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Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

Dir: Peter Sasdy

A clever opening directly links to the finale of "Dracula has Risen from the Grave" as travelling shady dealer Weller (Roy Kinnear) witnesses the demise of Dracula (Christopher Lee). Sensing a once in a lifetime opportunity, a shocked Weller gathers up Dracula's cape, clasp, ring and even some of his powdered blood.

We skip to London where we meet three 'respected gentlemen', William Hargood ('James Bond's' Geoffrey Keen), Samuel Paxton (UK TV fave Peter Sallis) and Jonathan Secker (John Carson, "Plague of the Zombies") who secretly meet up once a month to wallow in decadence. While being entertained in a back street Brothel, they meet the arrogant Lord Courtly (the late, great Ralph Bates).

Courtly is a fellow thrill seeker, who dabbles in the occult. Promising the three men the ultimate sinful pleasures he gets them to buy Dracula's belongings from Weller.
The sceptical trio are taken to a deserted and desecrated church, where Courtly pours the powdered blood into four goblets, cuts open his palm and drips the blood into them. Fresh blood wells up in the goblets, but the men refuse to drink as Courtley orders.
Drinking the blood himself Courtley screams and falls to the ground, where the three beat him. They flee.

Courtley's body suddenly turns to dust which cracks open (in a very bad optical effect) to reveal the resurrected Dracula, who vows revenge in the three men for killing his servant…..

 

The 3rd direct sequel to 'Hammers' "Dracula" (aka "Horror of...") is a step down from the previous "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave" and reduces Christopher Lee's role of Dracula even more. But it still has a certain charm….

After the opening the movie is actually in no hurry to even bring back Dracula (which results in a rushed second half) and instead concentrates on the 'decadent' goings on of the three men (with a brief bit of breast baring, in the uncut print, as a strutting Courtley walks through the Brothel) and their relationships with each other and their Families.

The performances here by Sallis, Carson and especially Keen (given a truly obnoxious, hypocritical character who punishes his Daughter, the ever sexy Linda Hayden, for even talking to a man, in this case Paxton's Son, Paul, played by "Vampire Circus's" Anthony Higgins) are good though and their sinful goings on in the outlandish Brothel are enjoyably camp. All this, when added to the scenes of the wonderfully mad and cock sure Courtley (a great turn by Bates) helps to keep the viewer entertained while waiting for Drac to pop up.

When he does, Lee is obviously running on automatic and the gothic menace the character had in "...Risen From the Grave", has been subdued as The Count rather lifelessly (ha ha) drifts through the film taking his revenge. And the plot is also rather dubious anyway. Would Dracula really care at all about Courtley's death? Surely all Humans are simply prey or tools to be used as he desires?

Of more interest here are the other characters. As well as the three sinful 'gentlemen' and Courtley (obviously based on the infamous goings on of the real-life 'Hellfire Club') we have a nice turn by 'Hammer' regular Michael Ripper as the Worlds least sympathetic Policeman. But, after Bate's delightfully fiendish turn, the highlight is delightful Ms Hayden, whose character thankfully goes from shrinking violet to nasty 'Drac follower'. And it's during these latter scenes that Hayden shines. Right from her debut performance in "Baby Love" to her iconic turn in "Blood on Satan's Claw" she has always been best when playing bad.

Other than the acting though most of the film is only average. Even the Cinematography by Arthur Grant, who did such a good job on "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave", is noticeably lacklustre and sadly none of the unusual lighting effects used in "…Risen", to create some nicely 'Gothic' effects, are on show, and that's a big letdown.

The direction by Sasdy (a pretty mediocre Director who gave us the infamous Joan Collins/sleazy Dwarf epic "I Don't want To be Born", and who would shine only briefly with the excellent "Hands of the Ripper") is workman like and only in the Brothel/Courtley scenes does he show any real interest in the material.

The script by Anthony Hinds is also at it's best during these sequences where he gives us some entertaining characters. The rest is the normal 'Hammer' clichés up until the unexpectedly religious ending, where we are treated to Dracula's bizarre 'power of God' hallucination sequence that sees The Lord's light transform the rotten church into a shining temple of Christian worship. It's the only explicit showing of God's presence, or direct involvement),in the entire series of "Dracula" films (unless you count the perfectly timed and aimed lightning bolt in the lame "Scars of Dracula") and makes for a nicely different, if strange finale.
Hinds', as he did with the controversial 'stake removal' in "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave", also bends the Vampire rules. Whereas previous disintegration demises of Dracula have resulted in nothing more than some grey dust, here he has the Vampire's crimson powder blood remain behind.
This was probably just to help the basic plot unfold, but when added to Weller just happening to come across Dracula's destruction, plus the equally unlikely scene in "…Risen from the Grave", where the Priest just happens to fall, crack the ice and bleed exactly where a frozen Count is lying, creates the intriguing idea that some kind of 'evil power' watches over Dracula, manipulates destiny and even alters the 'nature' of the Vampire to aid in Dracula's resurrection.

So we have a perfectly watchable "Dracula" movie, that's actually at it's best when not directly concentrating on Dracula himself (whom 'Hammer' had obviously run out of ideas for), that although never pushing it's lead character or 'Hammer' films themselves into any fresh territory still manages to entertain due to it's characters and the acting on show.

But it was now 1970 and the movie World was about to move into a decade that would give us controversial titles "Straw Dogs", "Taxi Driver" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
Horror would become more violent and explicit and 'Hammers' films like "Taste the Blood of Dracula" seemed far from what 'horror' would become.
'Hammer' would soon create such gems as "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell", "Twins of Evil" and "Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter" but even these (and the added nudity and blood in a lot of their titles) would not compete in the 'savage cinema' of the 70's, and soon 'Hammer' would find their films given scant distribution (especially to the vital American market) with poor box office returns.

As the finest decade (along with the latter half of the 60's) in British horror film production crawled to it's end, 'Hammer', despite putting up a brave fight, would crumble away. Just like their famous Vampire