The original Bat Man returns at last in his final ‘traditional’ adventure
It’s been a while since I last looked at a Hammer Dracula film, purely because Scars of Dracula, once found in every video rental store in the mid eighties, has proved very difficult for me to track down.
And although some time has passed before I could see this film again, it actually has a reputation for returning Dracu-Lee to the screen with almost indecent haste, a mere 5 months after his previous Hammer outing.
And that’s only one reason why Scars of Dracula is regarded as the ‘odd man out’ in this film series, despite there being much odder entries to come.
Another is the fact that, despite some ingenious attempts by Fans to ‘ret-con’ the films lineage, it remains the only Hammer Dracula so far not to fit within the other’s strict continuity. Last dispatched in a
Scars of Dracula begins back in the
Count’s Middle-European mountain stronghold in a seemingly earlier age, being
reconstituted by a blood-regurgitating bat (I kid you not). Victorian
Bat out of hell.
Perhaps this break from the previous films’ established timeline occured because Scars was made with a purpose in mind rather than simply extending the series and keeping the American cash flowing. Writer Anthony Hinds specifically wanted to return to Stoker’s novel and depict the Count once more as ‘an icily formal host’, giving Lee more lines than he’d had in the role since 1958. Hinds also wanted to return to the supernatural nature of Stokers creation, showing Dracula able to control other blood-drinking creatures of the night and finally bringing the novel’s famous sequence of the Count scampering up the vertical side of his castle like a lizard, to the screen.
Does whatever a spider can…
The character of manservant Klove from the first sequel is also brought back, this time played with considerably less refinement than Philip Latham’s original by an extremely unkempt Patrick Troughton (the actors were to appear together as Time Lords in The Five Doctors, many years later).
So far, so atmospheric, but the elements of contemporary cinematic sex and violence were to have an even stronger influence on the screenplay.
The first of these is by far the most harmless, with Christopher Matthew’s Paul (a popular name in these films) fulfilling the role of a Confessions-esque cheeky chappie, seemingly unable to cross any night-time threshold without ending up in bed with a ubiquitous barmaid, Burgomasters daughter, or vampiress. This is made all the more ridiculous because, quite frankly Matthews looks like a young Ernie Wise in a tweed jacket, and exudes about as much charm.
After a tryst with the lovely Anouska Hempel as wanton vampire ‘bride’ Tania, (another nod to the original source material almost submerged by the early seventies excesses of the screenplay), they are both punished horribly at the avenging Count’s hands, or in poor Tania’s case: blade.
Anouska, yah, yah
Dracula is certainly a piece of work in this film, veering from coldly polite chatter with his ‘guests’ to acts of sudden and extreme violence. Most of it is directed at poor Klove in almost sado-masochistic scenes, before he finally leaves his masters’ service via express elevator to ground floor from the battlements. This emphasis on graphic violence perhaps also echoed the changing tastes of the times.
Our heroes are young Simon, the unfortunate Paul’s younger brother (played by Minder-to-be Dennis Waterman), and Sarah, who can’t seem to choose between the two of them. She in turn is coveted by Klove, earning g his Master’s displeasure as Dracula himself seems to view Sarah as a substitute Bride. So we have a love pentangle?
I could be so good for you…
Jenny Hanley makes a lovely female lead, and has fond anecdotes of falling foul of Lee (not taking it seriously enough) co-star Dennis Waterman (for being ‘too posh’) and her costume (the distracting, reinforced bustier had to be beaten flat by the cameraman, when the empty garment was seen laid out on a bed).
The end of the film neatly bookmarks the prologue, where Dracula’s army of bats had bloodily massacred the village womenfolk taking refuge in a Church. “The Devil has won” utters the stunned Priest.
The Almighty makes a comeback in the final sequence, however, when a bolt of lightning strikes a metal shaft wielded by the Count as he is about to skewer Simon, sending the fiercely-blazing Lord of the Undead plummeting from the turrets to his doom.
It’s a spectacular end to the final old-school depiction of the Count by Hammer, but the film marked a serious faltering terms of box office returns and enthusiasm from American backers and distributors. In fact, Warner Bros passed on backing the film at all, resulting in a less characteristically opulent look and feel for a Hammer production. In his autobiography, Christopher Lee sums up his memories of the production thus: “Everything was over the top, especially the giant bat whose electrically motored wings flapped with slow deliberation as if it were doing morning exercises. The idea that Dracula best liked his blood served up in a nubile container was gaining ground with the front office and I struggled in vain against the direction that the fangs should be seen to strike home, as against the more decorous (and more chilling) methods of shielding the sight with the Count’s cloak.”
An injection of new blood was needed to save the franchise, and sure enough, the next film was to certainly ring the changes.
A lovely design sketch of the Count’s castle vault for this film, which ironically became the last time Hammer’s Dracula would rest in this time and setting.