Given that I haven’t really watched any of the Hammer Dracula movies since I was a little kid, I’d forgotten that a lot of them don’t give the title character much to do. Most of them, to be fair, make better use of the character than DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS does, but still – despite what the title might suggest – he isn’t normally the major player. Mostly he’s a tall man with a cape who just shows up to glower
The challenge then becomes for the screenwriter (in this case old Hammer reliable, Anthony Hinds) to create a plot around The Count that is scary and riveting itself, which Dracula – because his name is in the title, so it’d be silly not to – can then be inserted into fairly seamlessly.
TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is one of the better examples of exactly that trick.
The plot actually centres on three middle-aged hypocrites. Supposedly righteous men who present a face of puritanical vigour to the world, while actually spending the last Sunday of each month debasing themselves in what looks to be a particularly well-upholstered brothel. Their quest for dark thrills leads them to dissolute young Earl, Ralph Bates, who persuades them to buy the desiccated remains of Dracula’s blood and then a dark ritual takes place which revives The Count. Except in their fear at the revival, our protagonists kill Bates and run off into the night. At the death of his servant, Dracula swears revenge.
If you take a step back there are couple of obvious flaws in this:
- Firstly, is Dracula really such a caring person this time round he seriously gives a damn about this servant he’s never actually met?
- Secondly, okay, Roy Kinnear witnessed Dracula’s death last time around, but he’d surely have to be the world’s most rapacious capitalist to just put his desiccated remains on the open market? His obvious discomfort at the transaction doesn’t sit well with the fact that he not only sourced the product, but brought it back and advertised it.
(If I’m nit-picking, I should also confess that I have no idea what’s going on at the end).
However, if you sit back and don’t think about it too hard, then there’s a lot to enjoy here.
It looks great, with both design and direction creating a great contrast between a repressive world order and the more louche underbelly society, like the brothel and – well – Dracula.
Linda Hayden as the corrupted daughter of one of the men is great, already showing a great capacity to switch from innocent to bloodthirsty, which would serve her so well in the following year’s THE BLOOD FROM SATAN’S CLAW. To be fair, pretty much all the cast gives it their best, with Geoffrey Keen – later a particularly genial M in the Bond films – is fantastically harsh as a stern patriarch. And if Christopher Lee looks like he’s only there under sufferance, well – how often is that not the case? Dracula may be his more famous role, but he scarcely ever looks like he enjoys it.
Finally though a tribute to Peter Sallis who died recently. I remember seeing this as a child and it being discombobulating to see TV’s Norman Clegg cavorting with semi-clad women.
For those who grew up with him as plasticine’s Wallace it must be equally jarring. But even though the cultural dissonance is there, he is still really good here as a man who’s been led along by his friends and now feels his conscience creeping up on him. I will always prefer him in the flat-cap, but I’m sure he’d be happy to be remembered for something else too.
RIP Cleggie, Wallace, decadent aristo who helped to bring back Dracula!