Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Dracula: Christopher Lee
For reasons unknown to me, film critics enjoy belittling the later Hammer Dracula series. While it’s true that no later Hammer film approaches the artistic or emotional impact of Fisher’s 1958 original, it’s also true that by expanding their “Dracula Mythos” (and by paying Christopher Lee’s mortgage) Hammer created a cinematic universe that surpasses even the Universal “backlot gothic” world of the 1940s. Forced to come up with ever more entrances into the Dracula story for ever more characters, Hammer this time decided to introduce a black magician named Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates, who comes across as a young Colin Firth playing a snotty Aleister Crowley) who just needs rich, bored whoremongers Paxton, Hargood, and Secker to pay for the powdered blood of Dracula to achieve total depravity. Said blood is available because odious traveling salesman Weller (the great character actor Roy Kinnear, believably bumptious and terrified by turns) literally tumbles off a Borgo Pass carriage into the final scene of Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and scoops up Dracula’s red powdered remains from around the impaling crucifix.
Linda Hayden (then notorious for her controversial sexpot role in 1968’s Baby Love, a sort of Carnaby-era Poison Ivy) as Hargood’s daughter Alice lights up the screen, and even the “youth appeal” Paul Paxton (Anthony Corlan) is only somewhat whiny. While I’m calling out supporting roles, I have to give props to Russell Hunter, whose maitre’d brothel Felix makes Joel Grey in Cabaret look like Walter Mondale. As opposed to the wonderful dolly-cam brothel scene, and the powerful black mass where Courtley blood-shames the wannabe decadents, Dracula’s final death in this one is almost a literal deus ex machina. Paul reconsecrates the ruined Gothic London church before hunting the vampire in it, so its Christianity suddenly “switches on” during the fight scene and Christopher Lee topples onto the altar, killed by sheer holiness. Also, Alice isn’t so much saved by the love of a good man as she is ticked off by Dracula dumping her not quite far enough (as it turns out) from the altar. So the script, yes, never lives up to that insane first act, but any GM who doesn’t get inspired by a world where aristocratic but bankrupt Satanists know a sweaty guy who’ll sell you the blood of Dracula for a thousand guineas is just not paying attention.
The 31 Days of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Made more powerful by tasting the blood of Dracula (perhaps powdered with your own thoughts and comments), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can resurrect corporeal forms of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!