Monday, September 29, 2014

Hammer Dracula: Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970)

Taste The Blood Of Dracula
Director: Peter Sasdy
Starring:  Christopher Lee, Goeffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Anthony Higgins, Isla Blair, Ralph Bates
Rated: R

I have no further use for you!

Even if he doesn't want to, Dracula manages to return.  Christopher Lee kept becoming increasingly reluctant to come back and play Dracula again and again.  Your icon did not want to relish in being an icon.  He felt it was a waste of his time and Hammer's time doing these films.  Lee felt Hammer was just treading water doing these.  Little did he know with what has always been true in the horror genre, if the fans keep coming, and the money keeps rolling in, you keep making them.  And considering Risen From The Grave was the most successful entry to date, a follow up was pretty much guaranteed.  
Hammer wanted to grant Lee's wishes and keep him from the film.  They planned to go Dracula-less like Brides, but this time introduce a new character to take over the lead vampire role for the franchise and make movies with him leading the charge instead.  Lord Courtley was to be the next Dracula.  This was all good to go until US distributors got a look at the preproduction, script and plans for the fifth Dracula film and scoffed.  They told Hammer that if the film did not feature Lee in the title role, then it would not get released in theaters in America.  So, Hammer had to go back and beg Lee to once again be in the movie.  Lord Courtley is still in the script, but instead of becoming a menacing vampire himself, he simply transforms into Dracula.
Its impressive how Hammer has made the set ups to these Dracula stories very unique in their own right in the last two films.  The first three dealt with basically people wandering into a strange house and discovering all the vampire stuff and moving from there into a traditional vampire story.  And starting with Prince Of Darkness the strength of these films have been bonded on how much you're invested in the characters outside of Dracula.  This is mainly due to Lee's involvement being as minimal as you can get as to lighten his shooting schedule.  These films could have easily just been a formulaic repetitive cycle, but that is mainly saved for the latter two acts.  The first act of these films have been quite marginally different and that helps to suck us in a bit more.
Taste's setup find these three bureaucratic guys (originally four, Vincent Price reportedly was cut for budgetary reasons) who have felt they've done everything in life and are bored.  So, why not follow some satanists advice and raise up Dracula from the dead?   I find fun in the fact that it starts with the guy who happens to stumble upon Dracula dying from the previous film and pics up all of his remains only to reluctantly sell them to these gentleman.  Later, where they all are surrounding the church alter with blood goblets is one of the best scenes in the series so far too.  I love the goopy blood filling up their cups.  Just think of it, this big, abandoned gothic church, with all these guys sitting around the cobwebbed altar with goblets and a satanists before them reciting some sorcery, cutting his hand and dripping his blood into the powder of Dracula's remains into their goblets which then overflows with bubbling blood.  Then, he's all like "let's drink!".  It doesn't get much more Hammer Horror than that, classic gothic terror in its finest.  
What happens after this film does create a sort of conundrum.  Dracula goes for revenge on these guys for killing Courtley.  However, it was these guys who had the money to buy and resurrect the dark prince.  And by killing Courtley, Dracula was able to overtake his body.  Shouldn't he be finding them at home and sending them thank you cards?  Okay, well, he's Dracula, these guys aren't vampires (and they're bad people), so I guess, just go ahead and do away with them.  But, what's more interesting is these guys when they return to their lives, disturbed at what's happened and what they've done.  The Hargood fella is an even worse villain than Dracula in the film as he returns to heavy drinking and attempts to beat his daughter.  This is the villainy going after the villainy in this one.
This story finds us dwelling in things we have before once Dracula returns, but I think Taste manages to ramp up the sexuality of it all.  The women behave a bit more freely and we get a better glimpse into Dracula's overpowering of them.  He doesn't even have to turn them to put them into his control.  Also, one of our first stops in the movie is at a brothel and in a private room during the bureaucrat guys' little weird sex party.  And leading this charge is a very flamboyant, "powdery" man.  There were hints to homosexuality and lesbianism in the previous Dracula installments, but this one more out and out just bluntly comes out with it in comparison.  Maybe back then it could have been very in your face, but as I watch it now I really dig how nonchalant and this is just how it is with everything.  There's no choice to make it a spectacle, it all just plays natural which films today even seem to have a hard time understanding.
Dracula (and Baron Meinster) has been extinguished in such inventive and cool ways in the four films leading up this.  And with a lot of the gore and gothic horror leading up to the finale, he has to go out the best right?  WRONG.  The climax of this movie is some weak sauce.  Not only is Dracula kind of dumb and totally miss that his headquarters is a church and OF COURSE there are crosses everywhere, but his demise is super lame.  He just merely falls about ten feet onto an altar (now redesigned with a white cloth and christian candles) and turns to dust.  That's it.  This following him falling and getting brutally impaled on a cross is just a whimper.  Is that all they could come up with for this?  The end is so disappointing it leaves a bit of a bad 'taste' in your mouth.   
I guess these sequels can really be judged on the strengths of their first act, non-Dracula character drama and how they do away with Dracula in the finale.  This one starts of really good and then starts to slowly get less and less, but has some good material mixed in.   Then the finale comes and is really unsatisfactory.  For the most part this movie does its best to keep up with what came before and doesn't really feel like the franchise is too tired just yet until you get to the very end.  Its just Dracula throwing stuff from a balcony and making rage faces.  So, yeah, starts of great with some promise but slowly progresses in the down direction and then does its best not to win you back at the very end with Dracula's demise.

NEXT TIME:  Well, I guess that fall must've hurt because it left some SCARS

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