Taste The Blood Of Dracula Review

The final Hammer Vampire film of the 60’s this was also the 4th to star Christopher Lee as the Count.

Originally the movie was not going to feature the character of Dracula at all and was intended as a vehicle to launch the career of Ralph Bates, who was being touted as a major new star for Hammer.

Ultimately however the distributors refused to make the film without Lee in the role and thus he was forced to reprise the role of Dracula.

By this point Lee had grown tired of the character and feared being typecast and was extremely reluctant to keep playing the role.

He later mentioned how he was often emotionally blackmailed into reprising the role by the heads of Hammer studios who told him how he would be putting the other people who worked on these films out of a job if he didn’t star in them.

Plot

A man named Weller is thrown from a moving horse and carriage by a lunatic. He is knocked out for hours and when he comes too its night. As he wanders through the dark forest alone he hears screams of pain and sees that they are from Dracula himself.

He witnesses from a distance Dracula’s death at the end of the previous film when he was impaled on the cross. After the Vampire perishes and melts into a puddle of dried blood he wanders near his remains in both fear and curiosity.

Some time later in London we follow the lives of three English gentleman Hargood, Paxton and Secker. All three of them to the general public are charitable, decent, and kind, but in reality they regularly cheat on their wives and indulge themselves at brothels.

Hargood is the worst. He is verbally and at times physically abusive to his daughter Alice (its even implied that he was sexually abusive to her in the past) and chastises her for being a “Harlet” due to her romantic interest in Paul who is Paxton’s son. Hargood is shown to look down on and even bully Paxton whom he clearly holds in contempt.

Late one night whilst the three men are at a brothel they are approached by a man named Courtley. Courtley is known and loathed among the aristocracy for dabbling in the black arts. Having lost all of his fortune he promises the three of them thrills and excitement beyond anything that they can conceive provided that they are willing to pay for some essentials.

Intrigued the three men agree and Courtley takes them to the Cafe Royal. There he purchases Dracula’s remains from Weller including his blood, which Weller took from the scene of the Vampires death. Out of the three men only Secker has heard of Dracula, and he is somewhat wary of having anything to do with him. Still on Hargood’s urging they accept and later the four venture to an old abandoned church, where Courtley now wearing Dracula’s cape and ring pours his dried blood into four goblets. 

He then cuts himself and allows his blood to pour onto the dried remains. This causes it to flow again.

Courtley demands that they all drink Dracula, whom Courtley refers to as his Master’s blood, but the three men are too scared.

Decrying them as spineless fools Courtley consumes the blood himself but it soon begins to cause him incredible agony. As he struggles along the floor in pain begging the three men for help they grow frustrated with his antics and begin to beat him. Unfortunately they go too far and end up killing Courtley.

Even they are horrified by what they have done and flee, leaving Courtley’s body in the church.

As the weeks pass the three men believe they have gotten away with it, though they are still haunted by the guilt. Hargood in particular becomes even more cruel towards both his wife and his daughter and begins to drink heavily.

Little do they know in the Church, Courtley not only rises from the dead but actually transforms into Dracula himself.

Dracula states that the three men will pay for murdering his servant and decides to use their own children to destroy them.

One night Hargood after having forbidden Alice from seeing Paul starts attacking her when she gets home. Completely drunk he states that he is going to whip her (something he disturbingly says he hasn’t done since she was a child!) Alice flees in terror as Hargood stumbles after her.

She soon runs straight into Dracula who takes control of her. Under the counts command she smashes Hargood’s skull in with a shovel. Hargood has one glimpse of Dracula just before he dies.

After Hargoods death, Alice goes missing. She later however at her fathers funeral manages to lure Lucy, Pauls’s sister and Paxton’s daughter away to Dracula who then turns her into a Vampire.

After Lucy goes missing Secker and Paxton begin to suspect that Courtley may have returned and they venture up to the church. Finding his body missing, the two soon discover Lucy sleeping in a coffin.

Secker realizes that she is a Vampire and prepares to stake her. Telling Paxton to wait outside and in a few moments she will be at peace, Paxton unable to take it all in shoots at Secker wounding him and chasing him out of the church.

Paxton weeps over what has happened to Lucy before finally deciding to stake her himself. Unfortunately just as he lifts the stake the sun goes down and she wakes up.

Terrified he is soon cornered by his own Vampiric daughter who tries to ram a stake into his heart. He runs away from her but is cornered by Dracula. On Dracula’s orders Alice overpowers him and pins him down whilst Lucy prepares to hammer a stake into his heart.

Paxton pleads with his daughter but she doesn’t listen and even smiles as she hammers a stake right through her fathers chest.

In the morning Secker compiles a note warning Paul of what has happened but unfortunately his own son having been taken control of by the Vampires stabs him to death.

With his revenge complete Dracula murders Lucy having no further use for her. He then prepares to bite Alice, but just as he does the sun rises and he is forced to flee back to his coffin.

Paul finds Seckers note and believes it to be true, due to the fact that Seckers son (who is sentenced to death) did not hate his father. Following Seckers advice on how to destroy Dracula he heads to the church. Unfortunately along the way he discovers his sisters corpse which Dracula merely dumped in the local river.

Heading to the church he places various holy items around it and lights the candles.

Unable to find Dracula or Alice during the day, when the Vampire rises at night with Alice in tow he corners Paul. Fortunately Paul comes prepared with a cross and wards Dracula off.

Unfortunately Alice completely under his thrall hits Paul and disposes of the cross. Dracula however shows no gratitude to her. As he prepares to leave she begs to go with him, but he hits her and snarls “I have no further use for you!”. This proves to be a mistake however as he sees that Paul has placed a cross over the door. Unable to leave Alice in rage throws a cross at him which traps him.

Dracula being overwhelmed by the holy power of the church begins to literally rip it apart and starts throwing massive pieces of concrete and slab at Alice and Paul, very nearly killing them both. Ultimately however with Paul having resanctified the old abandoned church the holy power from the building overwhelms Dracula and he ultimately perishes once again.

As he crumbles to dust once more Alice and Paul flee through the woods, with Alice free from both Dracula and her cruel father’s influence.

Review

Taste the Blood of Dracula is a film I have mixed feelings for. On the one hand overall its an excellent film, well acted, well written, with both a strong plot and engaging, 3 dimensional characters. Its also beautifully directed and it has a fantastic score too.

However much like its predecessor the film suffers from making Dracula seem somewhat ineffective as a villain.

In fact I’d say that sadly this is Dracula’s worst appearance in the series. His plan is quite interesting. I love the way that he wants revenge on the three men not because he cares about his servant that died but simply because of his own pride. “How dare you kill MY servant!” Also his method of revenge is particularly gruesome the way he uses his enemies children to kill and even torture them. Its disturbing watching Lucy grin as she hammers a stake through her screaming father’s heart.

I don’t mind that his plan is a bit more low key here or that he skulks about in an old abandoned church as he is away from his home, with his remains having been brought to London.

His character is also once again pure evil to his core, with his murder of Lucy being arguably his most heinous act in the film.

Sadly however in spite of all this he is still somewhat underwhelming. To start with I don’t think this is Christopher Lee’s best performance.

He is given very little screen time. Indeed throughout most of the film his dialogue just consists of literally counting! “The first!” “The second!” Added to that Lee clearly looks bored shitless with the role by this point.

I certainly don’t think his performance is bad, but at the same time I don’t think its quite as effective as his earlier performances as the character either.

I think Lee was almost resentful at being in this film as he really wanted to quit playing the character out of fear of being typecast and was only doing this movie to stop the other people who worked on it from being put out of a job as the distributors refused to promote it unless Lee was in it.

At times however I think that Lee’s disdain for the role actually benefits his performance as it gives Dracula a certain sneering contempt for everyone around him, even his own Vampire brides whom he ultimately disregards.

Also I think Lee does a good job blending the different aspects of Dracula’s persona for this film. In his first two performances he portrayed Dracula as a savage animalistic monster, roaring and hissing at people, strangling them and relishing in violence.

In his third film meanwhile Dracula Has Risen From the Grave he portrays the count in a more calm, manipulative, cold way. He’s still every bit as evil and sadistic but he is a more restrained villain. Compare his murder of Zena where he calmly tells her that she must be punished before brutally killing her to his attack on on Charles in Dracula Prince of Darkness where he snarls and roars and smacks him across the room.

In this movie we see an interesting blend of the two styles. Throughout most of the film he is a manipulator. Working from behind the scenes commanding his minions to destroy his enemies, yet at the end when he is cornered in the church he resorts to his more savage characterisation like the first two films roaring and screaming and blindly attacking Paul and Alice. Its an interesting insight into the character of Dracula that he can be charming and sly when he needs to, but at his core he is just a savage hissing monster.

Sadly in spite of these interesting aspects of his performance, there can still be no denying that this movie pushes Lee to the back ground more than any other Hammer Dracula.

His lack of screen time is made all the worse by the terrible way the count is dispatched. This is probably his least effective death scene. I’m not even sure what it is that kills him? I think its the power of the church but really its not clear. He literally just falls over and dies. Its like they couldn’t be bothered to try and think of a way to kill him.

Once again we can see how much like the previous movie Dracula suffers from not having a strong enemy to face against like Van Helsing and Father Sandor.

Its unbelievable to have just an ordinary person who isn’t a big Vampire expert slay a Vampire as ancient and as powerful as Dracula, thus once again they have to have an outside force kill him just as he is about to kill the main heroes. Also he is further undermined by the fact that despite ruling a town for close to 100 years, he now can’t survive longer than a few days without dying again!

I also think they make him too vulnerable to the cross. In the previous movies the sight of it caused him pain but here he is screaming and rolling about on the floor in agony, though I do like the way the cross glows when they hold it at a Vampire.

I think this movie would have been immeasurably better if it had ended with Dracula killing both Alice and Paul and escaping into London. Imagine how scary that would have been, Dracula would have destroyed three entire families and escaped, and would now be free to inflict similar pain and misery on the people of London. Sadly however they opted for the happy ending instead and thus Dracula was once again undermined.

Other faults with this film include the fact that it reuses certain elements from the previous Dracula’s. Once again we have Dracula kill a gorgeous red head and then try and kill a gorgeous blonde and get killed by her boyfriend named Paul, who is given knowledge on how to slay a Vampire by an older character just before he dies exactly like in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Still even with these minor faults and its misuse of Christopher Lee the film has so many strong elements that I can’t rate it as anything but a classic.

To start with it has an excellent cast. Ralph Bates is brilliant as Lord Courtley. He seems like a lovable cad at first, cheeky, cocky, but strangely likable, however in the resurrection scene we see what a truly twisted individual he is the way he worships Dracula so much he considers it an insult not to drink his blood. Bates switches from a jokey roguish character with a devilishly wicked sense of humour to a depraved maniac spitting his bile at his companions for not sinking to the same depths as he wants to go superbly.

Originally this film was to have had Lord Courtley rise as a Vampire and kill the three Gentleman and I really wish to be honest that they had kept it that way. Sticking Dracula himself in just wasted Lee who as a result only had very limited screen time. Also its a shame that Bates was only given a small amount of time to show us how twisted Courtley was. It would have been great to see him as a crazy Vampire killing people.

Ralph Bates would later find his greatest success outside of the horror genre in the original version of Poldark. Sadly he died relatively young at the age of just 51 from cancer. Its a real shame that he didn’t get more meatier genre roles. Other than this he was only in three more Hammer films, and two of those films Lust for a Vampire and the Horror of Frankenstein were sadly terrible. I really wish Courtley his best role in his best film had been much larger.

Other than Bates the other stand out performance in this film is Geoffrey Keen who plays Hargood. Hargood is actually the most vile character in the film more so than Courtley or even Dracula himself.

His treatment of his daughter is far more frightening than any Vampire could be. He is shown to be jealous of her boyfriend Paul (the young prostitute that he visits even somewhat resembles his daughter.) Later when he is drunk he is shown to leer over her, staring at her cleavage and even begins pulling her clothes off and telling her lustfully that he is going to whip her. Then there are her remarks “If you touch me father I will never forgive you.” They don’t leave it open to interpretation.

What’s even more disturbing is the way that Hargood mentions that he hasn’t whipped her since she was a child, showing that he sexually abused his own daughter as a child!

When Alice flees from him and runs into Dracula, Dracula actually seems heroic for the first and only time in the series.

Keen is best known for playing Frederick Gray in the James Bond film series. Gray couldn’t be more different to Hargood. Gray is the definition of the stiff upper lipp British gentleman who memorably provokes Bond’s most notorious innuendo when he asks him what he is doing with Major Omasova in the Spy Who Loved Me. “Keeping the British end up sir”.

Keen really captures the depravity of Hargood. He’s someone who just enjoys picking on people who are more vulnerable than him and we see this not only with his daughter but also with Paxton the weakest member of his group of friends who he regularly demeans and bullies. He’s just a nasty, sick, twisted individual who’s vile to everyone around him, his wife, his friends, his daughter and you feel no sympathy for him when he dies.

Its also a great twist to have a man of God which Hargood is be portrayed so unsympathetically after the previous two films. We had Father Sandor the hero who dispatched Dracula and the overall sympathetic Monsignor, and their faith was shown to be a sign of strength, with the atheist Paul eventually regaining it. In this movie however Hargood’s faith leads to his sexist abuse of his daughter, calling her a harlot in the house of God and making her cry for holding hands with a man, whilst hypocritically going to brothels and sleeping around.

This is a trend I’ve noticed in the Hammer movies to have twisted aristocrats end up creating the monster. In The Curse of the Werewolf its the twisted Marquese who created the werewolf, whilst in Frankenstein Created Women its the three vile rich kids who cause the deaths of two innocent people that end up together becoming the Frankenstein monster. Indeed in many ways this film actually bares some similarities to Frankenstein Created women as we have three people kill someone who later returns as a famous literary monster, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster to enact its revenge on them.

Unlike Frankenstein Created Women however the other two gentleman who kill Courtley are presented in a more sympathetic way.

Secker and Paxton do genuinely love their children and and also do care each for other as friends and though they obviously still perform many deplorable acts throughout the film in contrast to Hargood you actually do have some sympathy for them when they die. Secker unlike Hargood is able able to achieve a partial redemption by helping Paul slay Dracula.

I find it interesting the way that Paxton and Secker’s children are converted into Vampires instantly in order to turn on their parents, whilst with Alice she remains herself throughout. Its left open as to whether or not Dracula does actually take control of her when she kills Hargood or instead merely gives her the strength to do what she has always wanted to do and club the perverted bastards skull in.

The characters in this film are definitely more complex and interesting than in the previous entries and this coupled with the films strong story really make it a stand out entry in the series overall.

I’d give it 4 and a half stars. It only loses half a star for the way it mistreats the count. Other than that this is one of the better Hammer flicks.

Notes and Trivia

  • Peter Sallis who played Paxton would later find fame playing Grommit in the Wallace and Grommit cartoons.
  • The final Hammer Dracula film of the 60’s.
  • Originally this was to have been the final entry in the Hammer Dracula series. The next film Scars of Dracula was planned as a reboot with a new actor in the role of the count, John Forbes Robertson, who did go on to play the role in The Legend of The Seven Golden Vampires. Once again however at the last minute Hammer were able to persuade Christopher Lee to reprise his role as Dracula. Even then however it was still intended to be a stand alone, but the distributors insisted on a resurrection scene which linked it to the end of this film at the last minute.

 

 

 

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