Found-Again Friday: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

We lost one of the greats with the passing of Sir Christopher Lee last week. Since most of the things I own featuring Lee are much beloved and rewatched—The Last Unicorn, The Wicker Man, even Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow—I’m going to turn to the one that isn’t.

Why Found-Again? I’m not sure why Satanic Rites of Dracula is the only Hammer Dracula film I own, mind you; a list of my favorites could easily consist of the words “any I’ve seen except this one, really.” (After Taste the Blood of Dracula, it’s all downhill for me.) Though it’s been sitting on my shelf for years, I still have vivid memories of buying this DVD at Wal-Mart for 88 cents, watching it, and deciding I’d paid too much.

The Premise: If you’ve ever seen a Hammer Dracula film, you know the drill: a bunch of mortals end up raising one of the better-known vampires from whatever fate befell him in the previous Hammer Dracula film. At least in this case it’s deliberate, and done before the movie starts.

Dracula is kind of a corporate overlord this time, which may explain why he’s trying to destroy the world through germ warfare (a super-strain of good old bubonic plague) instead of confining his depredations to filmily clad women and their would-be rescuers. The women are there, of course; they’re just not the focus. This time, the Count is thinking big.

I’ve read that this is a sequel of sorts to Dracula AD 1972, but music notwithstanding, Satanic Rites lacks a lot of the fun counterculture vibe of its predecessor. (It also lacks Stephanie Beacham, a favorite of mine ever since she was on the ill-fated Dynasty spinoff The Colbys in the ’80s.)

The Verdict: You’d think mixing a Pendergast-novel-style thriller with vampires and Christopher Lee would be right up my alley, but no.  Intellectually, there’s nothing wrong with Dracula being in a modern setting, but I’ve never quite been able to get over it, or over Peter Cushing’s psychiatrist van Helsing expounding on Dracula’s death wish. Lee as always knocks it out of the park, as does most of the cast—including Cushing, Joanna Lumley, and character actor Freddie Jones, who appears in my movie collection even more often than Christopher Lee. It seems odd to say that never has a movie that opens with a black-magic ceremony so disappointed me, but…

And, of course, this is the one where Dracula gets defeated by a hawthorn bush. As Opus the Penguin once said, I can’t support that.

Bonus Points For: The Freddie Jones character has his own institute, complete with a plaque: “The Keeley Foundation for Science.” What science? Evil, nihilistic science! I guess that wouldn’t all fit on the sign, though.

 

Might go well with: Bloody Marys, Gummi rats, English food, The Day of the Jackal.

 

Next time: The very, very end of Highlander. Not quite the end of me writing about it, though.

 

J. A.

It reads. It writes. It watches. It researches. It overdoes many of those things!

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