Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)
Director: Freddie Francis
Dracula: Christopher Lee
A peculiar blend of apathy and attention makes this perhaps the most frustrating of the Hammer Draculas. Anthony Hinds (writing as “John Elder”) cares so little about the script that he doesn’t even bother to name Ewan Hooper’s weak Renfielded priest, and he allows that same priest to undercut the real inner conflict (between atheism and Christianity) of the hero Paul (Barry Andrews). But Father No-Name is such a weakling that his return to Jesus (to say the needed prayer over a staked Dracula, to make sure it takes this time) plays as pure opportunism, not as redemption. As against that, Freddie Francis brings all his cinematographic energies to the problem of making yet another Dracula movie stand out. We get a cool red-amber-gold gel effect whenever Dracula uses his powers, and the lighting (except for the standard-awful day-for-night shots) is great throughout. Better still, many major scenes — including a Dracula chase! — are shot on and over the rooftops of Kleinenberg, something far more original in 1968 than now.
Lee, of course, is excellent, channeling his surly attitude about Hammer into a sneering, contemptuous performance lashed by emphatic cruelty and predation. Sadly, his main dinner course, Veronica Carlson’s Maria, is as bland and uninteresting as her uncle the Monsignor Ernst Muller (Rupert Davies, just terrific in the part) is layered. Embodying both the smugness and the righteousness of the Faith (as opposed to Father No-Name’s opportunism and impotence), Muller makes a great foil for Dracula. His death is genuinely shocking, as if Van Helsing had succumbed at the third-act turn. Is God truly dead? Can the atheist-but-handsome-and-true Paul defeat Dracula while alone in the universe? If anyone had cared enough to hammer down that last act, this might have been the best one in the series. As it is, we just have its potential to mine for games. Dracula uses Father Renfield tactically throughout: to channelize his prey into an ambush, to cover Dracula’s line of retreat with an ambush of the pursuer, to infiltrate the enemy camp and gather intel. Francis’ optical effect makes for effective Dracula spoor — a sudden “your vision tunnels, glowing gold at the center with blood red shadows at the edges — adrenaline shock, perhaps?” should creep any player out. All this and vamparkour too!
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Completed by a Pater Noster (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 unfrozen hard copies 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!