The sixth in Hammer's Dracula series and probably the weakest sequel so far, but not by much and it's definitely still better than the original. It's good fun. I enjoyed it. The screenplay just seems a little meandering, with Dracula having no plan for evil whatsoever. He's living peacefully up in his castle, like a Norman Bates who's gone up in the world. His victims keep coming to him! This might be the root of the problem, in that the story doesn't feel dynamic. The villain's basically minding his own business, while the good guys are personable enough but certainly not up to being the engine of the plot.
To my astonishment, I feel Patrick Troughton is partly to blame too. I think this is his biggest role in a Hammer film, ahead of The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and an uncredited appearance in The Curse of Frankenstein. I adore his acting and I'd been looking forward to this, but I was disappointed. He's playing Klove, who may or may not be the character of the same name played in Dracula: Prince of Darkness by Philip Latham. It should have been a much better role than Latham's, but Troughton wastes it. This is a thrall of Dracula's who starts thinking for himself. He becomes unpredictable. This is wonderful stuff, a chance to do something really special.
Troughton however plays him as a largely unthinking, vaguely rodent-like creature in human form, almost all physicality and not much in the way of motivation or thought processes. Admittedly it's hard to know what's going through a thrall's mind and we know that Dracula has hypnotic powers, so one could make strong arguments in favour of Troughton's interpretation. He's still very watchable. I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing Troughton on screen. However here his choices aren't helping the drama. Klove is a crucial character in the film and he should have been the key factor that turned a decent film into a terrific one.
Personally I think it's a different Klove, incidentally. Anthony Hinds, regular Hammer writer/producer and the son of one of the studio's co-founders, could be playful with names. Both this film and its predecessor have a hero and heroine called Paul and Alice! I have no idea why. There's no reason for it within the fiction. Other young leads last time were called Lucy and Jonathan, which is surely a nod to Bram Stoker. Thus if both Kloves were the same man, why does he die twice and why is he played by two different actors? Maybe the Kloves are related. Dracula does seem to like hunting down friends and families. While we're speculating like this, there's also a line about, "One of the last remaining members of the Dracula family." Irredemable fanboys might yet be able to fit the Hammer and Universal films into the same continuity.
What I like about this film is the fact that it's different from its predecessors. Act One is the strongest part of Stoker's original novel, yet it always gets cut back in movie adaptations. However that part and that part only is what this film is loosely based on! They even have a "Dracula crawling down the wall" shot, except that they've turned it upside-down and he's crawling upwards. It should have been creepier, but I applaud the effort. We hardly ever even see him leave his castle. Visitors come to him instead and he welcomes them as the charming host. It's Christopher Lee's biggest role in any of these movies and unsurprisingly also his best performance. He's good at being polite. They've improved his make-up too, making him greyer and less youthful.
The reason for all this is that it's a reboot. Hammer regarded it as a deliberate break with series continuity, although if so I don't know what they're doing with that "resurrected from his ashes again" opening. It felt like a continuation to me. Nevertheless in many countries it was released as a double bill with Horror of Frankenstein, which was similarly a revamp of their Frankenstein series.
Partly because of this, there are some puzzles around Dracula. If you don't think it's a reboot, then how did he get resurrected? We see it happen, yes, but what made that bat fly in and vomit blood all over him? Is it another vampire in shapechanged form? An old pet? Admittedly there was a vampire we never met back in Dracula: Prince of Darkness and I have a feeling another one survived Taste the Blood of Dracula. Well, a possible vampire. That's another peculiarity of this series... they've blurred the line between dead and undead when it comes to Dracula's servants. Dracula can turn innocent people into either thralls or vampires, with the former actually being more useful. They can remove crucifixes, go out in daylight and so on. He doesn't treat them well, though. He'll also feed off anyone and seems capable of drinking even another vampire to death.
Thus a woman with vampire fangs nevertheless has an obvious reflection in a mirror as she comes to our hero out of a seemingly genuine need for sex and comfort. If that was a goof, it's an astonishing one. Personally I can't believe it wasn't deliberate, since you don't accidentally put mirrors in vampire films. My suspicion is that Hammer's vampirism isn't a binary condition. You can exist in a halfway state, or even perhaps drift back and forth depending on the supernatural weather.
The supporting cast are fine. Michael Ripper gets a bigger role than usual. He's one of the villagers near Dracula's castle, who haven't got any friendlier. The young leads are good-looking and so natural in their roles that it actually damages the 19th century period feel. I didn't mind them. It's a bit daft seeing all these women throw themselves at Christopher Matthews and he perhaps underplays the fear and tension of being alone in Dracula's castle, but the only real disappointment remains Troughton.
There's also a bit of chat between the young couple about never leaving each other for ever, which of course had me anticipating the worst. Hmmm. The film could perhaps have made more out of that one.
The biggest surprise was the gore. By Hammer's standards it's a snuff movie, but some of it's nasty even for a modern audience. The aftermath of the vampire attack on the church is bad enough, but at one point I was convinced they'd been watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Impossible, of course. That came out in 1974. Meanwhile Dracula's still only biting girls, but that doesn't make you safe if you're male. On the contrary, I don't think he kills a single victim by drinking. Instead we get knives, metal hooks, a red-hot sword straight from the fire and someone being thrown off the castle walls. You're thus a bit more concerned than usual when for instance Troughton turns up with a small bathful of sharp metal implements including a saw and a meat cleaver.
I should also mention the bats. Wow. They're the size of cats and only moderately fake-looking, but more surprisingly we get a Death By Bat. You'd expect this to be the silliest thing you've ever seen, right? Not in this film. Ewwww.
The film suffers a bit from over-familiarity. We've been here before. Dracula's castle, phantom coach, idiot villagers... Fortunately the next sequel after this would be Dracula A.D. 1972, so we're okay there.
This may be the weakest of the five Anthony Hinds Dracula films, but I still liked it. It's certainly nowhere near being bad. It's just that the others were stronger. It's great to look at, with surprising gore, a little nudity and lots of cleavage. The effects are top-notch, let down by only the usual day-for-night filming, and Dracula's final death is "stand up and cheer" amazing. It's a sight to behold, quite apart from the fact that this is Dracula's funniest death in a series that includes Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and Taste The Blood of Dracula. I was howling.
Even second-tier Hammer can be well worth watching, you know. If nothing else, it deserves credit for going back to the original novel and giving Christopher Lee a bigger role. I'd recommend it.