Here’s a film that isn’t just deserving of some love but a decent DVD release as well. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack album in the car for the last couple of weeks, and despite having not seen the film in a long while (and never on DVD) I watched it so many times when I was a youngster I can probably recite all the dialogue and do a pretty reasonable one-man performance of this one if given half an opportunity.
It’s 1973 and strange things are happening at Pelham House, where a group of wealthy industrialists and politicians have been gathered together by magnate D D Denham to participate in black magic rituals with the promise of even greater power. One of their number, Professor Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones), is working on a new, even more lethal version of bubonic plague so the group can hold governments to ransom. MI5 infiltrate the organisation but their undercover operation is a disaster, with their agent barely escaping with his life and dying soon afterwards. Before he does, however, he gives details of the rituals, resulting in Colonel Matthews (Richard Vernon), Torrence (William Franklyn) and Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) calling in Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing - hooray!) for advice. He discovers that D D Denham is in fact Dracula (Christopher Lee - who else?) who has been resurrected from his burial place at St Botolph’s church in DRACULA AD 1972. In fact a tower block belonging to the Denham group of companies has been built on the site of the now demolished church. The plague is, in fact, not a ransom device but Dracula’s means of destroying the entire world so that he can finally die and be at peace, but not before he's had his final revenge on the family of van Helsing by vampirising his daughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley).
It’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is quite possibly one of my favourite vampire films ever. Despite the action scenes and the attempts to perhaps make this more like a James Bond film, there’s actually a bleak, gloomy despondency to the entire proceedings and you really do get the feeling that this is the end of the Hammer series and possibly the end of the world as well. Having Dracula as the leader of a corrupt band of British politicians and businessmen is a masterstroke and could successfully be redone today, with only the afghan coats and a few other fashions needing to be updated to make this frighteningly relevant. I’ve never found vampires romantic or mysteriously appealing - to me they should be hideous bloodsucking monsters that wish to do nothing more than take advantage of the innocent and bleed them dry. The allegories here are a bit obvious but it’s a shame this film wasn’t allowed the chance to prove itself (distribution was apparently appalling and if you look at the UK poster the Hammer name wasn’t even played upon). Available in a variety of grotty transfers this is one film that deserves a proper transfer and a commentary from surviving cast and crew. And an understated contemporary version of this really could be a classic.