Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969)
DIRECTOR: Peter Sasdy
WRITER: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
MUSIC: James Bernard
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Arthur Grant
CAST: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Linda Hayden, Anthony Higgins, Peter Sallis, Gwen Watford, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear, Russell Hunter.
SYNOPSIS: In Victorian England, three middle-class fathers (Keen, Sallis and Carson) seek out entertainment at a London brothel, under the guise of doing "charity work". Becoming bored with the brothel week in, week out, they are enticed by the young Lord Courtley (Bates) into taking part in a Satanic ritual using artefacts from the late Count Dracula - a vial of his blood, his cloak, and a chain. When the ritual goes badly wrong, the men murder Courtley in a fit of panic. Unbeknownst to them, however, they have succeeded in resurrecting the Count (Lee), who then seeks revenge on them in turn.
COMMENTS: Taste the Blood of Dracula is the last of the truly great Hammer Draculas. Hungarian-born director Sasdy proves himself a worthy successor to Terence Fisher, and produces a more sophisticated twist on the Dracula legend than his predecessor, Freddie Francis, whose Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was visually compelling, but thematically messy.
Christopher Lee had was not keen to return to the role of the Count, but Warner Brothers refused to finance the picture if he did not appear. Reluctantly, he took on the part, and was hastily written into a script intended as a vehicle for up-and-coming Hammer star Ralph Bates. Dracula here is cast in the unusual role of an avenger against the hypocrites of Victorian society, introducing a fascinating ambivalence towards the character.
To add to this ambivalence, Dracula's destruction is portrayed partly from the point of view of the villain himself. The ending reduces Dracula to a rather pitiful, pathetic and almost sympathetic character. This finale tends to divide fans. It is not even clear what destroys him in the end - he appears suddenly overwhelmed by the holiness of his surroundings, as the once-derelict church is sanctified again, and he sees it in all its glory. He falls from a ledge to his death upon the altar.
Unfortunately, the Dracula series was to decline rapidly after this, with the utterly awful Scars of Dracula to follow - perhaps one of the studio's worst horror films of all time, along with clangers such as Lust for a Vampire. However, this movie is an impressive entry to the canon, with high production values, including beautiful set design (by Scott MacGregor) and good performances.