The Satanic Rites of Dracula
Hammer Films, 1973
Directed by Alan Gibson

In an isolated country mansion, a group of robed and hooded men gather around an altar to celebrate a black rite: one involving a cockerel, a naked young woman and a chalice full of blood. What makes these men unique is not just their occult devotion, but their central positions in the halls of wealth and power. In them, Dracula has found the perfect vehicles for his latest plot. Only this time, he is after more than just vengeance on his old foes, the Van Helsing clan. This time Dracula is set to destroy all humanity... 

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
While Alan Gibson also helmed A.D. 1972, this effort  wisely eschews the swinging hippie atmosphere of the previous film. Instead, it aims for a gritty spy-adventure ambiance which works pretty well when the major players are on the scene. The scenario breaks down, however, in the choice of minions for the bad guys. This crew of motorcycle ruffians, uniformly clad in fur-trimmed suede, seem ridiculous every time they appear.

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. 

Dracula Revived
Dracula's resurrection has occurred off-camera, about two years prior to the action of this film. Of Dracula's return, Van Helsing comments: "Now, this creature can live again, by reincarnation. It requires a disciple, someone well-versed in the ritual... [who] would have to know the exact location of Dracula's grave." 

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, 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
The Count proves more than usually difficult to kill in this outing. After Van Helsing stabs him in the heart with a silver knife, Dracula apparently maintains his hypnotic hold over Jessica sufficiently to cause her to remove the knife from his chest. This is sufficient to restore him to animation. Van Helsing is only finally able to do him in by throwing holy water in his face, thus causing him to fall into a pit of wooden stakes. Even then, the good Professor has to use a shovel to push Dracula the rest of the way onto a stake. In all, one of the more dramatic and convincing demises for a creature who in previous movies sometimes seems to expire at the slightest provocation.

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Left margin pattern: the Dracula coat of arms, from Dracula Prince of Darkness.

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