Recently reading Fred Saberhagen’s 1975 novel The Dracula Tape, brought to mind a pair of movies set just a little earlier in the decade. These were Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula both produced by Hammer films in 1972 and 1973 respectively. These were the last two films where Christopher Lee played Dracula for Hammer. Just as Batman has the Joker, and Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty, Dracula has Van Helsing, and it’s fitting that Hammer studio’s long-time Van Helsing, Peter Cushing, was along for the ride. These movies were interesting to watch, since I’ve long cited Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula as an inspiration for the Desmond Drake character in my Scarlet Order Vampire novels.
Dracula AD 1972 opens with Dr. Lawrence Van Helsing’s final confrontation with the count. As one might gather from Van Helsing’s name, we’ve already deviated from Bram Stoker’s novel. The two are fighting on a coach when it hits a rock and both are thrown clear. Van Helsing soon discovers that Dracula has been impaled on the broken spoke of a wagon wheel! The good doctor finishes the count off. Dracula falls to dust just before Van Helsing succumbs to his injuries. Unfortunately, one of Dracula’s minions shows up and collects the wheel spoke which impaled Dracula along with a healthy sample of vampire dust. Soon, we skip ahead to 1972, where a group of young people are partying in a London estate. When they’re kicked out, the leader of the group, who looks suspiciously like the minion who collected Dracula’s remains, invites the group to an abandoned church. He wants to conduct a black mass “for kicks.” The ritual is performed. The leader, who goes by the name Johnny Alucard—another tie to a novel I read recently—succeeds in bringing Dracula back. It looks like the world may be lost, but fortunately, one of the people in the group is young Jessica Van Helsing played by Stephanie Beacham. She’s the great granddaughter of Lawrence and the granddaughter of Lorrimer who, like Lawrence, is played by Peter Cushing. In this film, Dracula seems tied to the abandoned church and relies on his minions to do all the work for him. This makes it comparatively easy for Lorrimer to track him down for the final confrontation. The movie’s pacing and style felt like a tribute to the earlier movies in the Hammer Dracula franchise, but it added little new to the lore.
Hammer followed this film with a sequel called The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The movie was retitled Dracula and his Vampire Brides for release in the United States. As one might gather from the British title, more dark rites are in process. Only this time, the people engaged in the rites are from Britain’s business, political and scientific elite. Top investigators attempt to infiltrate the proceedings to find out what’s going on. They get some info and turn to Scotland Yard’s Inspector Murray who helped to crack the last weird case involving dark rituals. Inspector Murray turns to his friends Lorrimer and Jessica Van Helsing for help. This time Jessica is played by Joanna Lumley, but otherwise, our repeat characters are portrayed by the same actors as before. We soon learn that Dracula is no longer tied to the church where he had been trapped in the last movie. He’s now a top London businessman called D.D. Denham. Dracula has grown so old that all he really wants is an end to his immortal existence. However, being Dracula, he isn’t content to just find a way to die. He has to take out humanity as well and he’s found people willing to help. Fortunately, Murray and the Van Helsings are there to save the world. While the first film felt like a tribute to early Hammer Dracula films, this one played more like later films with more explicit violence and nudity. I liked the idea of Dracula as a businessman in the 20th century and Christopher Lee’s D.D. Denham certainly feels not a little like Desmond Drake from the Scarlet Order novels.
Even though the second film felt campier than the first and had several problems, I tended to like it better. The first film relied on many tried and true Dracula tropes, but the second film embarked on new territory, doing more to make Dracula himself the kind of character he would be in the present day. I only wish that Christopher Lee’s Dracula had been given more to do along with a stronger ending than the one he received in the final film. Still, if you’re a fan of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it’s worth seeking these films out.
I’ve been hard at work on my third Scarlet Order vampire novel featuring Desmond Drake, who takes inspiration from Christopher Lee’s Dracula. As of this writing, I’ve completed just over 80,000 words of the novel. If you want to be ready when the novel comes out, check out the first two books of the Scarlet Order vampire series at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order