Friday, 12 November 2010

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)


Taste the Blood of Dracula was Hammer Film Productions’ fifth film to feature Transylvania’s favourite son, and the fourth to feature the sartorial talents of Christopher Lee as the eponymous bloodsucker. I’ve always had a great fondness for this Hammer film, and in comparison to the other Dracula pictures produced by Hammer I rate this as second only to their 1958 production. By this point Bray Studios was a distant memory and much of the studio bound sequences seen here were shot at Elstree Studios. Later Hammer films had a cheap tackiness about them, but Taste the Blood…was one of the last to maintain a lushness and vitality, a visual presentation that far exceeded its modest budget. The film benefits tremendously from some impressive location work in the Hertfordshire countryside, and several exciting and stylish scenes mounted in Highgate Cemetery. Just a scant few months after the release of this film, Hammer put out their sixth Dracula film Scars of Dracula, and the aesthetic difference between the two films is incredible. In many ways this was the last great gothic horror film produced by Hammer, and distilled with economy and brilliance the class message that is visible throughout their films.

The presence of Count Dracula in this film is cursory and purely symbolic. The character adds little to the plot, and much of the narrative is propelled, initially at least, by events out of his control. This is largely due to the fact that the original conception of Anthony Hinds’ screenplay didn’t feature Dracula at all. Instead the film was set to concentrate on the character of Lord Courtley played by Ralph Bates, whom Hammer were pushing to be their next big star. However pressure from Warner Bros forced Hammer to once again seek out the aid of the disillusioned Christopher Lee. The hasty rewrites that were undoubtedly undertaken are visible on screen; Dracula merely glowers from the sidelines and occasionally commentates on the progress of his revenge. Instead the focus of Hinds’ screenplay is a trio of Victorian gentleman; the strict disciplinarian William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), the feckless and slimy Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and the more sympathetic Jonathan Secker (John Carson). They represent the pillars of a small Victorian community, and are so benevolent that they give up one day every month to travel to the squalid slums of London to perform charitable work. This is a front for an evening of whoring, drinking, and other lust filled activities. The hypocrisy of these gentlemen drips from every one of their sinful utterances, and inevitably their tastes take a more esoteric turn when they encounter Lord Courtley and his interest in black magic rituals. This involves supping the blood of Dracula, evidently the taste isn’t to their liking, and they offer thanks to Courtley by battering him to death.

Dracula’s motivation is revenge for the brutal murder of the disciple willing to perform the necessary tasks to resurrect him. His methodology rests upon punishing the children for the sins of their fathers. For Hargood the sexualisation of his daughter Alice (Linda Hayden) is intolerable, and he responds with a violence that is disturbing in its eagerness. Dracula is an arch manipulator here, and its notable that none of the fathers actually encounter Dracula face to face. They are brought to destruction by their own hypocrisy and the children that have unduly suffered as a result. This thinly veiled attack on the class system is both original and highly effective and succeeds in large part due to the excellent performances from the trio of vile patriarchs. Their children played by Linda Hayden, Anthony Higgins, and Martin Jarvis are considerably less engaging, and if the film lacks anything then it is the type of savant character that Peter Cushing excelled at. Ralph Bates is both charming and mysterious as the aristocrat determined to see his vampire master walk the earth again. His confidence and domination of the sinful fathers is further evidence that this is a Victorian world of strong patriarchal and masculine forces; his death robs the film of an enigmatic and interesting character. Although he has little to do Christopher Lee’s charisma bolsters the film and is naturally vital to the set piece climax that ends the film. This is an unusually well cast Hammer film, and this aids believability immeasurably.

Hungarian born director Peter Sasdy who was making his feature film debut does an excellent job. The film has an ambitious visual style and Sasdy clearly has a talent for mounting suspenseful sequences. On the strength of this display Sasdy would go on to direct Countess Dracula (1971) and Hands of the Ripper (1972) for Hammer, and Doomwatch (1972) for Tigon, but arguably achieved his greatest creative success with the BBC adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape (1972). The production design of Scott MacGregor is likewise impressive; the bawdy whorehouses with their tired and tacky exoticism adds to the decadence and disgust at the fathers’ disgraceful behaviour. MacGregor also worked on Scars of Dracula which looks as though it was designed by a blind man, and illustrates the damaging effect of the diminishing returns which affected Hammer so rapidly in 1970. Taste the Blood of Dracula is easily one of the most enjoyable and entertaining of Hammer’s vampire films and holds a special place in my heart thanks to the triumvirate of Victorian hypocrites.

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. Another wonderful write up, Shaun. I enjoy this one as well, but even with all the nicely dressed sets and trappings here, I can't help but have disdain that Dracula was continuously dwindled in his own movies. Still, the plot device by which he gets his revenge is a novel one. It was also a joy to finally see this one with all the cut footage put back in when WB released it to DVD a few years ago. Also, I have an affinity for SCARS OF DRACULA despite its limitations. It has much going for it in my view.

  2. This may be my favorite film in the Hammer Dracula series, I love the incredible use of color, and the themes of corruption worked very well with me. If it werent for Lee's minimized role, I think many more fans would come to appreciate this clever sequel.

  3. @ Venom - Thanks for the kind words. I think in this case that plot and performances are so strong that Dracula might have become a destabilising presence had he dominated proceedings. I reviewed 'Scars of Dracula' a few months ago, and if you have an affinity for it I suggest avoiding my review, it's probably one of my least favourite Hammer films.

    @ Carl - thanks for stopping by buddy; I think I'm probably one of a very small group that thinks Lee's minimised role enhances the film. I agree about the use of colour. I saw a thread on IMDB which argued this was the worst Hammer film of all lunacy. This is up there with best in my view.

  4. My only problem with Hammer's Dracula pictures echoes Lee's frustration. Why even bother calling it TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA if your title is villain is only in the film for scarcely a few minutes?

    Which is one reason why I love SCARS so much. Lee gets more dialog than nearly all the other films combined and actually looks undead. It's the most Transylvanian looking of the series and his dominion over animals was a nice touch. The budgetary limitations didn't hinder my enjoyment at all. There's more about it I liked then didn't like. It was very entertaining and that's really all I expect out of movies unless there's something else to be said and I notice it. Lee seems to think it's a pretty good movie now considering his comments on the AB DVD commentary. Actually, I think he stated that he had never seen it up to that point.

    I do think TASTE is one of the best, just that it could have done with more Dracula since they did decide to weave everything around him at the last minute.

  5. Yeah I take your point on that, but the title I think still works. The central concept is the black mass ritual conducted by Lord Courtley in which the blood must be consumed. There are a number of good scenes in which Dracula's blood is the focus. Plus of course it looks great on the poster! Lee took the money, he was happy to do that. I dont think it would have bothered him unduly when he was spending it. Lee has always had illusions of grandeur - compared to some of the pieces of cinematic excrement he made just for the paycheque, 'Taste the Blood of Dracula' is a masterpiece.

    I do mention in my review of 'Scars' that Dracula's increased role is one of the better aspects of it, but I cannot echo your sentiments about the enjoyment factor. I thought it was terribly dull. It might be because I've never held Lee in particularly high esteem as an actor, so the character of Dracula doesnt sway it for me. You'd have to agree though Brian that the difference in the visual presentation of the two films is incredible considering they were only made a few months apart.

  6. Oh yes, of course I agree the presentation is better in TASTE, but there's a lot of fresh elements in SCARS that were never in any of the other Hammer Dracula pictures--

    1. His dominion over animals
    2. Crawling up the castle wall
    3. Dracula's increased dialog
    4. He actually looks undead this time
    5. The increased violence and gore; it's the only 'R' Hammer Dracula picture in America
    6. The matte paintings of the castle come into play as more than just window dressing.

    I may have read your review for SCARS, Shaun. I'll have to see. I don't remember. I reviewed a bunch of these as well--TASTE, SCARS and RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.

    I've never found SCARS to be dull and it's one of the more popular entries in the series. It's been released on VHS probably more than any other Hammer picture over here. I've owned at least two different legit releases of it prior to the AB 2 disc edition. It's one of the very first Hammer Drac's I saw as a kid along with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Actually, SCARS may have been first for me. I have an old, glossy hardcover book called HORRORS: A HISTORY OF HORROR MOVIES, and there are so many great pics of Chris Lee Dracula movies that I hadn't seen at the time so this started my fascination with them. Now COUNTESS DRACULA, that one I found to be dull.


Related Posts with Thumbnails