Scars of Dracula (1970)
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Dracula: Christopher Lee
Let us resolutely ignore the dead pacing (probably from Anthony Hinds’ screenplay), the insane overlighting that washes out Christopher Lee’s makeup unforgivably, and the damp-even-for-a-Hammer-romantic-male-lead dampness of the “romantic male lead” Simon (Dennis Waterman). Let us ignore the comically ineffective “set fire to the castle” bit up front and the ineffectively comic cod-Benny Hill skit that sets up the action, such as it is. Let us ignore the fact that the “somewhat good fake bat” apparently broke down or went missing and Hammer pushed on with the “not at all good fake bat” in this most bat-centric of the Hammer Draculas. Let us ignore the undignified ending, in which Dracula is set on fire by lightning. (Yes, you read that right.) Let us, in short, ignore all the reasons people say this is the worst of the Hammer Draculas and concentrate on the reasons to watch and take note of it.
First and foremost: Christopher Lee gets more lines and screen time in this one than in all the others combined. Even with this terrible material, he just plain owns, and the script does show us a properly sadistic side of Dracula missing in most versions. Also, the notion of re-doing Psycho as a Dracula period picture has a sort of bizarre charm: rogue vanishes in weird lodging, rogue’s sibling follows up with similarly dangerous results. Dracula really uses the bats well in this picture, as scouts and guardians and (best of all) as a death squad when people he wants to kill inconsiderately hide in a church. Patrick Troughton brings real pathos to the role of Klove, Dracula’s manservant and remover-of-crucifixes-from-sleeping-bosoms who falls in love with a picture of Sarah (Jenny Hanley), as well he might. She is indeed delightful, although sadly washed out next to saucy tavern wench/clue dispenser Julie (Wendy Hamilton) and Dracula’s disobedient Bride, Tania (Anouska Hempel). Finally, Dracula does his best Hammer wall climb in this one, up to his clever tower crypt with only one window and no doors.
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Surrounded by many plastic bats (and by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order hard copies, miraculously unscathed by fire, 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!