Most people visiting this site will be aware of Christopher Lee’s connection with a certain Lord Of The Undead. After all he did play the part 7 times for Hammer movies and once for Jess Franco. He also narrated and presented a documentary entitled In Search Of Dracula.
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Add to this his admiration for Stokers original novel and his despair that no one has faithfully adapted it to the screen (so far) one can understand why the character has held a fascination for many of his fans, including me.
Whilst Hammers original Dracula was a landmark in Christopher Lee’s career as well as launching Hammer films as major players in the worldwide market it was a mixed blessing for its star. Despite many varied movie roles during the Dracula years, the characters’ shadow loomed large and typecast Christopher Lee in the minds of many, including narrow minded producers.
Those days are long gone now and Christopher Lee is well established as one of the most respected and hardest working actors in the world. Star Wars & Lord Of The Rings have brought him to a new generation of filmgoers who were totally unaware of his vampiric past.
Now that all of Christopher Lee’s Dracula films are available on DVD and Dracula has been reissued in cinemas, I though I’d post my personal opinions on each of them
So…….. here goes.
Dracula (Horror Of Dracula)
The first from Hammer and by far the best. From Jimmy Sangster’s lean script to Terence Fishers inspired direction this was the Dracula film fans had been waiting for.
The cleverest touch was having handsome and suave Christopher Lee portray the Count. His entrance as he comes down the stairs and calmly greets Jonathan Harker must have taken 50’s audiences aback. Only later when he displays his true intent in full colour gory glory does the film play its first ace. This is scary stuff indeed and the blood was red for the first time.
Lee is ably supported by long time friend Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. As with Dracula I can’t watch anyone else in the role without thinking “not quite as good “
Yes, it’s not exactly Stokers Dracula but it certainly feels like it. The settings and locations have been trimmed down and changed due to budget constraints and many characters just do not exist for the same reason. None of this matters as the true essence of the tale comes across so well. For good or bad Christopher Lee had made the part his own.
It’s not just my favourite Dracula film but it’s one of my favourite British films of all time. 10/10
Dracula Prince Of Darkness
This may have been the first Hammer Dracula film I saw as a young lad and as such I hold a certain affection for it. Yes it takes almost 40 mins to get to Dracula, yes he has no dialogue and yes the ending may be a bit off (stumbling into the water) but the rest of the film more than makes up for these deficiencies.
The build up works very well as the travellers find themselves guests at Castle Dracula. Barbara Shelly in particular is on top form as she changes from prissy schoolmistress to sexy vampire.
Christopher Lee states that he remained silent during the film because of the awful script. Jimmy Sangster, who wrote the script, maintains that he never wrote any dialogue for Dracula as the character was already established as a monster.
Whatever the reason, having a mute Dracula doesn’t harm the film at all. Especially when played by someone so skilled in mime and gesture as Christopher Lee.
Andrew Keirs character of Father Sandor is a fascinating one and he’s almost as good as Van Helsing as Draculas nemesis. His adventures continued for years in comic book form but his name was changed to Shandor for some reason.
After a long wait for Lee to reprise his role it was worth it……….. a great sequel. 9/10
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
Freddie Francis sat in the directors’ chair for this one and his background as a cinematographer is the films biggest plus point. His use of filters gives the film a unique look from any other in the series.
He also gives much of the screen time over to the young lovers played by Veronica Carlson & Barry Andrews. Their relationship is at the heart of the picture and it was the beginning of Dracula as almost a secondary character. It’s still a hugely enjoyable film and gives us some marvellous set pieces.
The scene where Dracula is staked and fails to die because a priest will not say a prayer whilst ridiculous is terrifying. It again shows what can be done with a scene when it’s played for all it’s worth. Lee was unhappy with it but when viewed today it comes across as one of the films highlights despite the inaccuracy.
This film also features my favourite Dracula death scene after the original. When the Count fell onto the huge cross at the films finale I was in movie geek heaven.
Stirring stuff indeed. 8/10
Taste The Blood Of Dracula
At the time this movie was being prepared Hammer was considering a new Dracula. One without Christopher Lee. Whether it was down to money or demographics a script was commissioned with Ralph Bates scheduled to appear as Lord Courtney. During a séance Draculas spirit was to inhabit Courtney and Ralph would be the new Dracula.
Thankfully American distributors would have none of it and demanded Christopher Lee or no one.
Good for the fans but not so good for Lee or the Dracula character. The Count was now reduced to appearing now and again as a bogeyman counting off his victims.
What the film does offer however is an interesting tale on Victorian values and hypocrisy. As usual Hammer managed to attract a top notch cast and the film itself is paced to perfection.
Whilst not the best platform for the Dracula character or Christopher Lee’s talents it is, nonetheless, a highly entertaining 90 mins.
Scars Of Dracula
A strange one this. Whilst it’s the most violent and bloody of the Hammer Draculas, it’s also the most unintentionally funny.
It doesn’t help that it’s also one of the most cheaply made. The rubber bats are a disgrace and the sets look far too neat and new.
The hero played by Dennis Waterman has to be the most boring yet and while Jennie Hanley was pretty she wasn’t much of an actress at all.
As usual Christopher Lee gamely strides through the whole proceedings with an air of authority and purpose sadly lacking in the rest of the production.
Lee gets the chance to speak some Stoker dialogue and the scene of him scaling the castle walls comes across well but that’s about it.
Someone once nicknamed Scars Of Dracula “Carry On Dracula”. I think that sums it up rather nicely.
The idea to bring the count to modern day London was an interesting one. Unfortunately once there all the script allowed him to do was wander about an abandoned church. That was the main problem with this film but there’s a lot to like.
I know the hip cats as played by Caroline Munro, Christopher Neame and the rest are over the top but that adds to the appeal.
This is a film full of colour, new ideas and a sense of fun. Again Dracula has been reduced to a supporting role but what we do have is the return of Cushing’s’ Van Helsing.
The pre credit sequence featuring a battle to the death between Dracula & Van Helsing is worth the price of the move alone. It’s a great piece of cinema.
Despite Dracula being stuck in a gothic churchyard Lee again conveys menace and loneliness in equal measures. He was already dismayed regarding the character and more so the situations Hammer had placed him in but you would never know from his performance.
This is not a film to be taken too seriously and it’s far from a perfect Dracula film but it is great fun.
The Satanic Rites Of Dracula
A direct sequel to AD this has a far more interesting premise.
The Count is intent on releasing a plague that will destroy all mankind. In doing so he will destroy his food source. Could this be his attempt at suicide? Maybe, whatever the reason it sets the scene for an enjoyable thriller.
I say thriller because it comes across like an episode of The Avengers but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The film has many good ideas and set pieces but It could have done with some of the fun element present in AD.
This is a more sombre and well produced movie than its predecessor but it has a cold feeling about it that stops me from emotionally connecting with it.
Top marks to Hammer for finally attempting to give Dracula something interesting to do and to Lee for insisting on a direct lift from Stokers dialogue.
It does feature the worst death scene as Dracula simply trips into a hawthorn bush but thankfully Cushing steps in to drive a fence post in just when needed.
Not the best way for the series to have ended but still a well made addition to the saga.
Count Dracula (El Conde Dracula)
Jess Franco assembled a dream cast for this attempt at a faithful recreation of Stokers classic tale.
Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski and Herbert Lom. He also had some wonderful locations. How could he go wrong?
Well, he did. Unfortunately for him and the rest of us, he’s just not a very good director.
I’ve watched this movie a few times and each time I do I try my best to like it.
It just doesn’t work. From the dreadfully slow pace to Franco’s overuse of the zoom lens the whole thing seems amateurish.
It’s a shame because Lee looks the part and there’s a good film struggling to get out.
It just never happens.
An interesting movie but ultimately a wasted opportunity.
Well folks that’s it from me. A purely personal view. Regardless of the merits of each film one thing remains true. When it comes to playing Dracula, Christopher Lee set the standard by which all other actors will have to try and measure up to.
There have been a few noble attempts since but no one’s come close and I don’t think anyone will.