Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Scars of Dracula (1970)

Country: UK

Continuity was never the strongest of suits for the various scribes that had the task of writing for Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein cycles. However the first four Dracula adventures did at least try to follow on from one another (usually with a rushed pre-credits sequence). Scars of Dracula completely does away with series continuity to such a degree that it almost feels like a prequel. The screenplay by Anthony Hinds makes no efforts to link with past films in the series which is very surprising when one considers that Scars of Dracula was released mere months after the Count’s previous instalment Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). Where that film explored the hypocrisies of Victorian patriarchy to good effect, Scars explores…well, nothing!

There are no layers of meaning here, no thematic depth. This is pure escapist horror fantasy of the highest order and were it not for the unusually gruesome special effects it would be very suitable for anyone under the age of ten. Instead of the usual build up of suspense that comes with the resurrection of Dracula this film opens with The Count’s return to mortality. This occurs when an unconvincing rubber bat pukes up blood onto Dracula’s powdery remains. Cue a lot of cheap camera tricks, superimposition, dissolves, and once again the sombre countenance of Christopher Lee glares into the camera. Within no time Dracula and his very active bats (considering how crap the bats are it seems lunacy to have them in the film so much) are wreaking havoc among the peasants of the village. Like all good angry mobs they decide to torch the castle, but on returning to their church discover their wives and girlfriends slaughtered by Dracula’s bats. This scene is one of the best in the film, but highlights the extent to which Scars of Dracula upped the quotient of blood. At this point I was rather enjoying the film, until we cut to the bland romantic leads that always spoil gothic horror.

Simon Carlson (Dennis Waterman) has to be one of the dullest protagonists in Hammer history. He is partnered by equally dull eye candy in the shape of Sarah Framsen (Jenny Hanley). Her best scene involves a bat tearing at her breasts in order to remove a crucifix. Waterman doesn’t have a best scene! Fortunately Paul Carlson (Christopher Matthews) is on hand to spice things up. A flamboyant playboy, Paul is ultimately punished for his lifestyle when he ends up skewered to Dracula’s wall. Once the action gets to Castle Dracula (or what is left of it) and the usual encounters with the superstitious villagers has been put to bed the film becomes more enjoyable. For example we get to see Dracula climbing the walls of his castle (an element of Stoker’s novel I’d always wanted to see) and his clashes with his morally confused manservant Klove (Patrick Troughton) are unintentionally hilarious - just look at some of Dracula’s facial expressions! As well as having a few more lines than usual The Count is also in a particularly sadistic mood. He stabs one of his vampire women to death, and in one scene brutally tortures Klove with a red hot sword. The one thing I did like about this film was Dracula had a much greater prominence in the narrative and a disturbing omnipotence which gives some scenes a frisson of fear.


The emotional heart of the film lies with Patrick Troughton’s subtle and confused depiction of Klove. He comes across as a tragic figure and a much more rounded character than the pathetic goodies. He deserved to survive the film, but typical of a screenplay lacking pathos he is thrown to his death. My main criticism of this film is that it looks cheap and tacky. The budget was very low, but this had been the case for Hammer productions throughout their history. The decision to sell Bray Studios in the mid 1960’s and do most of their filming at Elstree Studios compromised the lush visual look Hammer had enjoyed in the past. The painted backdrops lack conviction and the art direction by Scott MacGregor is insipid and nondescript. In the past Hammer had a talent for hiding their limited budgets, by 1970 the attitude to production design became increasingly lacklustre. If the lack of atmosphere isn’t enough The Count is destroyed by a bolt of lightning, and the next time we would see him on the screens would be in swinging London….about five years after London had stopped swinging!

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. My favorite of the Hammer Dracula (after HOrror of Dracula which was never topped in my opinion) is Taste the Blood of Dracula, that one is layered and its got interesting themes, the whole thing with the four rich guys having to pay for their "sins" was great stuff.

    Scars of Dracula I enjoy but on another level, I like how violent Dracula is here, using daggers to stab his victims, hot pokers to punish his man servant, he is just more evil on this one, but I totally agree with what you say about it being an empty film in terms of themes.

    Still, its got some iconic moments, like the one you mentioned with the bat trying to snatch away the cross from the girls bare the way, that scene later resurfaced in Fright Night (1985).

  2. I totally agree about TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA - its one of my favourites too. I also like THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. But I think SCARS is the weakest Dracula film of the whole bunch.

  3. Damn, I havent seen Satanic Rites in a while, gotta give it a re-watch, but kind of remember hating it for bringing Drac into "modern" times. Kind of like the same way I hated Dracula 1972 A.D. I need to rewatch Satanic Rites and re-review it!

  4. I also happen to think the opening of the film is one of the best. I also don't care for the "death" scene at the end. But there are a lot of other things here that I like about the film that I consider it to be one of the better of the later Hammer pictures. I also forgot to mention in the TASTE review one other thing that caught my attention and you mention it here, Shaun. Dracula truly has a supernatural presence here. Doors open by themselves when he enters, or leaves a room for instance.

    I also agree the boy-girl relationship angle isn't all that interesting, but they aren't the reason I like this movie. Hammer did this one right by actually delivering a lot of Dracula for the buck. Had Dracula only been in this for just a few minutes as in other movies, I doubt I'd be all that enthralled by it what with the obvious limitations therein.

    For me, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is the weakest and least interesting of the series. The storyline was engaging, but again, no Dracula for nearly an hour and does nothing till the end and his death scene is the most anticlimactic of them all. He gets stuck in some thorn bushes and Cushing rather nonchalantly stakes him cue credits.

    Some nice things in SATANIC RITES, but overall, it's really disappointing to me considering how ambitious the plot is and yet so little is done with it. AD 1972 has warmed to me over the years, but the opening, the ending, the score and Stephanie Beacham's heaving bosom have a lot to do with that. It's basically another piss poor attempt to do something different with a character that, by that time, Hammer seemed clueless as to what to do with him. They couldn't even do a decent clone of COUNT YORGA which is what AD 1972 was aiming for.


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