Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

2 stars out of 4.

This film was Hammer’s attempt to strike out of their already cliched Dracula formula and do something different for the shifting audiences of 1970. Like the previous year’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Taste the Blood of Dracula has a harder and ultimately darker edge than its predecessors and carries a “R” rating from the MPAA. But this only lasts for the story’s first act.

Taste seems to have been constructed as a criticism of Victorian society. The strict imposition of “morals” and repression of emotions cause a deep rift in even the strongest of souls. So we are introduced to three well to do aristocratic family gentlemen: Hargood, Secker and Paxton. They are all relatively unpleasant sorts, but what English older gentleman of the time wasn’t? On the last Sunday of each month, they travel to the East End of London to perform acts of charity. this “charity” consists of nothing more than a visit to secret brothels where they perform acts of debauchery in an attempt to coax some interest back into their absolutely boring meaningless lives.

Enter the mysterious Lord Courtley. This shadowy young man impudently strides through the brothel as if he owns the place. Hargood in particular is intrigued by this man’s sheer presence. Courtley was the subject of a nasty disowning by his rich father after supposedly practicing Black Mass rituals in the family church…which makes him sound like an ideal playmate! Indeed, this is exactly what Hargood proposes to Courtley and the four then go to a ncie dinner in order to discuss the possibility of new pleasures from being in Courtley’s company.

The film originally opens with a traveling salesman lost in the woods. He inadvertently stumbles upon Dracula’s demise from Has Risen from the Grave in a nice bit of continuity between films. This peddler then steals Dracula’s cloak, clasp, ring and most importantly the blood of the Prince of Darkness. Courtley leads the three supposed do-gooders to the peddler’s shop to buy the remains of the great Master of evil. He proposes they perform a ritual to resurrect the Count and promises them immortality in exchange for their souls.

The film then proceeds to that ritual, with the three men meeting at an abandoned church where Courtley anxiously awaits them. He then begins the ceremony and gives the men each a goblet with some of the dried blood. After slitting open his hand, Courtley drops his own blood into all the goblets and the dire blood fully reconstitutes amidst atmospheric lightning. He demands they all drink, which the other men cannot bring themselves to do. He berates them and even this does not work. (Look at Ralph Bates’s intensity here…he ferociously commands “DRINK!” amidst giant spatters of saliva. Yes!) He bemoans them as fools, and they tell him to drink the vile thing. He complies and drains his own goblet, immediately regretting his decision. Courtley chokes, spits and cries “Help me!” as he stumbles towards the men obviously in a great deal of pain. The three gentlemen react accordingly. They viciously beat him to death. Visibly shaken, they hastily make their exit leaving Courtley’s corpse in the former house of worship.

So what is one to do after witnessing and being party to a Satanic murder in Victorian England? Establish an alibi and pretend it never happened of course. Unfortunately one of the men does turn to drink, but that is another matter. A bit later we return to the abandoned church where Courtley’s body still remains. Suddenly, a large amount of dust begins to cover it forming some type of cocoon. This cracks open to reveal the resurrected Dracula yet again.

Someone isn't very pleased.

The Count then declares his intention for revenge against the three who destroyed his servant in one of about five of his lines of dialogue. Of course this doesn’t make much sense, because he actually took possession of his servant’s body so in effect, Dracula killed Courtley.So shouldn’t he declare revenge against himself? Or simply be done with the whole revenge fixation and get on with his Countly duties? The answer is no because this is a Hammer sequel, and because the script says so. At this point, the film takes a sharp downturn from being anything truly meaningful of interesting. Christopher Lee’s statement about Dracula being shoehorned into completed stories is entirely correct, because this film was originally all about Courtley. He was supposed to have arisen here as himself and exact his revenge on the three fools instead of Dracula. This ties in the original conception more closely with the idea of a commentary on Victorian mores. It also goes without saying that the resulting film would have been indefinitely more interesting. As soon as Courtley exits the story, the vitality and energy is sapped out right with him. American exhibitors scoffed at the idea of a Dracula film without Lee as the Count, ignoring the facts of the second film not featuring Dracula and Lee hating the role.

So any possibility of this entry being something different disappear with Courtley. The psychological film that could have been (reminiscent of Hammer’s other non-monster horrors which focused on the mind.) is all but gone leaving the exact revenge plot that was tiresome last time around. Hargood has a daughter who he all but keeps locked up in her room. He doesn’t like her boyfriend Paul at all. (Again, the boyfriend’s name is Paul. What happened to some originality here and there? But since we’re re-using various parts of scripts here I don’t think it’s to noticeable.) His dislike seems to stem from the fact that, Paul is the son of his compatriot Paxton. After trying to bury the fear and guilt of Courtley’s death, Hargood drunkenly attempts to beat his daughter Alice for going to a party with Paul. Alice escapes out into the garden where she encounters Dracula. The Count speaks her name and goes in for the kiss…but then thinks better of it as Hargood comes stumbling out in the dark. Dracula wills Alice forward and commands her to hit her father with a shovel. Hargood is felled by his own daughter and sees the spectral form of Dracula as he expires.

“The first.”

Yes, Dracula actually says this after Hargood dies. He then disappears into the darkness with Alice. Hargood’s body is found and Alice has disappeared. The police seem to think it is yet another routine case and that the girl has run away. Paul goes about in anguish as they then bury Hargood. At this funeral, Paul’s sister Lucy is called aside by Alice. Alice plans to meet with Lucy later that night and leads her off into a wild carriage ride where she is then led to Dracula at the abandoned church. There she becomes his new conquest.

Now that Lucy is missing in addition to everything, both Paxton and Seckler decide to check on Courtley’s corpse in the hopes that he is not behind these odd doings. In the church they find Lucy’s coffin and Seckler recognizes the bite marks on her neck. He declares she is a vampire and attempts to destroy her by staking. Paxton who is a blustery idiot shoots Seckler in the arm and forces him off. Seckler runs off into the cemetery, but falls unconscious due to his wound. Paxton is unable to stake Lucy before darkness falls and she forces him off as Dracula approaches. The Count orders Lucy and Alice to kill Paxton, which they do by reversing his own stake upon him in the church.

“The second.”

And what of the third lying just outside, unconscious and bleeding to death? Let’s just leave him till tomorrow. Sackler awakes the next day and somehow staggers back to his home to write a letter to Paul detailing the backstory and how to fight the evil of Drcaula. (Because we were all wondering just how Paul was going to fight Dracula without knowing anything about vampires…)  That night, his son is lured by the sight of Lucy standing at the window. She places him under her power and he then stabs his father.

“The third.”

Dracula and Lucy then return to the church and she demands him to approve of her. (because she didn’t already seem enough like Zena from the last film.) The look on Christopher Lee’s face is priceless in this scene as his pure annoyance and boredom swiftly becomes malicious. He first lusciously drinks her blood then drains her completely dry. Her moans of pleasure turn to horrible screams of death.

Dracula returns alone to take Alice’s blood, but is foiled by the cock’s crow. The police find Sackler’s body and arrest the son for the crime. Paul is given the dead man’s letter detailing the tools and techniques he will need to kill Dracula. Paul then pulls out a beyond convenient book entitled “Vampires and Vampirism” in a montage of gathering supplies. He heads for the church stumbling across his sister’s body on the way. Arriving at the old place, he places a crucifix on the door and changes out the Black Mass altar adornments for the correct ones.

Alice and Dracula appear, and Paul tries to break her of Dracula’s hold. He aims a cross at Dracula, but is overpowered by Alice. Then for some odd reason, Dracula informs her that she is no longer of any use to him. This pushes Alice to throw down the crucifix at Dracula’s feet thus pinning him between it and the door so he is unable to escape. So the Count climbs to the balcony and begins to throw all sorts of things at the two. Suddenly he backs into a stained glass window with a cross that he somehow previously didn’t notice. Dracula breaks the glass but then dizzily sees the church in all of its splendor with the Lord’s Prayer being recited. He then falls onto the altar and crumbles into dust.

Paul and Alice run away from the incoherent event and the end titles roll. This absolutely haphazard and slapped-on ending still does not make real sense and is a completely ineffective conclusion. Why should Dracula hallucinate in this way? What exactly makes him die? Paul really does little of nothing and Dracula is destroyed by random unexplained events. Hardly anything truly exciting.

This is a film with a brilliant and interesting first act that was ultimately ruined by an insistence to stick in Dracula. The promise of something different is just obliterated by hammering on the resurrection-revenge-destruction plot. The “R” rating is wasted. Taste the Blood of Dracula ultimately leaves the viewer with a bad taste in the mouth…guess that blood wasn’t so tasty after all.

Warner’s DVD is very similar to their edition of Has Risen. This is the fully uncut R-rated version of the film never before screened in the US. Not that it really adds much. The print source is very clean with only a mark or speckle here and there. Color and detail are very good in this single-layered 1.85:1 anamorphic image. That standard Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack reappears and theatrical trailer is included. Also packaged in the Horror Classics boxset and 4 Film Favorites:

EDIT: I stumbled across this tidbit on the film’s Wikipedia page: “Vincent Price was originally cast to play one of the dissipated British gentlemen, but when the budget for the film was cut, Price could no longer be afforded and was released from his contract.” If this is true, this film could have been phenomenal. Price being allowed to cut loose in a horror film for adults is something to be seen indeed. Oh, to have a Hammer Dracula sequel that would have been as strong as Abominable Dr. Phibes, Witchfinder General or Theater of Blood…that’s certainly a dream.

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Filed under 2 stars, Film, Hammer Films

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