The fourth entry in Hammers Dracula series was the first not to be directed by Terrance Fisher. It was instead directed by Freddie Francis.
As a result it had a somewhat darker, gloomier tone to it than the earlier films in the series. It was also the third to star Christopher Lee as Dracula.
During the events of Dracula Prince of Darkness when he was chasing the Kents, Dracula returned to Klausenberg. In order to let the people of the town know he had returned he butchered a young woman and strung her corpse up inside the bell of a church. The next day her body is found by a young Altar boy. This traumatises him so much that he loses the power of speech. Fortunately before Dracula can begin his reign of terror again he is slain by Father Sandor.
One year later the towns folk are still so horrified by what happened that they dare not go inside the church. When Monsignor Ernest Mueller arrives in the town on a routine visit he is angry to learn that no one is attending the church.
The locals tell him that its more the fact that Dracula’s castle casts its shadow over the church that prevents them from going into it. Thus the Monsignor not scared of Dracula as he is dead (this time all of the locals know for sure he is dead) decides to head up there and purify Dracula’s house of evil.
A local priest goes with him to help, but along the way he becomes too scared and abandons the Monsignor who goes on ahead and manages to say a prayer as well as place a massive cross outside of the front door of the castle.
Unfortunately the priest on the way back falls into the lake where Dracula’s corpse is still preserved. He cracks his head on the ice and the blood trickles down into Dracula’s mouth reviving him. Dracula quickly breaks free from the ice and effortlessly enslaves the weak willed, cowardly priest’s mind and makes him his new servant.
As soon as Dracula sees what has happened outside of his house he gets furious and demands to know who has desecrated his house of evil. The priest gives him the name of Monsignor Ernest Mueller and Dracula decides to hunt him down and make him pay.
The Monsignor lives in a nearby village of Kleinenberg with his sister in law Anna.
Dracula takes control of the local barmaid Zena who falls in love with him, though Dracula regularly beats her. Dracula plans to punish the Monsignor by turning his niece, Maria into a Vampire.
Dracula orders Zena to bring Maria to him and though she succeeds, before he can bite her Maria manages to escape. Dracula tells Zena she must be punished for her failure. She tries to convince Dracula that he doesn’t need Maria as he has her, but Dracula responds by killing her savagely and then ordering the priest to burn her body to a crisp before she can rise as a Vampire.
Dracula later manages to sneak into Maria’s room where he bites her. Mueller enters the room just after the Vampire has finished and wards him off with holy items. He then pursues the fleeing monster across the rooftops but is attacked and bludgeoned by the priest.
As he slowly dies from his wounds the Mueller tells Paul, his nieces fiance that he must find and destroy Dracula and lets Paul know about the weaknesses of the Vampire, as well as the fact that the priest is working with Dracula. The Monsignor and Paul did not like each other before hand due to the fact that Paul was an atheist. Still he trusts Paul to destroy the evil he blames himself for releasing before dying.
Paul later manages to find the priest and forces him to take him to Dracula. Paul drives a stake through Dracula’s heart just before he wakes up. Unfortunately as Paul is an atheist he does not perform the last rites and Dracula does not die. He then proceeds to rip the stake from his chest and throws it at Paul and chases him, with Paul barely managing to escape.
Dracula realising that his hideout during the day has been exposed, decides to flee with Maria. He captures her and returns to Klausenberg.
Planning to have her remove the cross from his door and then make her into a Vampire to complete his revenge Dracula successfully makes his way back to Klausenberg, but unfortunately for him Paul follows him back there.
Paul asks the villagers for help against Dracula, but all of them are too scared and foolishly think that if they leave the Vampire alone, then he will leave them alone, but Paul tells them that no one in the village will be safe while Dracula lives.
Still Paul is forced to go on alone. He faces Dracula after he has forced Maria to remove the cross which she throws down the cliff. Paul is no match for the Vampire, but in the struggle both end up stumbling over the edge of the cliff. Whilst Paul lands on a tree, Dracula falls on the cross and is impaled. As he screams in pain, the priest is finally able to break free from the Vampires mental hold and performs the last rites which finally kill Dracula, though the strain of fighting his influence also kills the priest.
Paul (whose faith is restored) and Maria who is also freed from his control embrace as Dracula’s body dissolves into nothing but a pool of blood.
Sadly Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is my least favourite entry in the Hammer Dracula catalogue.
Controversial opinion I know, as this is often one of the most highly regarded entries in the series. Christopher Lee himself often referred to this film as the best sequel. In fact it might have been the only one he was satisfied with (though he disliked the staking scene)
Still I have never been that keen on it for a variety of reasons.
First of all I think Dracula suffers from not having a strong adversary like Father Sandor or Van Helsing. Its such a shame that after having built the Vampire hunter up into being as big a character as the Vampire himself in the first three movies, Hammer goes for the Universal approach of having a fairly bland, bog standard leading man be the person Dracula fights in this film.
I think this undermines Dracula’s menace somewhat. Really an ordinary bloke should not be able to take on the king of Vampires . I don’t like it in Buffy when people like Xander kill stunt Vampire three easily as it undermines Vampires. Paul is just some young guy that likes getting drunk and shagging about yet he is able to kill the KING of Vampires. To be fair Dracula does kind of just trip, but again that still makes the count look lame.
He’s just a clumsy bastard that he happens to fall onto a conveniently place cross. Sadly this becomes a pattern in the following Dracula movies that he dies more by sheer bad luck like in Scars when lightening happens to strike him just as he is about to throw a spear into the main hero.
All of this sadly despite the undeniable menace and charisma of Christopher Lee makes the Hammer Dracula seem really ineffective as a villain.
In the first movie he was said to have ruled over the town of Klausenberg for 100 years. There had been dozens of attempts on his life and all had failed and the point was only Van Helsing a guy who had devoted his entire life to hunting Vampires and knew more about them than anyone else could take down Dracula, and even then it was a struggle for Van Helsing.
Van Helsing even with his experience against Vampires fails to save Lucy, is outwitted by Dracula who manages to stash his coffin in the Holmwoods house and the final battle between the Count and Van Helsing is also a brutal, prolonged fight with Van Helsing having to draw on all his knowledge of the weakness of the Vampire to slay Dracula.
Sadly in this film Dracula just trips and falls after a scuffle with a twenty something guy. Also the fact that Dracula is only around in this and the next few films for a short while before he dies each time again makes him seem underwhelming as it seems he can only last for about 5 days tops before having a clumsy accident and dying again.
Furthermore another big problem with Dracula’s portrayal in this film is as Kim Newman pointed out, that his plan is too low key for a Vampire King.
A Vampire king is a monster that has lived for centuries and should be pretty powerful. Think The Master in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Herrick in Being Human or Frost in Blade, or hey best of all think Stokers original Dracula.
All of these creatures have lackeys, minions, resources, big lairs and more importantly big plans. They want to reshape the entire world in their image. In Stokers novel Dracula travels to London in order to use the British Empire to spread the cult of Vampirism around the world like never before and thus gain influence as the king of Vampires beyond his little village in Transylvania.
Compare that to the Dracula in this film who skulks around a pub cellar spending all this time trying to get a pissy little Monsignor just for basically graffitying his house. Really a Vampire king like the Master or the Stoker Dracula would just send a minion to kill the Monsignor and that’s that. He wouldn’t spend days skulking in a pub cellar and flee from Paul.
In the first and third movies in the series Dracula actually seems like a proper ancient beast with power. He rules over an entire town, he has servants like Klove and whilst he does target only a few people at least they are notorious Vampire Hunters like Harker and Van Helsing.
In this film however again the way he acts just doesn’t seem fitting for an ancient Vampire.
Finally Dracula’s plan also is really just a retread of the first few entries in the series. He plans to make an enemy pay by making their loved one into a Vampire which is similar to Horror of Dracula where he plans to make Harker pay by turning Lucy into a Vampire. He also kills a beautiful woman with red hair, who after making into his bride he treats appallingly and he then tries to kill a gorgeous blonde before being killed himself like in Dracula Prince of Darkness. This is repeated in the following film Taste the Blood of Dracula too.
Its funny most critics think that it was during the modern day Dracula’s that the series began to lose steam. Personally I think it was actually this movie and the few after them that are the most tired and repetitive and actually if anything it was the modern day Dracula’s that breathed new life into the series.
Finally another problem I have with Dracula’s plan in this film is that it seems a bit weird the way he devotes all of this time to getting back at the Monsignor just for putting a cross on his castle door that he could have easily ordered his priest minion to remove, yet he doesn’t try and get revenge on Van Helsing or Father Sandor. Maybe its hard to track down Van Helsing, but Sandor is just down the road? Okay I can see why he would still want to kill the Monsignor, but surely the Father is first on his hit list considering he you know killed him!
I think that this film would have been better if it had just been a random Vampire that the Monsignor underestimated rather than Dracula himself.
As it stands however in spite of its faults, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is not a terrible film by any means and there is still a lot to enjoy in this flick. Whilst Dracula might seem a tad underwhelming he is still at least a vicious monster like the previous films.
Thankfully there is no attempt to make him sympathetic. His brutal treatment of Zena such as when he backhands her across the face and his later murder of her are among the darkest and most genuinely disturbing scenes in the series. Lee is able to bring a more subdued menace to the Vampire such as when he calmly tells Zena that he will have to punish her for not bringing Maria to her and then lures her into a false embrace when she pleads with him before turning on her.
Lee is definitely given more to do in this film than most other entries in the series and in all fairness this is possibly his best performance as Dracula after Horror of Dracula. Its a toss up between this and Scars for his second best performance as the Vampire I’d say.
The film also has some nice and unusual twists too such as the Monsignor’s death. I genuinely was not expecting that the first time I saw it. I thought he was the films replacement for Father Sandor and Van Helsing. Also its a further unusual take to have an atheist as the main hero of a Dracula film and helps to give this movie a different dynamic. This movie is more about a man rediscovering his faith, rather than the righteous man of god battling the evil Demon like the previous movies.
I also like Dracula’s priest servant who is a also a nice change of pace from Klove. Klove was evil and willingly served Dracula. However the priest though still committing murder is just a weak man who is enslaved by the Vampire. Throughout the film he is shown to be in a constant state of pain and anguish and in the end its nice that he is finally able to redeem himself for his past sins.
Freddie Francis’s direction creates a much darker world than the Fisher movies, one which suits the tone of the film which has a more unsure hero and more morally grey characters such as the cowardly priest who is not completely evil and even dispatches Dracula at the end, or even the Monsignor himself who is shown to be somewhat prejudiced against people who don’t share his belief.
Overall this is still despite my misgivings a very strong, solid film and I can understand why its so popular, but still for me at least sadly I’d rank it as the weakest entry in the Dracula series. I’d give it three stars. No Hammer Dracula could be called a bad film in my opinion, but one has to be my least favourite and all things considered despite some strong points, such as making a better use of Christopher Lee than most other entries in the series, this is still my least favourite Hammer Dracula.
Notes and Trivia
- This film was released 10 years after the original Hammer Dracula.
- This was Christopher Lee’s favourite of the sequels.