The second of Hammer's Dracula movies to have a modern setting, The Satanic Rites of Dracula is a direct sequel to the previous year's Dracula A.D. 1972. Peter Cushing reprises his role as Lorimer Van Helsing, a university professor, expert on the occult, and possibly a descendant of one or more Van Helsings from previous Hammer movies. His plucky granddaughter Jessica also reappears, portrayed this time by Joanna Lumley (later of Absolutely Fabulous fame). This time round, Jessica has shed her hippie ways and become a good deal more serious, presumably due to her brush with evil in the previous film.
Also repeating is Michael Coles as the shag-haired Inspector Murray of Scotland Yard, Special Branch. Here he is enlisted to aid a super-secret Government department involved in "Security Services." As his new superiors, Richard Vernon and William Franklyn provide delightfully dry, world-weary performances that do much to anchor the film. While Murray suggests bringing in Van Helsing as a consultant, Murray is careful to not mention his own vampire experiences from the previous film, presumably so the others will not think him crazy.
Virtues and Vices
Dracula's motivations also remain frustratingly obscure. Though Van Helsing surmises that Dracula is acting from some kind of roundabout death wish, this hardly seems consistent with his character as developed in all the previous films.
An unanswered question is how Dracula came to be in possession of a such a vast business empire in so short a period of time. His nom de plume "D. D. Denham," with the initials DDD, seems a lot like a play on Dracula's own name. On the other hand, the name "Denham" has a disappointingly mundane derivation: according to babynames.com, Denham is Old English for a homestead in the valley.Vampire Lore
Dracula's appeal for his followers is the promise of immortality. As his priestess intones: "Death is no prison to those who have given their souls to the Prince of Darkness."
Though the rites led by Dracula resemble Satanism, Van Helsing draws a distinction between them and a usual Black Mass. " In the Dark Ages, the worship of natural substances was quite common. The soil, water, sands of the desert, various plants. But the strongest cults were those that worshipped the most mystical substance of all: the Fountainhead of Life itself. The glorification of blood. ... And more often than not, human blood."
This movie adopts and extends Stoker's mythos about vampires and mirrors. Thus, Van Helsing says: "Vampires are spectral creatures. Their image casts no reflection in a mirror. Nor can the lens of a camera record their likeness." The only attempted photograph of D. D. Denham shows nothing, not even an empty suit of clothes like the Invisible Man sometimes wears. Apparently vampire clothing is as spectral as the vampires themselves.
On the means for fighting vampires, Van Helsing says: "There are many ways. The symbols of Good are used to combat the forces of Evil. The crucifix; the Word of God as written in the Holy Bible; clear running water, symbolizing purity; and it lives in mortal dread of silver... The hawthorn tree, which provided Christ with his crown of thorns. The light of day." Jessica adds: "And a wooden stake driven through the heart."
Though Van Helsing dismissed silver bullets as "impractical" in Dracula A.D. 1972, this movie includes a fascinating scene of Van Helsing making just such a bullet, pouring it into a mould, and methodically trimming off the excess. Apparently an old dog can learn new tricks.
The dangers that running water holds for vampires are illustrated when a horde of captive vampire women in the cellar fall victim to a very unlikely set of fire sprinklers and film stock that suddenly gets all artsy.
The crucifix retains its power to burn and offend vampires, but here they are able to summon sufficient fortitude to claw the offending symbol off their victims and fling it away.
Dracula's Demise - Spoiler
Left margin pattern: the Dracula coat of arms, from Dracula Prince of Darkness.
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Copyright (c) 2005 by Joseph Morales