Scars of Dracula (1970)

1 star out of 4.

I didn’t think it could get worse than either the monotonous Dracula sequels or A.D. 1972. Unfortunately, until this point I had never seen the two lowest regarded films in the series: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) and this film.

Intended as a reboot of the Dracula series (along with Horror of Frankenstein being a reboot for the Baron, both were released as a double bill in 1970), Scars has some remarkably different tendencies from all the films that preceded it. The gore is amped up considerably to match other films, notably the increasing amounts of gory European horror. In fact, Scars is the goriest of all the Hammer films I’ve yet seen. The other big notable difference is the fact that the budget and interest is all but gone.

Everything looks cheesy and made of cardboard. Of course, if you don’t realize this by the time of the opening sequence your head examining is a trifle late. The film opens with a resurrection that has nothing to do  with any preceding events. A rubber bat flies into a castle alcove and then coughs up blood over Dracula’s remains.

Why do you continues watching this mess? For Christopher Lee as always. Even in the most uninspired of these films, his performance is always a treat. But even he cannot find much to do with the material, giving his lines a feeling of absolute lifelessness. This Dracula is monotonous.

The sole interesting points of the story are the opening ten minutes, Dracula’s manservant Klove, Dracula’s attempt to be the next top slasher, and the oft mentioned climbing of the outer castle wall by the Count. The latter is referred to as a great reference to Stoker’s novel but in all actuality only lasts all of five seconds.

The opening ten minutes is the only genuinely exciting part of the film, and even that isn’t staged or cut very well. In fact, had the movie ended there I would have not disliked it so much. In this opening: Dracula is resurrected, a dead girl is found with a bite scar on her neck, the villagers break into Dracula’s castle, Dracula’s castle is burned to the ground, and the villagers returning home to find the church where they hid the women and children infested with vampire bats who have massacred all within. And then nothing else of importance happens.

Oh, well save for this bit that makes absolutely no sense:

A man is lured into the castle at night and welcomed by Count Dracula. The female vampire comes to his bedroom later in the night and goes to embrace him. She does not try to bite him there and they proceed to spend the night together. Awakening the next morning, the vampire attempts to then bite the man when Dracula suddenly appears and stabs the girl to death for no apparent reason! He then makes his exit. Not only is this brushed aside, but it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! It was as if the writer decided, “Hey, we need something exciting in here..oh yes I know! Dracula stabs his own vampire…” It doesn’t fit the character to stab someone, and especially not repeatedly as if he were trying out for the best slasher scene category. This sequence has to be seen to be believed.

Klove reappears for the first time since Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) but here is played as a completely subservient slave to Dracula’s will instead of the devoted creepy butler shown previously. This Klove is repeatedly tortured by his master for insubordination and actually falls in love with Dracula’s next desired conquest. It was as if someone decided to actually have a character we could actually sympathize with and root for. Sadly, this goes nowhere and there is no reason to even really have the character in the story other than to facilitate the next plot element.

Dracula is destroyed in a completely ineffective and terribly stupid way. He has cornered the final young couple at the entrance of his mountaintop castle. Their escape has failed and we are ready for them to be killed so this whole thing is finally over with. One throws a convenient iron rod at Dracula, which lodges in his side. Dracula triumphantly removes it and moves to hurl it back his attacker. Suddenly the most convenient lightning bolt since The Bad Seed (1956) strikes the rod which then somehow sets Dracula on fire. We then alternate between a highly obvious stuntman flailing around unconvincingly in a bad rubber mask and close-ups of Lee’s burning face. The Count then falls from a ledge and plunges down into the abyss and the end  credits come much to late to save us from this schlock.

The thing so terrible about this entry is that the sense of Hammer that people adore is all but gone. The original spirit of these films has been completely obliterated by a businessman’s idea to combine only the elements that are supposedly popular. Sex, gore, blood and oddly a badly placed scene of campy humor…

Anchor Bay’s DVD is long out of print and fetches outrageous prices on Ebay. The 1.85:1 image is quite good and anamorphically enhanced. The Dolby mono is clear. The commentary with Christopher Lee and director Roy Ward Baker is wonderful. One of the best DVDs in this series for one of the worst films. There is also a DVD-R version floating around that can be occasionally purchased on Amazon.com. These manufactured on demand discs lack the extra features and are known to have manufacturing issues.

 

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Filed under Film, Film Review, Hammer Films

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