Taste the Blood of Dracula


Hammer Films, 1969
Directed by Peter Sasdy

A trader in trinkets and curiosities finds something of real value when he stumbles into the final scene of the preceding Hammer Dracula epic, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. Later, three Victorian gentlemen hypocrites are looking to expand their experience life's forbidden pleasures. On consulting with an amateur Satanist, the wayward son of an aristocratic family, they are led to purchase the relics of Dracula from the trader. Little do our gentleman suspect that they are setting lose a malignant force that will destroy their lives and families.

Themes
By focusing on people who seek out Dracula, rather than accidentally falling victim to him, screenwriter John Elder was able to come up with a fresh angle on the Dracula myth. After seeing the tawdry scene of the gentlemen at their favorite brothel, it is easy to understand why they feel dissatisfield. Like many in the 1960's, when this film was made, they assume that more intense and forbidden experiences will bring them more satisfaction and a fuller experience of life. Actually, the story as written does not completely rule out this possibility. For these gentlemen panic before the ressurection of Dracula is complete, and their betrayal sets him on a path of vengeance that will be their inevitable undoing. An unanswered question is what the result would have been if they had all drunk the blood of Dracula and become his willing servants. 

Heroines Run Amuck
The other side of this guilty-victims theme is portrayed by the young people in this story, and the upshot is surpisingly cynical. The heroine, Alice Hargood, is in love with a nice young man, but her love is thwarted by her cruel father. His enmity is due to the fact that her beloved is the son of one of his companions in vice. Apparently he doesn't want anyone associated, even indirectly, with his own depraved lifestyle to marry his daughter. Without understanding his twisted motives, Alice receives only seemingly pointless cruelty from him. Small wonder that Dracula finds her easy prey. Even without putting the bite on her, he easily hypnotizes her and causes her to do his evil bidding. (By contrast, her friend Lucy, who is happily engaged, shows marked resistance to Dracula's thrall and succumbs to him only on his second try, while is face reflects the most intense effort of will.)

In this role, Linda Hayden is fortunate to play  the only heroine of a Hammer Dracula movie who is not completely one-dimensional. Fortunately, the actress proves more than equal to the part. It is great fun to see the innocent relish she brings to carrying out Dracula's will, such as slaying her father with a shovel, waylaying her best friend to a cemetary crypt so she can be vampirized, and driving a stake through the heart of her friend's father while blood spurts in time with his failing heartbeat. To top it all, she betrays Dracula himself when he says that he has no further use for her. "Hell hath no fury, etc." is a lesson that the Count seemingly has not learned after numerous lifetimes.

Cinematic Virtues
Like the other period Dracula productions from Hammer, this one includes some delightful set design, particularly in the Courtney family crypt where much of the action occurs. The outdoor cemetary scenes are also fine and might possibly have been filmed in a real old cemetary.

The cast of English character actors is generally superb, especially Geoffrey Keen as the sadistic William Hargood, who seems the most strong-willed character in sight, but collapses the most abjectly when things go wrong. Michael Ripper makes his usual amusing appearance, this time as a lazy, dipsomaniacal police detective named Cobb. (One of the twists that seems never to have occurred to Hammer's scripters is that the workings of a competent police force might lend extra suspense to the plot.)

Christopher Lee, as usual, has very little dialog as Dracula, so falls back on the techniques of a silent screen actor to convey the character's masterful coldness, ferocity, and finally his abject terror.

Vampire Lore
Dracula and his converts adhere to the common convention of sleeping by day in coffins. Apparently, however, Dracula does not need to lie in his "native soil" as he readily adapts to a used sarcophagus. He shows no control over animals, or animal transformations, and the issue of whether he would reflect in mirrors is not addressed.  

An interesting touch, however, arises from the fact that he kills the sub-heroine, Lucy, twice. The first time, she is converted into a vampire with fangs and all. Afterward, she still yearns to be bitten by him, and seems to show an quasi-orgasmic pleasure while her engorges himself on her blood... Until suddenly he becomes more violently forceful, and she screems. The next time we see her, her body is floating in a pond, or perhaps it is a backwater where the body drifted from a stream. In Bram Stoker's invented vampire mythos, vampires cannot cross running water, which in the Hammer movies extends to the assumption that immersion in running water would be fatal. (This is illustrated both by the ending of Dracula, Prince of Darkness and a ceiling-sprinkler scene in Satanic Rites of Dracula.)  Anyway, Dracula could have saved himself the trouble of dragging her down to the river if he'd kept a wooden stake handy, –but he could be excused for having an aversion to stakes by this point.

The young hero Paul finds a leather-bound volume called Vampires and Vampirism that looks like it would be very useful indeed.

Dracula Redivivus
The rationale for reviving Dracula, which would be reused later in Scars of Dracula, is that his dried, powdered blood can be reanimated by the addition of fresh blood. Perhaps it's worth remarking here that the blood in Hammer films tends to be an unrealistically bright red, which in a way makes it more theatrical and less frightening than the real thing. Dracula's blood, additionally, is rather thick like tomato paste, so it looks really gross when sliding down a rock. Why it turns into a powder instead of just a rust-brown stain is anybody's guess.

Dracula Remortis - Spoiler
In one of the less convincing Hammer finales, Dracula starts to hallucinate that the resanctified crypt is the location of an ongoing holy service. In his confusion, he falls from a height, writhes about a little while, and fades away to dust again. A simple fall would seem unlikely to kill so fearsome a being, so the implication would seem to be that he died largely of shock from excessive exposure to a holy environment.

Loose Ends
Jeremy, the blonder of the two young heroes, after being bitten by his vampire fiancee, and murdering his father with a large curved knife, is not thereafter heard from again. His fate must remain a matter of speculation.

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