Scars of Dracula – UK, 1970

Scream Factory has announced that Scars of Dracula will be released on Blu-ray in the USA on September 10, alongside another Hammer horror film, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.

Here’s our previous coverage of Scars of Dracula:

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Scars of Dracula is a 1970 British supernatural horror feature film directed by Roy Ward Baker (Asylum; Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde; Quatermass and the Pit; et al) from a screenplay by Anthony Hinds [as John Elder]. It is also known as The Scars of Dracula on promotional material.

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The Hammer Film Production stars Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley and Christopher Matthews. It was produced by Aida Young (Hands of the RipperTaste the Blood of Dracula)

Review:

Although disparaged by some critics, the film does restore a few elements of Bram Stoker’s original character: the Count is introduced as an “icily charming host;” he has command over nature, and he is seen scaling the walls of his castle. It also gives Lee more to do and say than any other Hammer Dracula film except their first, 1958’s Dracula.

The plot opens with a resurrection scene set shortly after the climax of Taste the Blood of Dracula, but is set in Dracula’s Transylvanian homeland rather than England, as that film was. British film group EMI took over the distribution of the film in the UK and after Warner Brothers refused to distribute it in the US it was handled by a small company American Continental. It was also the first of several Hammer films to get an ‘R’ rating.

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Deep in the Count’s lair, a vampire bat drizzles blood from its fakely-fanged mouth onto the ashes of the deceased vampire, giving Christopher another opportunity to do not-so-very-much but retain top billing. Skip forward an unspecified period of time and local villagers are frantic that yet another of their number has died in horrible circumstances at the hand (and mouth) of the resurrected Dracula. The timid and constantly at the rear priest gives his blessing to an assembly of the men-folk who set off armed with burning torches to his castle, leaving their wives in the sanctuary of the church.

After a spot of ‘knock-knock’ with castle serf, Klove (Patrick Troughton, a former Doctor Who and also in The Omen), entry is gained and the building is left to burn. However, on returning to the church they find their loved ones have been messily savaged and killed by vampire bats.

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Having enjoyed the pleasures of the burgomasters’ daughter, libertine Paul Carlson (Christopher Matthews, Scream and Scream Again, See No Evil aka Blind Terror)  flees her father (an ‘enthused’ Bob Todd of Benny Hill fame) and the Kleinenberg authorities by jumping into a nearby coach which, though driver-less, heads off at great speed.

He is deposited near Count Dracula’s mountaintop castle. Initially, he is welcomed by the Count and a beautiful woman named Tania (Anouska Hempel) who later reveals herself to be a prisoner of Dracula as his mistress.

Paul later has a liaison with Tania who concludes their lovemaking by trying to bite his neck. Dracula enters and, casually throwing off Paul’s efforts to stop him, savagely stabs Tania to death with a dagger for betraying him – Dracula partakes of several weapons in the film, unusually. Klove, Dracula’s mortal but obedient servant, dismembers her body and dissolves the pieces in a bath of either holy water or acid. Trapped in a room high in the castle, Paul uses a sheet to climb down to a lower window but the line is withdrawn by Klove and he is trapped in a dark room with the only door locked and a coffin at the centre of the room. Unfortunate.

Buy Blu-ray + DVD: Amazon.co.uk – Extras: New featurette – Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula

In the sensible corner are Paul’s brother, Simon (Dennis Waterman) and his other half, Sarah (Jenny Hanley, also in The Flesh and Blood Show) and they both set off to find the absent Paul.

Repeatedly having the door shut in their face, they eventually find he’s loitering in the castle after landlord’s daughter can’t resist letting slip against her dad’s better advice, the always tremendous, Michael Ripper. This was Ripper’s 27th and final appearance in a Hammer film.

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Scars of Dracula Patrick Troughton Christopher Lee sadism

At the castle, Dracula dispenses more of his hospitality wine and starts making a vampiric move on Sarah but hasn’t bargained on the oafish Klove taking a shine to her too. Refusing the relieve her of the crucifix around her neck to allow the Count to feast, he is brutally branded by a red-hot sword, in addition to the whip-marks he already sports.

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With the priest we met earlier in tow (Michael Gwynn, Village of the Damned, What a Carve Up), Simon returns but the holy man soon meets his end, another to suffer at the teeth of the rampant bats. His is next betrayed by Klove and ends up in the same room his brother, we now find, met a particularly grisly end.

Anouska Hempel Christopher Matthews. Scars of Dracula. Hammer Films, 1970.

Unable to finish the count as he slumbers in his coffin due to some dithering and some hypnotism, we move on to the final act, Simon realising the Count is somewhat quite inhuman and the surviving foursome reconvening on the Castle’s battlements. Klove is thrown to his death and just as Dracula takes aim with a handy metal spike, a storm is brewing…

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Scars is the sixth of Hammer’s Dracula films (the fifth for Lee) and has been derided in some quarters for the flimsy effects and notable lack of budget. What the film does have is lashings of gothic silliness – how forgiving you are of the capers, not least Bob Todd (also in Burke & Hare) essentially jumping up and down on a whoopee cushion for five minutes, is entirely down to you.

The film has little in the way of traditional blood-sucking action but if you’re after bat brutality, you’ve come to the right place – the aftermath of the church attack is one of Hammer’s biggest ensemble slayings. The bats themselves are another matter entirely – if horror films up to this juncture had taught us anything, it was that the manufacture of believable fake bats was akin to turning blood into wine. Scars is perhaps not an all-time low… but it’s close.

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The perception of the film’s ‘cheapness’ (the budget of around £200,000 was not that trifling and was the same as Taste the Blood of Dracula) can partly be attributed to the castle’s set, which, in fairness, is necessarily sparse due to the first scene’s fire attack.

What is less helpful is the cinematography, which clearly shows the flimsy walls and rarely allows the viewer to suspend belief and accept it to be a genuine location. If anything, the film lacks the traditional fog which normally permeates Hammer fare, covering a multitude of sins.

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It seems pointless to appraise Lee’s performance, the supporting cast should certainly stand up and be counted though. It seems incredible in retrospect that homely future TV presenter Jenny Hanley should star in one of Hammer’s first real forays into more overt horror but she performs adequately and not a little alluring.

Far worse is lead man Dennis Waterman, absolutely hopeless as a brave, romantic hero and is awfully Scrappy Doo at best – at least his appearance in Fright (1971) is a step up, thankfully. Roy Ward Baker has said in interviews he thought Waterman was badly miscast, his appearance is entirely down to the studio. Equally, insipid Christopher Matthews could hardly be more annoying and it is left to the old hands – Michael Ripper and Patrick Troughton to carry off the plaudits, pitching their performances as louche and barking as they need to be.

 

The film’s conclusion is one of the more inventive of Hammer’s – it’s the one with the lightning. Ward was already an old-hand and had come straight off the back of The Vampire Lovers and was ready to launch straight into Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. James Bernard returns as the composer of the score, shifting the well-known ‘Drac-u-laaaa!’ motif to a new but still distinctive fanfare for the Count’s appearances.

Scars of Dracula was released in some markets on a double feature with The Horror of Frankenstein, partly in a (failed) attempt to reinvent the Frankenstein strand as a hip and naughty venture.

Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“Baker’s direction is heavy-handed, the score is far too emphatic and the acting – except for Hempel’s sensuousness and Lee’s customary professionalism – dogged rather than intense.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Unimaginative variation on the original story, with too little invention in the script to sustain its length, and the low budget does show.” Howard Maxford, The A – Z of Horror Films

Buy DVD: Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

Scars of Dracula is, like its stablemate Horror of Frankenstein, truly dreadful in every way. That makes it enjoyable the first time round, but it’s ultimately an empty experience. Lee is uncharacteristically dreadful as Dracula: “The cross!” and the lack of logic is astonishing.” British Horror Films

“Despite a shorter schedule and less money afforded the budget, the crew made do with what they had. Regardless of how cheap some of it looks, the film has some strikingly Gothic matte shots of the castle exterior such as when Simon is trying to lower himself down to Dracula’s hidden hideaway.” Brian Bankston, Cool Ass Cinema

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“Too little of Lee and too much of the juvenile leads makes this a dispiriting entry from Hammer, with little feel for the Gothic and a lot of emphasis on blood.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

Scars of Dracula proceeds at a tired and sedate pace as though nobody was much interested anymore […] The budget seems stretched in trying to drum up the usual plush interiors and there is a very unconvincing bat on a wire effect. Christopher Lee lends his regal, magisterial presence without ever finding anything to do in the film.” Richard Scheib, Moria

Scars of Dracula Derann

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Scars of Dracula US sleeve

Cast and characters:

  • Christopher Lee … Count Dracula
  • Dennis Waterman … Simon Carlson
  • Jenny Hanley … Sarah Framsen
  • Christopher Matthews … Paul Carlson
  • Michael Gwynn … The Priest
  • Michael Ripper … Landlord
  • Patrick Troughton … Klove
  • Anouska Hempel … Tania
  • Wendy Hamilton … Julie
  • Bob Todd … Burgomaster

Filming locations:

 Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England

Image credits: Cinema Treasures

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