Friday, May 4, 2012

Micro Review [film]: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

The Meat
When a movie has a satanic ritual, boobs, strangulation, a motorcycle chase, and a gunshot to the face in the first five minutes, you can’t help but think you’re in for a ride.

It’s hard not to judge 1974’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula (AKA Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride as it was released in American markets) in the context of the other Hammer Horror Dracula movies. After all, it wrapped exactly fifteen years after the release of the first movie in the “series,” 1958’s Dracula -- and is the third and final film in the series to star Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing opposite each other. Hammer made a total of nine Dracula movies those fifteen years, and it’s pretty generally agreed that Satanic Rites was not quitting while they were ahead. It is worth noting that it’s the only one of the bunch that brought Dracula to modern times, so of course it hasn’t stood the test of time as well as the others.

Satanic Rites also pushes against its genre boundaries; it’s less a classic horror movie and more of an action thriller, but is that the type of movie that Dracula should be in? Nope, not really. And it seems like the filmmakers knew it, as Dracula – Christopher Lee’s Dracula! – is underused, so the film hinges on the admittedly novel idea of a reclusive Dracula bent killing everyone he could potentially feed on so that, eventually, he himself will die. (So... why wouldn’t he just let Van Helsing stake him? Seems neater.)

Attack of the Plot! A secret service agent escapes his capture by a satanic cult but dies, so Scotland Yard and Van Helsing himself step in. The cult abducts another Secret Service agent who Drac snacks on and turns in a vampire to be kept in his basement with his other wives. Mr. Scotland Yard, another agent, and Van Helsing’s hot granddaughter go investigating, find the ladies and stake the vampire agent.

In the meantime, Van Helsing’s scientist friend is murdered and the virulent strain of the Bubonic Plague he was working on is gone. The dead scientist’s notes lead Van Helsing to discover that Dracula was funding the research under a modern moniker because of a suicidal revenge plot against humanity. Van Helsing tries to shoot Dracula with a silver bullet (a Hammer addition to vampire lore used in a previous film) but fails. Dracula envokes Bond Villian Stupidity by transferring Van Helsing to the cult house instead of killing him. The agent is killed, and Van Helsing’s hot granddaughter and Mr. Scotland Yard are captured by the cult.

After Dracula monologues, one of his minions breaks the plague vial. Mr. Scotland Yard tries to break free, attacks a guard, and makes a computer explode, starting a fire. The infected burn with the house, while all the main characters get free. Dracula goes after Van Helsing, who lures the vampire into a hawthorn bush (another Hammer addition alluded to earlier in the movie) where he is trapped until he gets the stake.

Yeah, you read that right: Dracula gets caught in a bush.

The Math 

Objective Quality: 4/10

Bonuses: +1 for a really crunchy, realistically forceful stakings and other special effects, +1 for Christopher Lee, +1 for boobs (the first in Hammer Horror)

Penalties: -1 for adding more crap to vampire lore (too many things can kill vampires in Hammer), -1 for it being something extra stupid like a bush, -1 for underutilizing Christopher Lee

Cult Value Coefficient: 4/10

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]