Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Anoushka Hempel, Jenny Hanley
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Synopsis: beyond stale and bereft of style or wit, this is Hammer on worst form
“lurches from one gory set piece to another” Time Out
“popular” Creature Features
“compares well with others in the series” Video Movies Guide
“some chilling scenes” Blockbuster Guide
“a nasty little film” Video Watchdog
“camp…overblown” Vampire Movies
“it’s all been done before” Monster Movies
By the late 60’s it was becoming fairly evident that Hammer Studios were getting a little long in the tooth (no pun intended) and the public were craving a different sort of horror that had begun to surface in films such as Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and perhaps the biggest genre busting horror film of all; Night of the Living Dead. Romero’s classic jolted horror out of the realm of fanged caped creatures of legend to one where terror was something far more tangible, unrelenting and almost frighteningly ordinary.
When Scars of Dracula was released in late 1970 it had already undergone rejection of its script and been re-written. Then when filming neared a completion, Christopher Lee started mouthing off about how it was the weakest of the Hammer Dracula films and how it had no discernable connection with the others in the series. The Hammer production team assigned one of their least talented of all directors to oversee the faltering project and all Roy Ward Baker succeeded in achieving was arming his detractors with yet more evidence of the fact that he couldn’t hold a candle up to the genius of Hammer directors as Terrence Fisher or even Freddie Francis.
Anyway, the film which was to be the last of Hammer’s period Dracula’s begins with one of the most bizarre scenes in vampire movie history. A rather resplendent rubber bat, looking very angry with furrowed eyebrows arrives on the scene after a bit of spot-flying (as in spot jogging) and bouncing up and down like a yo-yo. Looking decidedly unwell, the rather plump and laboring bat pukes up some acidic blood onto a red satiny sheet, which then transforms into the master of darkness, Christopher Lee. A while later a villager carries his dead wife with two gaping wounds on her neck to the local inn to show the villagers that the dreaded curse of Dracula has returned to haunt them. The villagers take to Dracula’s castle and torch the place, leaving it in ruins, however in one of the towers unknown to them, Dracula has survived and so has his reasonably faithful servant Klove as well as the trusty regurgitating rubber bat whose puked blood restored the master to his glory. In vengeance Dracula sends a legion of his rubber bats that proceed to rip the villagers’ wives to shreds in a startlingly gory scene of murderous desecration in the local church.
The action turns to the birthday of prissy and rather ditsy blonde Sarah who is pining for her boyfriend Paul. We are shown that Paul is the stud about town stopping to service every woman he happens to come across during his numerous exploits. However, a night’s tryst with the Burgomasters daughter lands him in a spot of bother and he has to go into hiding for a bit to avoid punitive measures. He hides inside a carriage that ends up hurtling out into the middle of nowhere leaving him at the doorstep of a mysterious ruined castle where he is welcomed by a luscious beauty Tania (Anouska Hempel) who makes him feel very much at home. Later he is met by a rather crotchety and pasty faced Dracula who insists that Paul stay the night. Paul vanishes and his very insipid and dull as ditchwater brother Simon (Dennis Waterman of Sweeny fame) and even duller Sarah decide to try to search him out and it isn’t long before their quest leads them to the dreaded castle where the whole ghastly and grisly affair is about to unfold in front of their disbelieving eyes.
This is possibly the first of Hammer’s Dracula films that actually contains not a single memorable sequence within. There is a fleeting moment when Lee is seen scaling the walls of his castle, which looks like a good idea, but it lasts for barely a second and hardly counts. Christopher Lee has too many dialogues and is made to perform acts which are far below the dignity of the great Count Dracula. Also, he appears utterly helpless in the face of a puny miniscule cross which comes as a bit of a letdown to his legions of fans. The only priceless thing about the film is the brilliant appearance by the puking bat who turns in a fine performance. There is a lot more gore than in previous hammer films despite the fact that the censors had Hammer tone down a few things here and there including the sounds of human limbs being sawed off!
This is a pretty dull affair altogether and when compared with some of the better Dracula films made by the studio; it’s a downright stinker. None of the characters evoke the slightest sympathy and even Dracula himself is an unimpressive and gutless character this time around prone to fits of violence using knives rather than his suave, mesmerizing touch and his razor-sharp fangs. His downfall is also pitiful and not in keeping with his grand stature. Simon (Waterman) is a Pratt and the local priest is a slobbering wino and even Klove is an utter moron…. in fact, there isn’t a single likeable person in the movie with the exception of one errant barmaid. It’s a truly uninspired, dull affair despite the best efforts of the music composer James Bernard to infuse some typical Hammer spirit to proceedings. Hammer at their most forgettable………. other than the sublime puking rubber bat!