70s Memories: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

Written by Anthony Hinds
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Starring Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Peter Sallis, Anthony Higgins, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear, Michael Ripper
Released May 7, 1970 (UK), June 7, 1970 (US)
RT 91 min.
Home Video Warner Brothers (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

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Off a dirt road in the northern part of Enid, Oklahoma, stood the Enid Drive-In Theater. During my youth, I remember spending many Saturday nights under the stars watching the movies that would foster my love for horror. Not all the movies were good, and we sometimes had to leave before the second feature because this child was falling asleep. Nevertheless, I distinctly remember the experience of watching some movies that became my favorites. One of these movies was Taste the Blood of Dracula.

Made about the same time as the latest Frankenstein sequel (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), Taste the Blood of Dracula was released in the United States on June 7, 1970. I have no idea when my parents would have driven us to see it, but if we cross-referenced dates of stock car races at the nearby fairgrounds, we might be able to determine when.  You see, any movie at the Enid Drive-In on a Saturday night would have included the additional soundtrack of cars racing just across the road.  (The good part of that is when we went to the stock car races, I could climb to the top of the grandstand and watch whatever movie was playing at the drive-in!)

The point is, I would have been merely 7 or 8 eight years old at the time. For a movie with “Dracula” in the title that barely featured the character, I was pretty darned scared.  I’m sure it was the ceremony in which the three members of an exclusive gentleman’s club, under the tutelage of the arrogant Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), attempt to raise Dracula from the grave by drinking the vampire’s blood (hence the title) that frightened me.  Today, that remains one of the better scenes of the movie.

But the rest of the movie… Well, let’s just say it’s not one of my favorites.  The aforementioned ceremony does not take place until 32 minutes into the movie, which means there’s a lot of exposition before that.  And since the main characters are three older men, it’s not that exciting an exposition.  There is a younger set of corresponding cast members, but their importance doesn’t become clear until later in the movie.  When it does, I must admit it made me appreciate the first 30 minutes more (and perhaps made me wish I had paid better attention).

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What I like about all the Hammer Dracula sequels is the way they transition from one to the other. Dracula is usually killed in a dramatic way at the end of one, then brought back to life in the next one from the very place the story left off.  The continuity of it all has always engaged me.  This is a different approach from the Hammer Frankenstein sequels, which were not always so literally connected.

In Taste the Blood of Dracula, a salesman named Weller (Roy Kinnear) stumbles into the ending of the previous sequel, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and witnesses the vampire’s death. Snatching up the “cloak, signet ring, clasp” and some of his powdered blood, these become the “relics” he can later sell so that Dracula can be brought back to life during a black mass.

Supposedly, Christopher Lee was not going to be in this movie. Instead, Ralph Bates was going to become the Prince of Darkness after the black mass.  However, the movie could not be financed without Lee, so this explains the disappearance of Lord Courtley when Dracula appears.  It also gives the purpose for the rest of the plot.  As Dracula states, “They have destroyed my servant… They will be destroyed.”

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And so, Dracula begins a variety of attacks on the three men and their offspring. Sometimes he commands the lovely Alice (Linda Hayden) to do his bidding and sometimes he performs the attacks himself.  In either case, he concludes a death by counting down… “the firrrst”, “the seeecond” and “the thirrrd”.  And that’s about as much dialog as Dracula has.  Regardless of the amount of screen time, it can be argued that Lee’s presence as Dracula still resonates throughout the movie.  It’s almost more suspenseful to see what the monster will do to exact his revenge by using other people as his puppets.

As long as there’s a big finale with Dracula, I think it’s fine. And Taste the Blood of Dracula has a pretty good one (although not my favorite of the sequels).  Young hero Paul (Anthony Higgins) strips the altar and lays down white cloth and candles.  Trapping Dracula inside the abandoned church, he’s forced to the rafters where a cross in the stained glass burns his back and begins the choreography of his eventual demise.

There aren’t as many familiar names behind the scenes in Taste the Blood of Dracula as in most other Hammer films around this time. This was when the public’s taste was changing and the studio was beginning to focus more on the “Hammer Glamour” aspects of its movies.  This was the first of four movies Peter Sasdy would direct for Hammer.  And the reigns of art direction were taken by Scott MacGregor.  After the next sequel, the remaining two would find Dracula in modern times.  Even though this one takes place in horse and buggy days, it has a more 60s feel, particularly within the seedy nightclub where the gentlemen’s club meets.

I’m not as fond of the Hammer Dracula movies as I am of the Hammer Frankenstein movies. While Taste the Blood of Dracula has direct ties to my childhood, it’s not a movie I enjoy revisiting very often.  It’s not horrible by any means, but I do like some of the others, even the later ones, better.

 

 

 

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