The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974, Roy Ward Baker)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: There’s a prologue in Transylvania in 1804. The main bulk of the movie is set in China 100 years later, firstly in Chongqing (or Chung King as the caption spells it) then in the countryside.

Faithful to the novel? Not in the slightest. This was Hammer Films’ ninth Dracula movie in 16 years. It ignores the modern-day reboot of the previous two entries in the series, and heads back to a turn-of-the-19th-century setting. After the prologue, in which a Taoist monk (Chan Shen) awakens a docile Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson, taking over from Christopher Lee, who’d finally jacked it in) to ask for his help, all the action takes place in China. This was because this film was a co-production between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers Studio of Hong Kong. Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) – seemingly the same version of the character seen in Dracula and Brides of Dracula – is lecturing at a university in China. He talks about his encounters with the famous vampire Count Dracula then recounts rumours of seven vampires who have been terrorising rural China. Most of his students are cynical, but a man called Hsi Ching (David Chiang) believes him and tells him he knows where the vamps are. Eventually, a team is assembled: Van Helsing and his son, Leyland (Robin Stewart); a rich Scandinavian woman called Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege), who agrees to fund the expedition because she needs to leave town quickly; and Hsi Chiang and his kung-fu-proficient siblings. They head to the village, intent on destroying the vampires. Various fight scenes ensue, then at the climax Van Helsing realises that the vamps’ leader is Dracula is disguise.

Best performance: As always, Peter Cushing plays his part with total commitment. You never get the sense that he’s phoning it in or just doing a film for the fee, do you?

Best bit: More than a Dracula movie, this is a Hong Kong-produced martial-arts flick. There are crash-zooms and whip pans and loud fake sound effects for every punch or slap. Great stuff.

Review: You have to admire Hammer for trying different things. After setting two Dracula movies in the modern day, they then tried to breathe new life into this series by moving the action to China and blending their house style with the kung-fu phenomenon. The result is by no means a masterpiece, but it passes the time well enough and is a fun little vampire film. Written by Don Houghton – a true Sinophile – the plot is simple beyond belief. But the mythological context (and non-European landscape) gives the story a interesting setting, while shots of zombies rising from the grave are as striking as any image in a Hammer Dracula. The film is also lit with bold, expressionist colours. Only some gnarly special effects and poor monster make-up really disappoint.

Seven bat medallions out of 10

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970, Peter Sasdy)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: We begin in that Hammer favourite: an nebulous area of central Europe in the late nineteenth century. But then we cut to a little while later in London and the story plays out in leafy suburbs, the squalid East End and the fancy Café Royale on Regent Street.

Faithful to the novel? This is the fourth sequel to Hammer Films’ 1958 adaptation of Dracula, and follows on from Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. It begins with a man called Weller (an always fun Roy Kinnear) accidentally witnessing the demise of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) – the vampire has been staked with a crucifix. After the body crumbles away, Weller collects some of the remains and leaves… Cut to England, some time later. Three stuffy, middle-aged businessmen – William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Jonathon Secker (John Carson) – are telling their families that they’re off to do some charity work in the East End, whereas in fact they’re visiting a hedonistic, anything-goes brothel. While there, they meet a shady, arrogant aristocrat called Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), who takes them to a shop run by Weller to acquire some of Dracula’s blood. (They’ve heard of the Count and know of vampires.) Wanting the thrill of interacting with the undead, the trio and Courtley perform a Satanic ritual but Courtley is killed when he drinks some of the blood. Terrified, Hargood, Paxton and Secker flee. Then the corpse transforms into a resurrected Dracula, who vows revenge on the three men for the death of his servant Courtley. The vamp starts by targeting the trio’s grown-up children – he hypnotises Alice Hargood (Linda Hayden) into killing her father, then turns Lucy Paxton (Isla Blair) into a vampire…

Best performance: Geoffrey Keen was later a regular in the James Bond films, appearing as the Minister of Defence in all six movies between 1977 and 1987. Here, he plays the grumpy, troubled William Hargood, who’s the ring leader of the three businessmen. His character’s trauma after the black-magic ritual is very convincing – he develops paranoia, drinks heavily, abuses his daughter…

Best bit: There’s some handsome location filming at Highgate Cemetery in London, most notably in the beautiful, Gothic, curved row of tombs known as the Circle of Lebanon in the West Cemetery. (Among many others, buried at Highgate are actors Corin Redgrave, Jean Simmons, Ralph Richardson, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Diane Cilento, Sheila Gish and Bob Hoskins, writers Douglas Adams, Anthony Shaffer, George Eliot and Carl Mayer, comedian Max Wall, punk pioneer Malcolm McLaren, singer George Michael, poet Christina Rossetti, scientist Jacob Bronowski, painter Lucian Freud, Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and most famously Karl Marx.)

Review: This film was originally going to be Dracula-free because Christopher Lee was tiring of the role. Ralph Bates’s character would have taken over as the series’s new vampire threat, but distributors objected so Lee was coerced into another sequel. And it’s one of the best in the Hammer cycle: engaging, seedy, scary, complicated, and with a psychological depth that’s almost always missing from these movies. These characters suffer emotionally as well as physically.

Eight snakes out of 10

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973, Alan Gibson)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: London and the surrounding area. We’re told that the events of Dracula A.D. 1972, of which this is a sequel, were ‘over two years ago’. The climax takes place very close to 23 November, which is said to be the sabbath of the undead.

Faithful to the novel? This was Hammer’s eighth Dracula film in 15 years, so the book is now a dim and distant memory… A secret agent escapes from a country house where some prominent members of society have been taking part in strange rituals. His bosses Peter Torrence (William Franklyn) and Colonel Matthews (Richard Vernon) then recruit a policeman called Murray (Michael Coles) to investigate the cult further. He in turn ropes in occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), who lives with his granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley). (Murray, Lorrimer and Jessica are returning characters from Dracula AD 1972, though the latter role has been recast.) Lorrimer realises that one of the cultists is an old friend and this eventually leads him to a businessman called DD Denham, whose shiny new office building was built on the site of the church from the previous film. Guess what: Denham is actually a resurrected Count Dracula (Christopher Lee, playing the vampire in a Hammer film for the seventh and final time)! He’s planning an apocalypse, using his own ‘four horsemen’ to distribute the bubonic plague. After a lengthy sequence at the country house – in which various female vampires meet their end – Lorrimer lures the Count into a hawthorn bush (go, biblical subtext!) and stakes him through the heart.

Best performance: Peter Cushing, who was always able to make hokum watchable.

Best bit: When the team first investigate the house, Jessica sneaks into the cellar, which is full of coffins. Then she finds Torrence’s secretary Jane (Valerie Van Ost) chained to a wall. We’d earlier seen her kidnapped by the cult and turned by Count Dracula. At first, Jess thinks Jane is dead – but we viewers know otherwise. Jessica creeps closer, feels for a pulse, and Jane turns to look at her. She smiles… then lunges with her fangs. Then other female vamps start to emerge from the coffins and close in…

Review: This starts out well. A Satanic cult are carrying out bizarre ceremonies in an English country house, while the British Secret Service are getting worried about it in their modern, brightly lit offices. It has the feel of an episode of, say, The Avengers or Doctor Who. (Incidentally, Don Houghton had recently worked on the latter when he wrote this film. Perhaps choosing 23 November as the plot’s key date was an in-joke: it’s the day Doctor Who began in 1963.). And the storytelling is often fun, with information being drip-feed during different scenes. However, the longer the film goes on the more it drags and the less it entertains. Few of the characters have much spark or life to them, especially Joanna Lumley’s Jessica, who’s a noticeably blander, older and less fun version of the character we saw in the preceding film.

Five Afghan coats out of 10

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, Freddie Francis)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: A prologue is set in 1905, then the bulk of the film takes place a year later. The location is Hammer’s default, mid-European fantasyland. A lot of the story takes place in a village called Keinenberg.

Faithful to the novel? This is the fourth entry in Hammer Films’ Dracula series. At the start, Count Dracula is terrorising a village, but we then cut to a year later – ie, after the events of Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). The count is dead but the villagers still fear him – so a visiting monsignor called Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) attempts to exorcise the abandoned castle. However, during the ceremony the local priest (Ewan Hooper) accidentally resurrects the vampire (d’oh!) when his blood drips into the vampire’s icy-moat grave. (During this scene, Dracula sees his own reflection in the water.) Unaware of any trouble, Mueller returns home. Dracula (Christopher Lee) follows, wanting revenge for what’s happened to his castle, and targets Mueller’s niece Maria (Veronica Carlson). Maria’s mother (Marion Mathie) and fun-loving boyfriend (Barry Andrews) get caught up in the mayhem, as does local barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing).

Best performance: Barbara Ewing as the flirty Zena.

Best bit: The prologue shows a young man discovering a corpse in the church: a woman hanging upside down in the bell tower.

Review: This film is hamstrung by all the usual Hammer limitations: the cast is tiny, we get very used to the same few sets, the locations are generic, and there’s some risible day-for-night shooting. But in a couple of ways it’s an interesting entry in the series. The nominal hero of the story, Paul, is an atheist. Admittedly, this detail doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a nice change from the norm. And Freddie Francis (an Oscar-winning cinematographer as well as this film’s director) uses coloured filters on the edges of shots associated with Dracula. This gives them a strange, stained-glass-window quality, which is both unusual and effective.

Five rooftops out of 10

Dracula A.D. 1972 (Alan Gibson, 1972)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: There’s a short prologue set in London’s Hyde Park on 18 September 1872: Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) is killed by his arch-enemy Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). A disciple of the vampire (Christopher Neame) then collects his ring and some of his ashes… Cut to a hundred years later, and for most of the film it’s inescapably, joltingly, face-slappingly 1972. The story takes place in London, mostly around the King’s Road area of Chelsea.

Faithful to the novel? This is often assumed to be another sequel to Hammer Films’ 1958 version of Dracula, but not so. The events of the prologue don’t match up to any previous movie and this is actually a reboot of the series. In 1972, a man called Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame again) has inveigled himself with a group of young, happening hippies. He convinces them to go to an abandoned church and perform a dark-magic ceremony. Most of the friends are freaked out and flee before the ceremony is complete, but it’s successful and Count Dracula is resurrected. The next day, the friends are worried about one of their group, Laura Bellows (Caroline Munro), who’s gone missing. She was actually Dracula’s first victim, and after her body is found a copper called Murray (Michael Coles) is assigned to the case. The death especially upsets Laura’s friend Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham, sporting a very strange haircut). She’s the granddaughter of academic Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing again), who in turn is the grandson of the 1872 Van Helsing. Lorrimer and Murray soon team up and work out that Johnny Alucard is an acolyte of Dracula (the big clue: read Johnny’s surname backwards). Meanwhile, the Count and Johnny are killing other members of the gang. Dracula really wants Jess, as revenge for what the Van Helsing family have done to him, so uses Alucard (who’s now a vamp himself) to lure her to the church. Lorrimer, though, sets a trap and kills him.

Best performance: It would be needless to point out that Peter Cushing was an actor who knew what he was doing. (It might be less obvious to say that this was only his second Dracula film with Christopher Lee. After both appearing in the 1958 movie, they’d split the subsequent entries in the series until now.) Stephanie Beacham’s also impressive as Jessica. But the star of the show is Christopher Neame. With a sneering face and flamboyant outfits, he preens and glides through the film, like some kind of malevolent Doctor Who.

Best bit: The ceremony to resurrect Dracula… Johnny has drawn a pentangle on the floor of an abandoned church then switches on a tape recording of spooky sound effects and hypnotic, Pink Floyd-style music. While Johnny recites an incantation, calling out to the long-dead Count Dracula, the gang of pals get lost in the moment (all aside from Philip Miller’s Bob, who tries to cop a feel of Caroline Munro). Smoke swirls around Johnny… The camera zooms in on a terrified Jessica… Outside, a grave bulges as its occupant wakes up…. Johnny wants Jessica to play the ‘sacrifice’ of the ritual, but Laura insists on doing it instead. She lies back on the altar, both her eyes and her cleavage pulsing with anticipation, while Johnny cuts his own wrist and pours the blood into a cup. He then tips the thick, coagulated contents of the cup over Laura’s chest. The others are so freaked out that they flee the church. Then, in a swirl of smoke and scored by music that’s aping the crescendo of the Beatles song A Day in the Life, Count Dracula appears. He bites Laura’s neck as Johnny watches on. In a perverse sexual twist, Laura seems to enjoy the experience…

Review: This marvellous movie is a real treat – much more fun and vibrant than a typical Hammer film, it’s directed with panache, paced very well, and has some fine performances. Most noticeably, of course, it’s set in the modern day rather than the vaguely Victorian world of the company’s earlier Draculas. The 1970s-ness seeps out of every pore of the film: the fashions, the locations, the attitudes. The music, for example, could hardly be any more of its time. Mike Vickers’s score is all Blaxploitation wah-wah guitar and horn sections, while a forgotten pop group called Stoneground appear in an early party scene. Also, the main characters are young (maybe teens, maybe twenties), carefree and happy hippies. It’s a representation of early 70s youth culture – or at least a version of it cooked up by middle-aged filmmakers – and that’s not something Hammer was famed for. But whether or not it’s true to life, it works. The film has bags of charm and is enormously enjoyable. The key is that it’s not patronising anyone. The kids don’t come across as dull clichés (which they are, after all). The lead police character is a decent, smart guy who likes playing with executive toys. Van Helsing is far from a reactionary old man (showing concern for his granddaughter, he just looks uncomfortable when she assures him she’s never dropped acid). And most importantly the film assumes the viewer wants scares, style and storytelling – and they get all three. Fantastic stuff.

Eight tickets for the jazz spectacular at the Albert Hall out of 10

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Transylvania as the ‘ninteenth century draws to a close’.

Faithful to the novel? No, it’s a sequel to 1958’s Dracula. The Count is dead, but his disciples lived on. When a French girl called Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) gets stranded in one of Hammer’s stock rural pubs, noblewoman Baroness Meinster (Maritita Hunt) finds her and takes her home – where she’s keeping her son locked up for his own good. When Marianne helps him escape, things don’t go well… Thankfully, Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) soon arrives to help out.

Best performance: Peter Cushing knew what he was doing.

Best bit: Well, it’s certainly not the stuff at the girls’ finishing school. Definitely not.

Review: A low-urgency Hammer film, with little vamp action. Peter Cushing does a lot of dull sneaking around.

Four lands of dark forests, dread mountains and black unfathomable lakes out of 10

Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)

TITLE: DRACULA (1958) ¥ PERS: LEE, CHRISTOPHER ¥ YEAR: 1958 ¥ DIR: FISHER, TERENCE ¥ REF: DRA015CJ ¥ CREDIT: [ THE KOBAL COLLECTION / HAMMER ]

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Jonathan Harker’s first diary entry is for 3 May 1885, the day he arrives at Dracula’s castle, which is near Klausenburg (modern-day Cluj-Napoca in Romania). After 30 minutes or so, we cut to German city Karlstadt.

Faithful to the novel? Roughly, though the chess pieces have been moved around the board somewhat. Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) is no longer a solicitor, but visits Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) to be his new librarian. In fact, Harker knows that Dracula is an evil vampire before he even arrives. Also in the castle is a vampire Bride (Valerie Gaunt), who claims to be the count’s prisoner. A few days later, Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) shows up looking for Jonathan; unlike in the book, they’re old friends. He searches the now empty castle and finds a vampiric Harker in a coffin… Van Helsing then returns to the city, where he tells his friend Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) about Jonathan’s death. Arthur’s sister, Lucy (Carol Marsh), is Jonathan’s fiancée. Unbeknownst to the men, however, Dracula is already seducing Lucy. As she falls ill, Dr Seward shows up: a major character in the novel, here he’s reduced to just a GP. Van Helsing and Holmwood have to kill Lucy when she turns. They then hunt down Dracula’s coffin. Meanwhile, Arthur’s wife, Mina (Melissa Stribling), is also being targeted by the count. Van Helsing chases Dracula to his castle and they fight – the vampire is burnt to death by sunlight when Van Helsing pulls down a curtain.

Best performance: Peter Cushing as Dr Van Helsing (not a professor, and sometimes called just Helsing). Like all his other roles, he plays it so sincerely that you forget what ropy old nonsense this is and believe in the terror.

Best bit: The nighttime graveyard encounter with Vamp Lucy. It’s pure psychological horror. (Carol Marsh as Lucy is hamming it up something rotten, though.)

Review: Of course, this film was Christopher Lee’s debut as Count Dracula – a role he returned to numerous times (for both Hammer and other film companies) until the mid 1970s. He’s actually not in it that much, but is a very strong presence. The script is pacier of plot than the book is – it’s a decent adaptation that makes plenty of economic changes but keeps the essence of the story intact. (The use of diaries and phonographs also nicely tie in with Stoker’s book.) Though why the bulk of the action is moved from Victorian London to a vague central European city is a mystery.

Eight crucifixes out of 10

Scars of Dracula (1970, Roy Ward Baker)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Another vaguely turn-of-the-20th-century time period, again in Transylvania. It’s about a year since the events of 1970’s Taste The Blood of Dracula.

Faithful to the novel? This is number six in Hammer’s series of Dracula movies, so we’re quite far removed from the source material now. The count (Christopher Lee) is resurrected by the dripping blood of a bat, but some locals burn down his castle, so he takes revenge by killing their loved ones. We then cut to Simon (a poor Dennis Waterman) and Sarah (a sexy Jenny Hanley), who are having their wedding reception at the Café Mozart. Perhaps it’s the same one from Carry On Spying. The film actually has a Carry On feel next, as we then meet Simon’s brother, Paul (Christopher Matthews), in a sequence that involves bed-hopping, comedy nudity and a father finding his daughter in bed with a man. When Paul is chased out of the town, he ends up at the fire-damaged Castle Dracula and becomes the count’s prisoner (not unlike Jonathan Harker in the book). Simon and Sarah’s search for him takes them to the castle too.

Best performance: Patrick Troughton, less than a year after quitting Doctor Who, is all ruffled hair, stubble and shabby clothes as Dracula’s dogsbody, Klove. The character was played by a different actor in previous film Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

Best bit: A dryly comedic scene with two slovenly policemen who question a barkeeper and his daughter.

Review: On the whole, the cast aren’t very good, but nevertheless this film has a bit more energy to it than most Hammer stories. The leads feel more like everyday people with reasonably modern sensibilities: for example, sex is no longer deep subtext; characters want it. It’s enjoyable-enough hokum with a disturbing way of killing off Dracula: he burns alive (or undead, I suppose).

Six steins of beer out of 10

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966, Terence Fisher)

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Setting: Kalsbad in what is now Germany, 10 years after the events of the 1958 Hammer movie Dracula.

Faithful to the novel? In effect, it’s a sequel to the events of the book. Four travellers from England are warned to avoid a certain castle, but arrogantly ignore the advice. Dracula himself – once resurrected – has no dialogue. Actor Christopher Lee claimed it was because the character’s scripted lines were so dreadful he refused to say them, but writer Jimmy Sangster said he deliberately didn’t give the Count any dialogue. Late on in the story, there’s a Renfield-like character called Ludwig, who eats flies and is under Dracula’s thrall.

Best performance: Francis Matthews is okay as Charles Kent, the heroic lead. He’s forthright and earnest, but fun too.

Best bit: The impressive special effects as Dracula is resurrected through a series of smart dissolves. We see him go from nothing to full-bodied in seemingly one shot.

Review: After clips from the first film in the series act as a kind of ‘Previously on…’, we get a story high on atmosphere but low on drama. Howling wind is liberally dubbed onto scenes and the tension is eked out as much as possible – but there’s precious little plot.

Six coach and horses out of 10