THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)
Label: Warner Archive
Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Alan Gibson
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Michael Coles
A few short years after Dracula A.D. 1972 director Alan Gibson put the final nail in the coffin of Hammer's Christopher Lee-starring series of vampire films with a strange one, a spy-fi version of the story with the bloodsucker again resurrected by a satanic-cult in contemporary 70's London. Dracula enlists the cultists, lead by the Chin Yang (Barbara Yu Ling, Hardware), to help him carry out his ultimate diabolical plan, to unleash a bacteriological weapon that will wipe out all of humanity!
The Secret Service first stumbles onto the apocalyptic-plot when one of their agents escapes a rural research facility, reporting on some occult activity, including a black mass and a bloody cock-killing. He dies shortly after, but the Secret Services jumps into action, teaming-up with Scotland Yard's Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) who returns from the previous film. Murray calls in Peter Cushing's Van Helsing to consult on the the strange case. It's Van Helsing who in turn discovers that a scientist colleague of his, Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), is in the service of Dracula, having perfected a virulent strain of the bubonic plague which the Prince of Darkness plans to unleash it and destroy all of mankind.
Also returning from the previous film is Van Helsing's granddaughter Jessica, now played by redhead Joanna Lumley (Curse of the Pink Panther), who gets the chance to play the character more as a serious vamp-hunter this time around, at least more so than her party-girl predecessor was allowed to.
The mix of apocalyptic plague, the satanic cult, bloodsucking and spy-fi thriller is a strange Hammer cocktail, but it does manage to strike a more dire tone than the previous entry. Christopher Lee gets even less screen time this time around, but he gets in quite a few words, but there's not much blood-sucking.
Peter Cushing is again driven and fills the screen with his presence, and though his screen time is limited so to does Christopher Lee. The film loses its way with the espionage and spy stuff though, there's a fun opening scene of the Secret Service agent escaping the research facility with a motorcycle wiping out the front gate, some spy gadgetry, and some sniper action, but I found it a bit of an ill fit for a Hammer vamp flick.
What does work for me was the final confrontation between Van Helsing and Count Dracula, taking place at the research facility as it goes up in flames, the red-lit lensing looks marvelous, flames everywhere, a plague infected man in the throws of an agonizing death, and a final battle in the woods nearby with Dracula entangled in a hawthorn bush is grade-A Hammer horror.
The wonderful finale doesn't quite make-up for the films other shortcoming, notably the lack of Dracula, the anemic amount of bloodsucking, and lack of proper Gothic atmosphere, but there is a return topless women, which was missing from the previous film, so it at least has that going for it. Not as bad a film as you may have been lead to believe, but also not a film befitting of the final Christopher Lee-starring vampire film for the Hammer legend.
Audio/Video: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive with a new 2K scan, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.78;1 widescreen. It looks lovely, grain is well-managed, fine detail is pleasing and the colors are vibrant and well saturated, with good contrast and strong blacks.
The lone audio option on the disc is English DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles, dialogue is clean, defined and
well-balanced with the score from composer John Cacavas (Horror Express), which is a more traditional horror score than the swinging 70's score from Dracula A.D. 1972, it has a nice presence in the mix.
The single-disc release comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase,with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, the same artwork appears on the disc. The only extra on this release is an HD theatrical trailer for the film. Again, my only niggle would be that I wish Warner Archive would spring for at least a film historian commentary for these vintage Hammer films.
- Trailer (3 min) HD
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is a lesser entry in the Hammer filmography, but that's not to say I didn't still have fun watching it. The mix of spy-fi, satanists and vampirism doesn't always mix easily but that finale is pretty great.
The new transfer from Warner Archive is impressive, regardless of how you feel about the film there's no denying the excellent transfer,if you're a Hammer film this is well worth picking up, and there's even more classic Hammer Horror on the way from WAC in late-December with Horror of Dracula (1958)!
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