Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968)

Another entry in the "Really cheekily clever poster that sadly is better than the film it depicts" category.

2 stars out of 4.

The key to understanding this one is: there’s more religious aspects and being 1968, Hammer tried to liven things up a bit.

We open on a small village where a young church boy finds a bitten body of a girl in the bell. This actually is a prologue that doesn’t make much sense in either the context of the film or script. Unless it was to setup the church boy to perform some heroic deed in the climax…which it isn’t. What a fitting open to this mess of a film.

A year passes and we now follow a Monsignor who happens to stop in the town to check up on its local church. He finds the church empty on a Sunday and the priest in the local bar. The entire town has become disillusioned with the Church after their dealings with Count Dracula. This puts the Monsignor into a rage and so he takes the priest to go and rid the old castle of evil spirits once and for all.

It was a dark and stormy night…is there any other kind of night in vampire films? Well…later on in this one night looks like daylight due to some of the least convincing day-for-night photography ever shot but that’s another story. The two head on up towards Dracula’s abandoned castle and then the priest refuses to go any further. The monsignor goes on to reach the front door, where he then says some prayers and places a big golden cross on the front door. (Oh, it’s so protective! There’s no way this would stop the Prince of Darkness.) Meanwhile the priest falls on some rocks and strikes his head. The blood from his head wound trickles down the rock onto the frozen river that goes down the side of the mountain where it reaches a crack in the ice and goes right into the mouth of Dracula.

The extreme improbability of The Count’s resurrection cannot be put into words.  This is our first glimpse of Dracula:

There's a thing called CONTINUITY!!!

Notice any issues? Such as the REFLECTION? Oh well, just another bit of lore previously followed thrown out the window. The Monsignor leaves the town, his job finished, or so he thinks. Dracula has indeed risen from the grave, and now his mortal assistant is one of the cloth. Now what could that be implying? Here we have yet another interesting thematic concept in a Hammer sequel that then is completely disregarded. The Priest simply does what every other Dracula servant does: the Master’s bidding like a walking robot. Doesn’t anybody find these people a bit strange? If you were to stagger around mumbling only monosyllables people would think you’re crazy. Any notion of this subplot being some kind of metaphor of the church acting as a false prophet is completely ignored.

The heavy religious undertones (they’re so heavy you could call them overtones. It’s really obvious.) continue with the Monsignor’s return home. He has a niece who is in love with a young man who happens to be an atheist. You can already see the obvious conflict and how this is spinning into the classic Hammer sequel formula.

Dracula goes to his castle only to find the door blocked by the Monsignor’s crucifix. And declares he must get revenge. What? One measly crucifix blocks his castle? Why didn’t anybody do that before then? And why can’t he just get the priest to remove it so he can go about his business? So, Dracula sets off for the Monsignor’s city of residence to exact his “revenge”. (Hmm…that couldn’t be stalking any female close to said offender, preferably a young girl, making her his own and then killing the offensive one now could it?)

The priest takes up residence in a local barroom where the boyfriend of the Monsignor’s niece works. The bar is run by a sexpot barmaid who is the first new blood to be taken by Dracula. (Why does it always have to be women? What happened to drinking the blood of animals for sustenance?)  His coffin is then hidden in the basement so that he can wait out the niece Maria’s visit-I think. In fact there’s no real reason for Dracula to choose that particular place to reside becuase there’s no way for him to have known that the boyfriend works there unless he possibly read the script. So there’s a vampire in my basement and he sits there for days doing literally nothing.

Dracula orders the maid Zena to bring him Maria. She reacts with jealousy that the Count might desire someone else and completely misses the point of his revenge. Maria is coerced down to the hidden alcove but Dracula’s feeding is interrupted by the boyfriend Paul. Zena loses much favor with the Count and has to beg for more “attention” from his Excellence. Dracula simply makes her a vampire and orders her body thrown into a fire by the priest. The fires of eternal damnation?

Dracula then enters Maria’s bedroom where we are treated to the most explicit scene thus far in the Hammer series. Dracula approaches Maria and we then see her neck approaching in close up from his point of view. He almost lovingly prepares the area of the skin for his bite and we cut away to Maria’s hand clutching a china doll only to let go in satisfaction.

These new techniques do not stop with a Drac-cam shot. There is a color tinting to nearly every scene featuring the Count. The center of the frame is normally lit, but only in a orb around Dracula. The rest is either dark red or a golden yellow perhaps suggesting a dark bloody aura of evil around him.

This was all propagated by the switch in director. Freddie Francis brings a bit of vibrant camerawork new to the series. Otherwise this could be a made for TV movie. It seems more realistic due to the more contemporary camera placement, but even this is spotty. The distribution deal with Warner Bros-Seven Arts gave Hammer a higher budget than usual and all of this comes across in the set design.

Christopher Lee is featured in the first of his “stand in a dark corner and occasionally bite someone” performances. You trudge along watching this film merely to pass the time until he appears. Then you go and get all excited to watch the Count in action…which doesn’t happen because he goes away-again. Why can’t these films actually be about Dracula? It’s not as if they aren’t named after him. Lee has pointed out over the years that the scripts were increasingly written without Dracula actually in them. It was only at the last minute before shooting that they would actually write in the main character of the movie.

My second time around with Has Risen was more enjoyable than the first many years ago.  This is only because the story didn’t seem so tedious as before. The characters are better written than the previous film and seem more like fleshed out versions of real people instead of caricatures. But they so tediously follow a story formula that all of that development is useless. You more and more frequently spend most of your viewing with these Hammer sequels having to restrain yourself from shouting “Get a bloomin’ move on!”

The ending is relatively well constructed. Paul has already had to assume the duties of the lover attempting to kill a vampire who has taken his woman. In one controversial but memorable scene (the one scene that makes this movie really worth anything) he actually stakes Dracula, but being an atheist is unable to perform the prayer that would complete the ritual. So Dracula is then able to rip out the stake in his heart. So then what does one do? Trail the girl and vampire back to the castle and fight again! Dracula is improbably staked by falling on the Monsignor’s cross and the priest is then miraculously able to say the prayer to end the Count’s evil. The end credits follow about a minute later.

And as many others have discussed, this film carries a G rating from the MPAA.

You gave me a G rating? You make me sad.

Dracula even weeps blood. There aren’t slow fades when he goes to bite someone, and the pretty explicit sequence in Maria’s bedroom. There are also multiple bloody stakings, corpses and deaths. So how the heck this got a “G” rating is beyond me. I’ve always found it amusing to see older films carry “R” ratings despite being hopelessly outdated in the adult content they were originally rated for. But this is the opposite. It’s certainly not one for the kiddies and should at least be a “PG”, but a “G”? The next in the series carried an “R”!

Warner’s DVD is bare bones, but looks about the best a transfer of this sort could be. The single layer 1.85:1 image is anamorphic with strong color. The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is decent and relatively clear. Theatrical trailer is included. This same disc was later repackaged with 5 other WB held Hammer titles in the Horror Classics Collection boxset (Missing AD 1972 for some odd reason) and the Dracula 4 Film Favorites (all four WB owned Hammer Draculas, including AD 1972)

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Filed under 2 stars, Film, Film Review, Hammer Films

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