What happens when there’s a promising concept that stumbled and falls until it impales itself?
Well, the answer would be Hammer Film’s Satanic Rites of Dracula! The sequel to Dracula A.D. 1972 and most notably Christopher Lee’s last role as the count. (And it shows!)
The plot takes place in London (circa 1970s). Scotland Yard police investigators think they have uncovered a case of vampirism. They call in an expert vampire researcher named Van Helsing (a descendant of the great vampire-hunter himself, no less) to help them put a stop to these hideous crimes. It becomes apparent that the culprit is Count Dracula himself, disguised as a reclusive property developer, but secretly plotting to unleash a fatal virus upon the world.
Prior to the story itself, we are treated to some cheesy intro of English landscapes while there’s a growing overlay silhouette of Dracula. I guess it blends well with that 70s vibe. Heh-heh.
Anyway, movie begins when a Secret Service undercover agent makes an escape attempt from the organization known as SERG and as he desperately makes his way out of the compound, a pair of SERG- security guards decked out in what seems to be sheepskin vests pursue the agent only to be gunned down in a gruesome manner (as in one taking a bullet through the mouth!). Despite the SS agent’s successful escape, he eventually succumbs to his wounds and dies. But not before providing his superiors the “deets” via a microfilm hidden inside his watch that exposes four (as in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) prominent officials such as professors, landowners and even ministers, who are involved in this mysterious cult spearheaded by Chin Yang (Barbara Yu Ling), who bears a striking resemblance to actress Michelle Yeoh. During the covert microfilm’s footage, there’s a scene of a naked Woman lying on a sacrificial table, moaning while having cock (as in a rooster!!) blood poured on her abdomen. I guess that somewhat justifies the film’s R-rating!
The branch notifies Occult expert Professor Lorrimar Van Helsing (Peter Cushing reprising his role as said character for the third time), who provides a long winded explanation of these Satanists while sharing tea and crumpets. Can Van Helsing and the Secret Service unravel and stop the co-conspirators before the plague of the apocalypse is unleashed upon the world? What is Dracula’s play? What is SERG and most importantly, do I really care?
To put it bluntly, this film should have been rated R as in “Ridiculous” as in the lame chase scene involving one of the SS agents being pursued and captured by- you guessed it-those pesky sheepskin vest wearing motorcycle guards!! (It’s as if they used the same two actors from the early segment of the movie. I guess that term “they all look alike” is legit after all! LOL)
What’s (also) unintentionally funny was that all too familiar 70s “Waka-waka” music and for a moment I thought that Shaft was gonna show up and rescue the damsel, but instead, this dumb bitch pulls over thus making the guards’ task more convenient. But not before banging on the glass until it took the other “genius” to grab a tire iron in order to apprehend her. Yeah, okay.
Aside from the aforementioned scene, this movie has its share of problems and one in particular are the less than intimidating vampires who couldn’t even manage to kill their captives despite outnumbering them. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Van Helsing managed to kill them off via a sprinkler system. The damn thing didn’t even release holy water! I mean, seriously?!?
I have seen scarier vamps in Blacula. And as much as I am a fan of recently departed Christopher Lee, I felt his part was a bit phoned in. There was no dramatic entrance of Count Dracula in comparison to Lee’s earlier Hammer Films whatsoever.
And as for the moment in which he encounters Prof Van Helsing in silhouette showed promise, the execution however felt rushed or tacked on to say in the least. It’s as if Drac’s affiliation with the Satanists is a role of servitude as opposed to running the show.
Fast forward to the final confrontation that incurred a silly prolonged scene with some follower being exposed to the plague virus as Cushing just stands there. Why wasn’t he exposed to the virus since he was at arm’s length? Let’s not forget how easily SERG’s Country house caught on fire thanks to a buffoon guard striking the control panel with a metal baton while trying to kill an SS agent. ????
To make matters worse, the almighty Count gets beaten not by silver bullets or a stake but instead a new weakness- fucking hawthorn bush?!? After decomposing for an extended period of time, Van Helsing picks up his ring, blows the ash off of it and- cut to credits.
Satanic Rites had potential greatness but it’s nothing more than a rushed effort. Not Lee or Cushing’s best nor is it worthy of Hammer’s “Library of classic Horror”.
Canned Ham(mer): The Outakes!