is what I say!
I just CANNOT imagine a Dracula sequel without the great Christopher Lee. As much as I liked Ralph Bates as Lord Courtley, I do think that extending the Courtley character and leaving Dracula out would have been a big mistake. I am sure I speak for many thousands of other Hammer fans here too, who love Christopher Lee playing Dracula.
All in all, Taste The Blood Of Dracula is an immensely enjoyable sequel to Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. And, like its predecessor, it has a high rewatchability factor. I love it. But I certainly won’t be visiting any secluded desanctified churches anytime soon!
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