For any studio that tends to focus on a more singular output, the name of the game is to try and make sure your product continues to be relevant. Be it Marvel Studios, BlumHouse or Lucasfilm, if you don’t keep a close eye on changing moods and audience tastes, you’ll eventually be dead in the water and as Hammer Films forged there way into the 70’s, you could feel that the relevance for one of their most famous franchises was noticably slipping. Featuring a typically lurid sounding title, Taste The Blood Of Dracula (As opposed to Lick The Spleen Of Dracula or Tickle The Kidneys Of Dracula), the infamous Count, with all his creaky castles and sweeping capes, seemed to be running low on juice as the writers struggled to find anything new for the fanged one to do. And yet this first of two outings in 1970 for Dracula is somewhat spared by a supporting cast who step up and chew the scenery while the Count chews necks.
After a bizarre altercation that sees salesman Weller thrown from his carriage as it trundles through Eastern Europe, the terrified man wanders around the dark woods until the sounds of blood curdling screams leads him to witness the climax of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Gawking in sweaty horror as the impaled Count Dracula is reduced to bloody dust, the businessman inexplicably gathers up the vampires remaining effects and a bottles up a vial of his powered plasma for later use.
A while later, we’re introduced to a trio of gentlemen who have formed a circle who claim to be heavily invested in charity work, but in actuality visit brothels in order to sate their desires for jiggling flesh and expensive booze. It during one of these visits that the three men (William Hargood, Samuel Paxton and Jonathon Secker) meet the debauched Lord Courtley, a amoral, thrill-seeking young man straight out of a Clive Barker novel who recognizes that the three men have become bored with their outings and now desire something more extreme. He convinces them to buy Dracula’s remains from Weller and holds a Satanic ritual at a ruined church which sees him chug the Count’s now liquefied blood, but Hargood, Secker and Paxton panic at the last minute and promptly beat Courtley to death. Hiding their deeds, the Tyrion try to act as if nothing has happened, but their fear causes them (especially the hypocritical Hargood) to have friction with their families, however, unbeknownst to them, after fleeing the scene, Coutley’s body is possessed by Dracula who is reborn through his corpse and is incensed over the murder of his acolyte. Targeting the trio’s nubile children, Dracula’s revenge will consume everyone it touches as he turns the youths against their own parents.
It’s bizarre to think that the best thing about a Hammer Dracula movie could be anything other than Chris Lee’s titular Count, but that’s exactly what happens in Taste The Blood Of Dracula. Given minimum dialogue as he pulls his vengeful strings with a stoic expression on his face, there’s still a lingering feeling that the old neck biter may be suffering a mid-afterlife crisis as his scope of villainy seems oddly small-fry considering his reputation. Maybe rampaging pettiness is part and parcel of the whole Prince Of Darkness persona, but it’s noticably weird that a creature boasting Dracula’s sinister abilities would take the death of an acolyte so personally when he’s been known to drop other such allies like a bad habit. Maybe he just doesn’t know what to do with himself after this latest resurrection and gives himself this revenge mission in order to keep himself busy; but even for an agelesscreatire of the night, his reasoning seems a little thin.
However, while Dracula’s motivation seems to be a little run of the mill, the movie manages to stay watchable thanks to the wealth of increasingly sweaty character actors director Peter Sasdy sticks in the adult roles.
Hammer’s always been a magnificent home for recognisable British character actors to strut their stuff and go for broke as they ham it up with unrestrained glee. Most noticable is Geoffrey Keen who, while most famous for being the Minister of Defense in a few James Bond films, has a rare old time as the sanctimonious Hargood, a man who happily cavorts with belly dancers one Sunday every month, but declares his daughter a whore just because she’s making eyes at the debonair Paul at church. Whether drunkenly working out his fears and guilt by threatening to beat his daughter or finally getting his comeuppance from the business end of a spade, he certainly is more animated than a lot of the other cast and he’s ably joined by other such thespians as Roy Kinnear and the voice of Wallace himself, Peter Sallis, who’s exit via getting staked by his own vampire daughter gives us a masterclass in horrified whimpering.
The younger members of the cast are tasked with the thankless job of actually moving the plot along and while there’s a neat metaphor here that casts Dracula as sort of a harbinger for the revolt of children against their overbearing parents, but it’s somewhat buried under the growing stoginess that was enveloping the franchise.
Among it all stands Christopher Lee, whose imposing presence feels somewhat diminished by the fact that he’s noticably starting to look bored with all the capes and widow’s peaks and while his demeanor in previous films had him be a stoic beacon of menace, his mission to get himself flanked by the daughters of the men who have wronged him makes Dracula seem like like an emissary of evil and more like an abusive goth pimp; especially when he kills one of the girls after he loses his rag about her obsessive mewling. Worse yet, the crucifix laden climax is incredibly leaden and almost laughable as Dracula is somehow caught unawares by the fact that even an abandoned church is going to have a ton of crosses in it, shows his displeasure by throwing debris down at our heroes from the rafters like a fanged Donkey Kong and then simply dies because the writers presumably couldn’t be fucked to work out how to get yet another stake into his chest.
While certainly not the worst of Hammer’s Dracula outings (that’s still to come), there’s an overwhelming sense that the rot is well and truly setting in on a horror icon who’s visibly getting far too long in the tooth.