The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
In an attempt to reboot the Christopher Lee Dracula series, Hammer Films moved the Count to modern day London in the campy though thoroughly entertaining Dracula A.D. 1972. This subsequent follow up proved to be an unsuccessful effort that finally spelled the end to the doomed series and marked the final time that Lee donned the cape for the studio that dripped blood.
A scene of a black mass, a naked blonde woman on an altar and a group of elderly men in white robes plays itself out over the first twenty odd minutes of this Alan Gibson directed flick. While the mass goes on the narrative bounces between it and a group of government agents staking out the mansion that it takes place in. Mindful of the presence of armed guards on motorbikes, the agents await one of their own who is escaping the grounds after extracting some vital information.
When the agent who escapes passes on the terrifying details of what goes on behind the facade of the wealthy D.D. Denham’s estate, Michael Cole (returning from Dracula ’72) as an intrepid inspector suggests that Her Majesty’s force bring in an expert on the occult to help in trying to figure out the evil behind the black mass and the involvement of some highly ranked men of means and politics.
Time to bring in the screens all time greatest Van Helsing. Mr. Peter Cushing.
“This particular evil is more potent and more addictive then heroin I assure you.”
Peter goes into Sherlock Holmes mode as he takes it unto himself to seek out an old friend in Freddie Jones who has been photographed at the nefarious estate. Confronting Jones, all he finds is a babbling and frightened man who is a scientific genius in germ warfare and rare blood diseases.
While this scene is going on, another is inter cut featuring the appearance of Lee’s count in full blood thirsty splendor. It’s feeding time at the 31 minute mark of the film. This is a Dracula feature after all. Sadly Lee has very little to do and as interviews with Lee over the years point out, he wasn’t happy with the overall treatment of the character becoming somewhat of a prop dropped into previously written scripts.
Back to the central star, Cushing. He’s onto the fact that that Dracula is dead and well and living in London. I’ve borrowed that sentence from one of the many titles associated with this film’s release around the globe. In no time at all he’s confronting the Count and the two masters of the genre are once again pitted in a battle to the death that features a novel demise for the count. The F/X actually mirror the Count’s death from the 1958 classic known in North America as Horror of Dracula.
Fans of the busty Stephanie Beacham might be a bit disappointed with this direct sequel to the 1972 release as her role of Cushing’s grand daughter Jessica was taken over by Joanna Lumley. No offense to Miss Lumley but I did find Miss Beacham a better fit overall.
Truthfully, this is a rather silly feature that is as far removed from the Stoker idea as was possible at the time of this film’s release. I won’t bother delving into some of the more recent appearances from the Count that have taken him further away still. Silly or not, Peter Cushing doesn’t see it that way and makes the whole thing as believable as if you were watching a straight drama. He’s that dedicated to his craft and once again “Props Peter” delivers the goods as though he were Olivier doing Shakespeare on stage.
Lee gives it his all and looks suitably evil when he gets his small amount of screen time. Thankfully the final clash between our two legends of horror cinema is another exercise in terror filled fun with good taking out evil.
I recall seeing trailers for this film on TV when I was a youngster and wishing that I could somehow possibly get a chance to see it. This was in 1978 when it was released in North America under the title Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride. Not knowing anything of the fact that the film was actually 1973’s Satanic Rites, I for the next few years used to think that all the film history books on horror cinema were wrong when they clearly stated that Lee gave up the cape in 73. Clearly he had come out of his self imposed exile to bare his fangs once again.
I’m not sure when I figured it all out but the more studying I did on movies the more I began to realize that many flicks would be renamed and re-released elsewhere on the planet years after there initial introduction to cinemas. This was indeed the last official Dracula film for Lee though he did appear in a parody under the English title Dracula and Son for French director Edouard Molinaro in 1976.
As we all know, it’s a role Lee never really escaped. Peter gave it another go as Van Helsing in the entertaining Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in 1974.
One last thing about the North American release. I did manage to get a copy of the 1978 release one sheet. Even if it pales in comparison to the British one sheets, at least I have the proof that it really was released under this so-so title when I was but a child.