Scars of Dracula Review

Christopher Lee’s fifth performance as Stokers famous Vampire in the Hammer series (but sixth overall). This is often regarded as one of the weakest, if not the weakest entry in the series.

Personally though I actually find this to be one of the better films in the series. Its by far and away the goriest and most explicit, and it also gives Lee far more to do than any entry in the series after the first film. Finally it also features a very memorable performance from a former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton as well.

Plot

In the remains of an old church in London, Dracula’s spirit from beyond the grave is able to summon a bat that spills blood on his remains. Dracula is restored to life and he returns to his castle in Klausenberg. There he resumes his reign of terror for many years over the people. He is aided by his servant Klove, who is revealed to have survived his previous encounter with Father Sandor.

Eventually the villagers finally fight back. Not wanting to lose any more of their daughters and wives to this bloodthirsty monster, the men of the village go to castle Dracula to burn it down whilst their wives and children wait behind in the church.

They break down the doors of the castle overpower Klove and set fire to the building.

Klove taunts them that the flames will never reach his master and sure enough as Dracula sleeps in the highest tower of the castle he is perfectly safe.

Still the villagers believe they have finally destroyed the Vampire and return to the church to be reunited with their wives and daughters. However when they open the two doors several bats fly out.

They discover to their horror that Dracula in revenge dispatched a horde of bats to the church which tore all the women and children inside apart. As the men weep over the mutilated remains of their families the priest declares that this is now a place of evil.

Several years later in a neighbouring village a man named Paul is forced to go on the run when he has an affair with the burgomeisters daughter who falsely accuses him of rape after he cheats on her. Fleeing through the countryside he stumbles upon Klausenberg.

He finds a local pub where he and the landlady Julie take a liking to each other and even kiss. Unfortunately the Landlord forces him out.

The landlord many years ago was the man who led the attack on castle Dracula. With his wife having been torn apart by the bats in the church, the landlord is a completely broken man and terrified of crossing Dracula again. He is worried that Paul a strangers presence will make Dracula think they are planning against him and thus forces him to leave. The landlord is also very protective of Julie whom he views like a daughter.

With nowhere else to go Paul ends up in Castle Dracula. There he is greeted by the Count and his latest victim, a young woman named Tania that Dracula has been feeding on.

Dracula allows him to spend the night. He then finishes feeding on Tania and turns her into a Vampire. As a Vampire Tania sneaks into Paul’s room and seduces him. Just as she is about to bite him however Dracula bursts in. Having grown tired of her as he has finished feeding on her, and he does not want to have to share his kills with another Vampire, Dracula brutally stabs her to death with a silver blade, with silver being a weakness of Vampires. After killing Tania Dracula drinks some blood from her corpse. He then tries to kill Paul, but as the sun comes up he is forced to retreat to his coffin. Paul manages to find the Vampires coffin and climbs down to it, but Klove cuts the rope leaving him trapped in the same room as Dracula. Dracula even from his sleep manages to take control of Paul’s mind and enslave him. Klove meanwhile dismembers Tania’s corpse and burns the remains in acid into nothing. Whilst he is doing this he goes through Paul’s possessions and finds a picture of Paul’s fiance Sarah. Klove falls in love with her.

Paul’s brother Simon and Sarah soon arrive in Klausenberg looking for him. The Landlord lies and says he hasn’t seen him, though Julie tells them the truth and they head for Castle Dracula. There they are greeted by the count who sets his sights on Sarah as his next victim.

In the night as Dracula prepares to prey on her a crucifix she wears scares him off. Dracula demands Klove remove it and he obliges until he sees that Sarah is the same woman from a portrait he found among Paul’s possessions earlier. Klove refuses to remove the cross and Dracula as a punishment whips Klove.

Klove defies his master yet again however and tells Simon that he and Sarah must flee or else Dracula will do horrible things to her.

The two manage to escape the castle and Dracula furious with his servant tortures him by placing a piece of searing hot metal on the whip wounds he made on Klove’s back.

Back in the village Simon begs the villagers for help but none of them oblige. Julie is disgusted at their cowardice and prepares to leave. The Landlord however begs her not go on alone through the dark. He warns her that Dracula is not an ordinary man and the has command over the animals such as bats. Julie doesn’t believe him and against his pleas goes on alone.

This proves to be a fatal mistake as Klove soon ambushes her and pushes her into his horse and carriage. He then takes her back to Castle Dracula. Happy that he has pleased his master after his disobedience earlier Klove leaves and Dracula savagely kills Julie by tearing her throat out with his teeth and draining her dry. Klove then dismembers her corpse just like Tania and burns it in acid.

Simon goes on ahead to Castle Dracula having left Sarah with a priest, who was the only member of the village who agreed to help them apart from Julie. Unfortunately Dracula sends a bat attack the priest. The bat kills him by tearing his face off after which it pursues Jenny straight to the castle. In the castle Paul asks Klove for help, and though he complies he later betrays him by cutting the rope he uses to climb down to Dracula’s coffin leaving him trapped there.

Simon discovers the awful truth about what happened to his brother. Dracula tortured and killed him by impaling him on a massive spike in his lair. Simon attempts to stake the monster as he sleeps, but unfortunately much like he did to his brother, Dracula manages to subdue Simon with his mind even in his sleep. When Dracula comes too he taunts Simon.

He tells him that his minions (the bats) have brought Sarah here and that soon he will feast on her. Dracula then scales the wall of his castle like a spider and pursues Sarah.

Klove finally decides to help Sarah and throws a rope down to Simon to help him.

Dracula meanwhile uses a bat to tear the cross from Jenny’s neck. Cornering her as he moves in for the kill Klove confronts him. Wielding the same silver knife Dracula used to kill Tania, Klove tries to strike it through the Vampires heart, but Dracula effortlessly overpowers him and hurls Klove over the top of the castle to his death.

Simon soon arrives afterwards and faces the Vampire. He too is no match for him and is easily overpowered. In the fight he rips off a railing from the side of the castle and hurls it into Dracula’s stomach.

This obviously can not kill a Vampire and Dracula merely pulls it out. However as he lifts it to throw it into Simon, lightening strikes it. Dracula’s whole body goes up in flames. He thrashes around in agony before tumbling over the side of the building in a flaming mass to his death, bringing his reign of terror to an end.

Review

Scars of Dracula suffers from many budgetary problems that make certain scenes sadly seem somewhat laughable.

There’s the famous knife wobbling as Dracula stabs Tania, the awful fake looking bats, the obvious stunt double wearing a mask when Dracula is on fire. Sadly in comparison to the movies both before and after it in the series it really looks shoddy and badly put together.

Still in spite of these faults I think this truly is a fantastic Vampire film that actually helps to rectify some of the problems of the last two entries in the series.

To start with Christopher Lee is given far more to do than in any other sequel save possibly “Dracula Has Risen From The Grave”. Added to that he is able to inject more elements from Stokes novel into the character too. We see the Count act as an icy, charming, suave host who lures his victims into a false sense of security. There is also a scene where he climbs the walls of his castle like a spider that is taken straight from the novel as well.

I think this film also perhaps borrows elements from the Universal Dracula films. In terms of appearance Dracula has a more pale look like the Lugosi Dracula, also again the somewhat unnerving, cold demeanour Dracula has is more akin to Lugosi, though that’s not to say that Lee apes Lugosi or is derivative of him at all.

Also the idea of villagers wielding pitchforks trying to burn down the monsters lair is a staple of the old universal films rather than the Hammer movies. A few other Hammer movies did feature villagers wielding pitchforks and torches such as Curse of the Werewolf, but generally speaking however the villagers in the Hammer movies are often the reverse and are too scared to do anything against Dracula such as in “Dracula has Risen From the Grave”. Dracula’s more mystical powers such as commanding the animals are also features that we generally see in the Universal movies and Stokers novel rather than earlier Hammer films.

Still at its core its very much a Hammer film. Dracula is still a tremendous physical presence, and the sexual aspect of Vampirism if anything is played up to a greater extent than ever before, with Tania actually sleeping with Paul before trying to kill him.

In many ways this film can be seen as a weird mixture of Stoker, the Universal and Hammer movies.

The best thing I think this film does is finally restore the Vampire to being a legitimate menace again.

To start with after he is resurrected Dracula doesn’t get killed in a matter of days like in the previous three films. He lives on for years which makes him look a bit less clumsy and accident prone.

Also this film shows him resume his reign of terror over Klausenberg which I feel was an interesting angle for this movie to explore, rather than just have him pursue a couple of people in revenge or for food.

In the previous movies we saw how the villagers were scared of Dracula, but we never actually saw him interact with the townsfolk or what life was like under the rule of a Vampire. This coupled with the fact that he kept getting killed by ordinary guys named Paul meant that Dracula didn’t really seem like all he was cracked up to be.

In Scars of Dracula we see how the full extent of how he manages to terrorize the villagers to the point where they would never lift a finger against him.

The opening scene has got to be one of the most effective in the entire series. We are shown what was only ever stated before. Like how does Dracula hide from his enemies during the day? Van Helsing would often say “we wouldn’t be able to find him during the day time” but how?

It is revealed that Dracula is able to hide from his enemies effectively during the day by sleeping in the tallest tower that is completely cut off and that only he can reach by climbing.

We also see how he is able to keep the villagers in check. Again in the previous three entries we began to wonder why the villagers hadn’t just killed him when it was so easy for Paul? The opening scene shows us why, as not only is the Vampire crafty enough to escape them, but his retaliation is truly horrifying.

It completely breaks Michael Rippers character the Landlord. Its interesting seeing him go from being someone who leads the attack on Dracula’s castle, who is determined to never let another young girl fall victim to the monster, to a completely broken, bitter man who is so terrified of Dracula that he refuses to help the main characters. This really shows us what Dracula is capable of and again how he was able to keep the village in check for over a century. I think the Landlord could be Ripper, who was a regular of the Hammer films best performance. When he finds his wives mutilated body in the church, the look on his face is heartbreaking.

You still manage to have sympathy for him throughout the rest of the film, even though he refuses to help the main characters as clearly he doesn’t want to risk the same thing happening again to Julie whom he clearly cares for. Sadly of course Julie ends up being brutally murdered anyway, showing that there is no way to deal with Dracula. The landlord did bravely try to destroy him years ago but it cost him his wife who died in agony. Now he tries to avoid angering the count to protect Julie whom he loves like a daughter, but sadly she too ends up dying alone, scared and in agony thanks to the Vampire. Dracula is an all consuming evil that can never truly be destroyed, but can’t be appeased either.

Julie’s death always scared me as a child. She was such a likable character. In fact she is the only one from the village who agrees to help the main characters and its shocking when we see her die so suddenly and brutally at Dracula’s hands.

The priest similarly is portrayed as a likable, sympathetic character yet meets a really nasty end. He doesn’t just get hit over the head like the Monsignor, the bat rips off his entire face! I think this film was perhaps bolder than the previous entries in the series in terms of what it was willing to show, like Dracula’s torture of Klove.

Dracula in this film is dangerous to everything and everyone around him. No one is safe from his evil, even his brides and servants. Really for me at least the Vampire has never seemed more terrifying or powerful or just plain evil than in these scenes, not just in any previous Hammer film, but really in any adaptation of Dracula.

Also in contrast to the previous films where Dracula just trips and falls and dies, here we also see many attempts on the counts life all of which fail. Not only are the villagers not able to kill him, but Paul and Simon are unable to stake him due to his hypnotic powers even in his sleep, and when Klove tries to attack him with a silver knife he effortlessly overpowers him.

Here Dracula is not just some guy, skulking in a pub cellar who gets killed by someone named Paul. He is a monster that no one can stop. Try and hurt him he’ll either have you eaten by bats, or toss you over the top of his castle!

Sadly however in spite of all of this Dracula still suffers from not having a strong Father Sandor or Van Helsing like figure to face against. Once again we have just an ordinary guy face the Vampire and whilst he thankfully doesn’t kill Dracula, instead they have lightening strike him. A lot of people I’ve spoken to say they like the ending of this film as it looks spectacular seeing Dracula on fire. Personally however I think this is arguably the stupidest ending in the series.

Just as Dracula is about to kill the main hero lightening happens to strike him. That’s very fucking lucky isn’t it. What are the odds of that like a 1000 to 1 or something? It almost feels like a comedy to be honest. They might as well have had a tiger just spring out of nowhere and attack Dracula.

I think these later Cushingless Dracula films demonstrate how important a character Van Helsing or just the Vampire hunter is too Dracula. You are only going to buy someone being able to kill Dracula if they are a character like Van Helsing or Father Sandor, an expert on Vampires who has devoted his whole life to destroying them. You can’t just have your average Joe destroy a monster that’s ruled over an entire village for centuries. So they have to have Dracula die by other ridiculous means like he trips and falls on a well placed cross, or lightening, in a 1000 to one chance happens to strike him just seconds before he is about to kill the main hero.

I think this film would have been much better if Peter Cushing had returned as Van Helsing. I think it would have been interesting to have seen Van Helsings reaction to Dracula being back. Did he know he could return to life? Probably not. Remember he didn’t have all the facts in the first Hammer Dracula, he was very much learning about Vampires as he fought them, hence why he didn’t know that certain species could change into bats in the first film.

Thus he most likely did not know Dracula could return at the end of the first film and therefore it would be interesting to see Van Helsing, now much older return and discover that all his work in the first film had been for nothing. Dracula was back and the people of Klausenberg were still living in fear from the demon. Van Helsing would know that even if he killed Dracula again he would return eventually. It might be ten years, it might 100 years, but he would be back and thus all Van Helsing could do would be to delay him. It would change the dynamic of their feud with Van Helsing perhaps adopting a more pessimistic, cynical attitude as a result. Still the finale would then see Dracula and Van Helsing die fighting each other which would lead into Dracula AD.

Other than Dracula’s death however I still say this the counts finest hour in any of the 19th century sequels at least. Not only is he more menacing but Christopher Lee is also given a chance to play off another actor properly for the first time really since the first film with Peter Cushing. In this case its Patrick Troughton as Klove. In the previous films Dracula just kind of smacks the young hero named Paul around before being killed, but here they can actually develop a relationship of sorts between Dracula and his manservant.

Troughton is brilliant as Klove. Your feelings change towards him throughout the film. At times he is quite amusing, at others he is genuinely frightening when he ambushes Julie, yet you can’t help but pity him when the Count attacks him. His feelings for Sarah at first seem quite creepy, but ultimately help redeem him in a small way as he ends up sacrificing himself to save her.

Roy Ward Baker directed this and despite some sloppy moments like the knife I think he manages to create a darker, and gloomier atmosphere than the previous films in the series. Even more so than Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, this film feels bleak, and pessimistic, with its more sympathetic characters dying gruesome deaths and a much darker, more flamboyantly sadistic Dracula.

Overall I’d rank this as one of my favorite entries in the series. 4 and a half stars. Half a star off for some of the shoddy production values like the bats, but still an above average Dracula flick.

Notes and Trivia

  • Roy Ward Baker felt that Dennis Waterman was hopelessly miscast as the main hero and that it was on the studio’s insistence that he appear in the film.
  • Patrick Troughton and Christopher Lee worked together on a previous Hammer film called the Gorgon.
  • This was Christopher Lee’s 5th performances as Dracula in a Hammer film, but it was his 6th overall as he appeared in Jess Franco’s adaptation of Dracula opposite Herbert Lom as Van Helsing in between Taste the Blood of Dracula and Scars of Dracula.
  • This is Michael Ripper’s final Hammer Horror film.
  • Patrick Troughton who plays Klove in this film and Philip Latham who played Klove in Dracula Prince of Darkness both appeared in Doctor Who. Troughton as the Second Doctor and Latham as the 4th Borusa. They both appeared together in the later story The Five Doctors.
  • The last entry in the series not to feature Peter Cushing.
  • Patrick Troughton used to jokingly refer to his character in this film as kinky Klove.
  • Patrick Troughton always said that Klove was one of his favorite characters as he felt it helped him break free from the shadow of Doctor Who. Troughton had been reluctant to play the role of the Doctor in the first place as he feared it would typecast him, when he had spent two decades establishing himself as a reliable character actor. This was one of his first roles after his stint on Doctor Who and it was as different a character as one can imagine from the Second Doctor.

 

 

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