Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton
Director: Roy Ward Baker
There are few Hammer films that divide popular opinion as much as Scars Of Dracula, with as many singing its praises as one of the better of the sequels as there are who consider it the beginning of the end in the series.
It certainly suffers from a visible lack of budget and in trying to compete with contemporary cinema at the time with regards to onscreen sex and violence, there is an underlying feeling that Hammer lost something in the process.
That’s not to say this isn’t a massively enjoyable film in many ways though, featuring more than a few set-pieces that can hold their own with some of the best of Hammer, not to mention the use Christopher Lee, finally given more to do again than appear late and brood silently.
A village in the shadow of Castle Dracula rises up to destroy the Count once and for all after yet another young woman is found dead at his hand. While they are up setting fire to his lair, the Count has sent a swarm of bats to wipe out the women they had left behind in the local church.
Some time later Paul Carlson (Christopher Matthews), a young libertine on the run from being falsely accused of raping the Burgomaster’s daughter, finds himself a guest of Dracula and his companion Tania (Anouska Hempel), but fails to return. Realising he’s missing, his brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) and his girlfriend Sarah (Jenny Hanley) set about tracking him down and before long, they are guests of Dracula too…
The fifth in the series, Scars Of Dracula is an interesting new direction for Hammer to be taking, both in interesting ways and ways that are…less appealing.
The decision to try and bring the series back towards Stoker’s original book and character (coming from pressure from Lee for one) is to be commended, but it’s not massively adhered to. There’s a wonderful scene of the Count crawling along the outside wall of his castle for one thing.
Dracula himself is no longer the feral, demonic presence of few words that we’ve gotten used to either, though he’s not the charming nobleman he’s often described as in this. His initial meeting with Paul is only superficially cordial, as he is absolutely terrifying from the outset. Frighteningly pale and full of intensity, it’s played brilliantly by Lee.
It’s punctuated by comedy though as, with Dracula and Tania both hungrily staring at him (for different reasons), the penny starts to drop with Paul that he’s in very real danger. With glorious comic timing, the insane looking and bedraggled servant Klove (Patrick Troughton) wanders in too. It’s hilarious and bursts the bubble in a brilliant way. Paul is in trouble in so many different ways.
There’s more than a few laughs in there, but there’s a lot more horror and Scars ups the gore content more than we’ve ever seen from Hammer before. Dracula graphically stabbing Tania to death and drinking from the wound is positively shocking, as is his pleasure in branding Klove’s back with a glowing hot sabre from the fire. The horrific highlight has to be the shout of the massacred village women in the church though. Each woman is a mass of lacerations and director Roy Ward Baker languishes the camera over each one. It’s shocking stuff, to be honest.
The main issue with Scars isn’t budget or change of direction though. It’s that once again, the powerhouse that is Count Dracula (or Christopher Lee for that matter) doesn’t have a worthy adversary to go up against.
Dennis Waterman is a fine enough actor, but he’s a young man here and an ineffectual (if brave) one at that. The final confrontation with Dracula ends purely by luck, nothing else, with Simon being saved by a bolt of lightning that sends Dracula quite literally over the edge. It’s a fantastic scene to be fair, but how much better would it have been with a Van Helsing or even a Sandor there to let you feel that Dracula was in for a fight?
Scars Of Dracula isn’t the best of the Hammer vampire sequels, but it’s far from the worst either. There’s enough here to justify its existence and then some.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy