Saturday, August 31, 2019

SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) Blu-ray Review

Scars of Dracula (1970) d. Roy Ward Baker (UK) (95 min)

Having already appeared in Taste the Blood of Dracula for Hammer and Count Dracula for Jess Franco, Christopher Lee wrapped up his exceedingly busy year (10 films!) with yet another toothy offering, but it seemed clear to anyone paying attention that the main vein was running dry. With “modern” horror on the rise, exemplified by the successes of Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead (both 1968), audiences seemed more interested in seeing their scares in a contemporary setting. And, as far as the pure exploitation elements (i.e. female flesh and Technicolor blood) that the studio had made its trademark since the late 1950s, Hammer was already beating itself at its own game with the lesbian vampire hit The Vampire Lovers (also directed by Baker), released a couple months earlier.

It was perhaps with this in mind that Baker, producer Aida Young, and screenwriter Anthony Hinds (as “John Elder”) started throwing seemingly anything and everything at the wall to see what would stick. Case in point: The film opens with an enormously large and fake-looking bat puking up blood onto the ashes left at the previous film’s conclusion... which immediately resolves itself into the reincorporated form of the Count. (Hey, I didn’t know it worked that way either. You learn something new every day in Hammerland.) Before you can say “I like my stake rare,” another village girl shows up bled dry, and the locals (led by mainstay Michael Ripper) proceed to gather up their pitchforks, heading to Castle Dracula to torch the place. Whereupon we might wonder, “Wait, what were they waiting for all this time?”

But the movie has no time to concern itself with such things since we are immediately whisked off to meet our young heroes in the form of birthday girl Sarah (Jenny Hanley) and her wishful paramour Simon (Dennis Waterman). Meanwhile, Simon’s ne’er-do-well brother Paul (Christopher Matthews) is late for the party, extending his encounter with the burgomeister’s comely daughter Alice (Delia Lindsay, providing several prolonged glances at her bare backside) just long enough for her dad to come home. Pursued by the official’s lackeys, Paul ends up in a runaway horse carriage that deposits him conveniently enough at Castle Dracula, where it soon becomes evident that our recently revived ravisher is none the worse for wear, pesky flames be damned.

We also meet his trusty crusty servant Klove (Patrick Troughton), looking much different than when we last saw him in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, and his fellow fanged lady-in-waiting Tania (Anouska Hempel), who tries to put the post-coital bite on Paul and gets stabbed with a very bendy rubber knife for her troubles. (WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN HAPPENING? Dracula stabs other vampires with daggers now?)

As to be expected, it’s not long before Simon and Sarah come looking for Paul and it’s another round of “young couple head off to Castle Dracula, with unhelpful superstitious villagers warning them long and loudly not to” that we’ve seen before. What we haven’t seen before is our animatronic (using the term very loosely) bat getting quite as much screen time as it is given here – clearly the production team was quite proud of their creation, as it tallies the highest body count of any character in the film! Come to think of it, if it hadn’t been for the winged wonder, there might not have been a story at all, since it not only resurrects our main villain but also slaughters the village’s entire female population, minus lovely barkeep Julie (Wendy Hamilton), and gorily lays waste to Michael Gwynn’s ineffectual priest. Well done, chauve-souris!

All joking aside, it’s interesting to watch the film both within its context of the Hammer canon and on its own independent merits. Unlike numerous previous installments, where he is asked to do little more than stand around looking ill-tempered and/or bored, Lee is given the rare opportunity to give his caped character some range, playing both the humble host and vicious sadist (the scene where he gleefully scorches Klove’s back with a white-hot sword is another “never seen that before” mo-mo). He also gets to scale the outside walls of the castle like a spider, a sequence lifted directly from Bram Stoker’s original novel, and the forced-perspective matte painting is undeniably impressive in Shout! Factory’s high-def transfer, descending away into darkest infinity.

So, while this, the sixth installment in Hammer’s Dracula series (and the fifth with Lee in the role), is clearly suffering from a case of diminishing returns, there are still quite a few memorable sequences and elements on hand to make it worthy of reconsideration. Often presented as the nadir of the classic Gothic series (before jumping the shark by bringing the Count into the modern era with Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula), Scars proves an entertaining and diverting entry that manages to be both familiar and foreign, with the studio continuing to push the horror envelope as it had for the past decade and a half.

If you'd like to hear more, Ian Simmons of Kicking the Seat and I sat down shortly after watching Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray release to discuss its place in history within both the Hammer Dracula canon as well as the studio's output overall. You can check out our ramblings HERE:

TRIVIA: Jenny Hanley's vocals are dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl, who handled similar duties for Susan Denberg in Frankenstein Created Woman and Ursula Andress in She, as well as dozens of female characters throughout the James Bond series.


Presented In Two Aspect Ratios – 1.66:1 And 1.85:1

NEW audio commentary with filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr and Film Historian Randall Larson

Audio commentary with star Christopher Lee and director Roy Ward Baker, moderated by Hammer film historian Marcus Hearn

“Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula” with actress Jenny Hanley and Hammer authorities Kevin Lyons, Jonathan Rigby, John J. Johnston, and Alan Barnes (18 min)

Theatrical Trailers

Still Gallery

Scars of Dracula will be available Sept 10 on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE:


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