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September 26, 2010

Hammer Films Month (Preseason Week) - Scars of Dracula

I told you all that October was going to be Hammer Films Month at FMWL, but I'm chomping at the bit, as they say.  There are a lot of freakin' movies I want to talk about this month, so I figured it'd be OK if I do a post or two to warm up as September winds down.  So, tonight, we're gonna talk about Scars of Dracula.  Just pretend this is a scrimmage.
Scars of Dracula
Release Date: November 8, 1970
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley

If there's a Hammer film I've seen more than any other, it's probably Scars of Dracula.  In fact, I saw it and Dracula: Prince of Darkness many times before I finally got around to the original Lee/Dracula film.  Scars of Dracula stuck with me as a teen, because it featured on odd mix of classic and modern horror trappings.  Scars was the fifth film Hammer produced starring Lee as Dracula, and this is the last film that keeps him in the classic Transylvania setting (the last two Lee/Dracula Hammers, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, would move him to modern day London).  Released late in 1970, Hammer offers increased amounts of blood, sexuality, and perversion in this outing. 
In the film, Dracula is still residing in his famed castle, but he's joined by a servant named Klove (Patrick Troughton, who later played the priest that warns Gregory Peck in The Omen) and a betrothed female (Anouska Hempel).  Like the series, the film makes a point that Dracula is the last surviving member of the Dracula family.  Lee's Dracula seems to be carrying a heavier cape these days, and there are times in the film when he seems to be wary of his immortal curse.  I'm not sure how much of this is intentional and how much of it is Lee being tired of playing the Count, as he's known to have been disappointed in some of these sequels.  (When he recorded a commentary for the region 2 DVD, he stated it was the first time he'd ever actually seen the movie.)

Opposite Lee and his people are the trio of Paul and Simon Carlson (Christopher Matthews, Dennis Waterman) and the young and beautiful Sarah Framsen (Jenny Hanley).  Paul is a comical playboy character who, while on the run after being caught in bed with the daughter of the Burgomaster, ends up at Dracula's castle for the night and meets a grisly demise.  Despite warnings from the people around the castle, Simon and Sarah go hunting for Paul, and the Count becomes enamored with Sarah.  (It's understandable, I did too.)
Unlike prior films in the series, there's a lot of depravity in the flick.  The viewer gets long glances at the Burgomaster's daughters naked bum in an early scene, and all of the women in the film wear low cut dresses that are more revealing than is common from Hammer.  The film does seem to focus on the sexual nature of the Dracula tale, particularly when Hempel's vampish character comes into contact with Paul, but it still seems a little out of place compared to the previous films.  There's also a weird torture subplot with Klove, who is punished by Dracula when he fails his Master.  The film seems to be blatantly going for the extreme, particularly with a late scene where Dracula's trusty bat - which is not Dracula himself - rips a cross from Hanley's cleavage and leaves bloody claw marks.
Like I said earlier, I've loved this film for a while.  It was a fine intro to the series - even if there is no Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, or a Van Helsing of any kind - because it offers corny horror charms with the trademark Hammer beauty.  Unfortunately, the combination of age and exposure to the rest of Hammer's catalog has resulted in the film not aging well for me, and I found myself bored with it at times during tonight's revisit.  I can still see all the things I loved about this one then, but the flaws are that much brighter with time.  Thankfully, it's still a bloody beautiful film (and Ms. Hanley is about the prettiest thing Hammer ever put on screen that wasn't named Caroline Munro).
I still recommend Scars of Dracula for its entertainment value, but if you're looking for substance in your Hammer Dracula film you better stick to the original Horror of Dracula or the Lee-less Brides of Dracula.  This one, sadly, foretells the fall that Hammer took in the 1970s, reminding us of the change in time that led to the studio's (temporary) demise.

Also, I'd just like to take a moment to point out this guy - who looks like Borat - and his ridiculous sideburns.


stonerphonic said...

Christopher Lee IS Dracula. Hell Mike, if I wasn't so damn flatout with life, the universe and everything, I'd do Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, Taste The Blood Of Dracula, and Dracula A.D. 1972. All 4 were released thru Warner Bros as a part of the 4 Film Favorites Series and could be picked up for 10 bucks with some pennies in change at damn Walmart. Too easy. If magic somehow happens and I get 2 seconds of spare time in October, I'll see if I can rip something out.

Hail Hammer!!!

The Mike said...

Oh man, feel free to shoot on any of 'em. I plan to cover a couple more Drac flicks, but probably won't get to them all. Sadly had bought Horror of and AD 1972 on own before the four pack, had to put the series together later.

And, as much as I love Bela, I'll never argue against Lee as Dracula. Perfection.

The Groundskeeper said...

Coincidentally, I just watched (and reviewed) a film called Scream of Fear from this very studio. Nobody ever seems to bring it up in discussion of Hammer but it's actually quite good--sort of like the British answer to Les Diaboliques.