Quantcast

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (Blu-ray Review)

We are finally living in the riches of the Hammer Dracula films on Blu-ray (As well as hopefully other classics next year). In the final 3 months of the year we’ll have seen The Horror of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula AD 1972 and the film for this review The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Globally, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires will complete the canon, domestically (In the US) its that and a Scars of Dracula shy. The Satanic Rites of Dracula was originally slated for an October release but was delayed until November. But, its now here and maybe for the first time in its existence, people are very excited for it. While no bonus features (Aside from the trailer) are present, just the fact that this film has been rescued from public domain hell and will have a nice transfer, audio and be presented in a correct anamorphic view is bonus enough. Order yourself a copy to help complete your Hammer Dracula collection by clicking the Amazon link below.

Film 

Originally published as a part of the Naptown Nerd Hammer Dracula Retrospective (October 2014)

A dying man’s report of a ritual black mass stirs Britain’s security chief into action and a mansion filled with young vampire girls is soon discovered. This is only the first layer of a labyrinth of horror. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee pair up for the final Hammer Dracula in this follow-up to Dracula AD 1972. In this go-round, the Count pursues a more pulpish super-villainous playbook, posing as a millionaire industrialist, alive and well and living in London while secretly brewing up a batch of super-plague in a quest to destroy the world.

Dracula AD 1972, for all intents and purposes was a pretty bad movie sometimes dipping into the borderline unwatchable stage.  Though bad, many people stand by The Satanic Rites of Dracula as the worst Hammer Dracula film. Up until AD 1972, the films had been enjoyable, or had some pretty good takeaways.  They were at least watchable even if they were one that was disappointing.  Seeing as this one seemed to bring back most of the production team from the previous film, fear could rise much more than Dracula had ever done in these movies.

Let’s get this out of the way right now; this isn’t the world’s greatest movie by far.  In fact, its a bit of a bad one with some mighty big plot holes.  The film is easily one of the weaker in entries in the series without question.  And as this is Christopher Lee’s final outing as the dark prince, yes its a disappointment.  Where I’m going to probably get some flack, but I find Satanic Rites to be a step up and much better than Dracula AD 1972.

While Alan Gibson returns to direct, he’s got a better sense of style than the last film.  There’s a sort of darkness vibe to the movie that lacked in the previous film.  There are instances however, that seem to grasp at the same aesthetic as an old Doctor Who episode from the Pertwee era.  This is funny, as the writer of the film definitely wrote a few episodes for Doctor Who prior to doing this film.  Gibson also infuses the film with a sort of sense of “weirdness” that sort of gives this one its own sense of character and style.

Satanic Rites is a pretty sizable departure from what has come before.  The last film was pretty much any of the original ones just now set in the “modern day”.  That’s sort of a big factor in what makes this one more interesting to me than its predecessor.  With Rites, we get one that mish mashes an espionage spy film, sci fi film and fear of the occult type film with Dracula.  The film also has a sense of style akin to a lot of the lower budgeted sci fi of the time.  It may be weird to compliment, but I really enjoy the set where all the detective work and slide projector stuff is going on.  Also, the costumes and biker guys in general may seem a little strange but that’s the sort of thing that keeps my interest.

One could argue that Satanic Rites is also the one time a Hammer Dracula film truly carried over from the previous one.  Yes, we don’t see Dracula resurrected, but c’mon, you can assume one of the rituals (which we get to see the same one flashed to numerous times) brought him back.  Plus, his headquarters is on the ground the old church from the last movie was on.  Most importantly though, we get returning characters and not just a Van Helsing.  Inspector Murray comes back as well as Jessica Van Helsing.

One improvement from the previous film is the recasting of Jessica Van Helsing.  Joanna Lumsley portrays a much more mature and interesting version of the granddaughter.  She’s much smarter and isn’t there just to show her cleavage.  In fact, she’s well dressed and taken much more seriously than that of a wank object like much of the women in these films can tend to be.  She’s much more of looker than Stephanie Beachem too at this time.  Jessica gets to be involved with the case work and take to the field for some action before succumbing to being the granddamsel in distress for the film’s third act.

I must say, I love Peter Cushing.  No matter the film, this guy ALWAYS gives a terrific performance.  And here, I’d say is one of the best.  There are A LOT of exposition and discussion scenes in this film, which is why I think impatient blood wanting fanboys despise the film.  But for me, it was Cushing that was making those moments exciting through his words and delivery.  Yeah, its stuff we’d heard all throughout the series, almost as if he was rolling of a compilation list.  For me, watching him perform and excel in this one (One of his best portrayals) was working for me on so much more a level than anything in the previous film.

Christopher Lee also seems interested in this film as opposed to sleepwalking through the last one.  Like usual, he was unhappy to come back, but I think he channeled that anger into final and ticked off performance.  Dracula has one last moment of glory when he stands at the altar at the end and reveals his evil plan to set in motion.  There are also some lines from Stoker’s book he recites.  Lee also get to show a different side when pretending to be the secluded business man he’s fronting for himself.  Dracula kinda goes out like an idiot, catching himself in the “newly listed device to kill him” hawthorn bush.  But in the end, his death truly comes one final time at the hands of Van Helsing, making it personal and sort of seem final.  I have NO IDEA why the ending freezes on Van Helsing studying the ring, but that’s it.

There are plenty of story problems with this movie.  And some character decisions can make you question it all.  But, I’m forgiving as some of it was due to this film having an extremely low budget.  Unlike the last one, this film can actually work for itself in the sort of “turn your brain off” fashion.  There is some good horror scenes, especially with all the wives in the basement, and a lot of the action/suspense scenes with the motorcycle sniper game are shot pretty well.  It works on much more of a cheap spy movie level than it does a Hammer Dracula film, but the fact that it can work on any level is a triumph.

Before striking me down for writing a sorta positive spin on The Satanic Rites Of Dracula, please realize that I still find it to be toward the bottom of the Hammer Dracula barrel.  But, I do find it to be a step up from the last one and not as heinously bad as I was led to believe it was going to be.  Maybe I had the perfectly lowered expectation going into it.  Yes, the film has a slower pace, but as a fan of 70s films I’m attuned to that and it doesn’t really bother, especially if Peter Cushing is leading the charge in many of the scenes.  This movie deserves another look, not because its some hidden gem or a surprisingly good film after all these years.  Mainly because I think its been judged too harshly, and isn’t the worst.  AD 1972 and Satanic Rites is a rough combo, but I’ll take the Satanic Rites side of the coin if I had to choose.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-25

Clarity/Detail: Warner Archive Collection’s 1080p HD remaster of The Satanic Rites of Dracula is such a marvel considering all the super shitty public domain DVDs we’ve had for the film. Presented in 1.78:1, it doesn’t lose a lot of information. It looks very clean and has a bit of a softer natural image, but there are moments where its quite sharp and crisp. Details are very strong, especially on some of the effects that actually hold up well. Fans will be very happy with the image on this release. Yes, its easy to call this one so impressive given what we’ve had to deal with in the past, but still.

Depth:  Spacing is pretty solid here and and movements are very natural and cinematic. Distortion and blur during quicker moving sequences is very limited.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and provide good complimentary shadows to low lit rooms and nighttime sequences. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty strong here as bolstered by filters. Reds, blues and purples are rich and bold. Wallpaper pops quite good throughout as well as some more striking clothing garments.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Close ups and medium shots feature a terrific look at makeup, lip texture, scarring, acne, stubble, wrinkles and glossy forehead grease.

Noise/Artifacts: There is a scene where vampire women are showered in a cellar and it looks really weird. I’m not sure if its a special effect, damaged film or a bad spot in the transfer. But, I wanted to note it here just to note it.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: The Satanic Rites of Dracula’s mono track is a nice compliment to its video, giving it a presentation akin to its theatrical run. There is a nice balance of the effects, vocals and score woven in. The score can get a bit deep and rumbly in some moments, but overall most is on the lighter end. However it has a nice crisp sound to it and is plenty effects as is.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and well audible throughout.

Extras 

Trailer (HD, 2:44)

Summary 

The Satanic Rites of Dracula hangs out near the very bottom of the Hammer Dracula films, but it isn’t without merit. There are many things to appreciate about it and it tries to bring something fresh and original to the table. Its a solid sendoff for the Lee/Cushing Dracula/Van Helsing dynamic. Warner Archive Collection brings a very impressive transfer and overall presentation to Blu-ray that no matter who you are, it will be like you’ve never seen it before. An easy pick up for any Hammer fan. Take advantage in case this winds up in public domain again with a crappy image!

Share

Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

  1. No Comments