Scars of Dracula Review

The Film
Christopher Lee played Dracula for Hammer 7 times in all. The films varied wildly in quality, in one film (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) he refused to utter a word, as the scripted dialogue was so awful. Scars of Dracula is the 4th Dracula film he did and it was notable as being the most gory/gruesome entry in the series. Personally I’ve always been a great fan of Hammer films, especially Dracula ones. As a kid I was always allowed to stay up and watch Hammer films or the old Universal monster films (my other childhood love). This is probably where my love for horror began …

Scars of Dracula wastes no time with boring preamble. Within 10-minutes Dracula has been revived, returned to his old ways and has had his castle partially burnt down for his trouble. His faithful servant Klove (Troughton) looks after him and helps him in his evil ways along with a collection bats that do his bidding. Then the action abruptly switches to a town over the border and a couple in love, Simon Carlsen (Dennis Waterman) and Sarah Framsen (Jenny Handley). Simon’s Brother (Christopher Matthews) has fled town after being caught inflagrante delicto with the Burgomaster’s daughter. He of course flees as far as castle Dracula where Dracula and his servant are only too pleased to put him up! Simon and Sarah inevitably investigate and track him down and the rest of the film is pretty much by-the-numbers.

As Dracula plots go this one is about as run of the mill as you can get. The characters aren’t particularly well defined and the whole thing is predictable from beginning to end. There are no real surprises and the plot shuffles along relentlessly towards its conclusion. The gore and violence are more pronounced in this film, which is interesting, but for the most part this seems out of place. Dracula has never been about buckets of blood and seeing Lee as Dracula stab someone to death seems completely out of character.

However it isn’t all bad news. Hammer films always have a certain charm to them and this one is no different. As usual the film seems to be a showcase of British TV talent. Seeing Arthur’s sidekick from Minder and the girl who made things out of yoghurt pots in Magpie outwit Dracula is an amusing treat. Also Benny Hill’s sidekick Bob Todd has a hilarious cameo as the Burgomaster (In fact the scene could have appeared in the Benny Hill Show). Finally a special mention must go to Michael Ripper who plays the innkeeper. You may not know his name but you would recognise him instantly. He has appeared in numerous Hammer productions and is always a good solid performer. Lee regards him as being the embodiment of Hammer and who am I to argue.

Unfortunately the performances as a whole aren’t that great to be honest. Lee and Troughton easily out act everyone on the screen by a country mile. Lee has pretty good dialogue and makes the most of it. Meanwhile Troughton resists the temptation to put on a Renfield impression and as a result really makes a mark. Waterman and Hanley are wooden at best with little warmth between them. He is constantly trying to find his brother but doesn’t seem that bothered and neither of them seems that terrified of Dracula.

Similarly the direction and cinematography is average at best. The compositions are staid and dull and for the most part the whole thing looks “stagey”. Also 90% of the film is meant to be at night, yet all of the “night” scenes are actually shot “day for night”. Whilst films sometimes use this method for the odd scene it seems bizarre to shoot all of it “day for night” as it never looks right and this film is no exception. Visually this makes the film as predictable as the plot. For example the close-up on Dracula’s blood red eyes is overused and you can spot the next shot coming a mile off if you know what to look for. Saying that there are more inventive moments such as Dracula torturing Klove, which is very effective and also the discovery of the remains in the Church by the Townsmen.

Whilst the gruesome special effects are impressive I must take a moment to mention the bats. Bats rarely work well in old films and especially in Hammer films. The bats here are no exception to the rule. They are obviously rubber and they bounce pathetically on the end of wires. The bizarre thing is that the scriptwriter must have known they were difficult to do and yet the plot calls for them to be used extensively.

This isn’t vintage Hammer by any means. Then again a lot of Hammer was predictable with mediocre acting. Despite all these flaws the film is still enjoyable to watch. Lee is always watchable and Dracula films are rarely a waste of time.

The Disc
This is my first experience of Anchor Bay’s Hammer Collection and I have to say that if they are all this quality then I’ll be buying more! The packaging and artwork is plain and understated whilst the single sheet chapter card details the 25 chapter stops. The menus are animated and in keeping with film (if a little too campy).

This is about as good as we could realistically hope for. The print is 1.85:1 anamorphic as it was originally shown and seems pretty clean with only the odd bit of damage noticeable. The print has a certain amount of grain but I’m guessing this is due to the source print. The transfer itself is well done. The picture isn’t pin sharp but then again what do you expect for a film this old and with this budget. There are numerous dark scenes but these are rendered well with a high level of shadow detail and a good black level. Similarly the colours are vibrant for the most part with only the odd scene looking a little washed out.

As is normally the case with less popular Anchor Bay releases this one only has its original mono track. This track is accomplished and about as good as you get from this sort of source. The sound is a bit flat and lacks range but it is clear with audible dialogue throughout. Hiss is minimal and my untrained ears enjoyed the track.

Here is where things become a little more interesting. This is actually a 2-disc package and the set claims to be a limited edition. When I ordered it there was no indication that it came with the second extras disc but it is very welcome, as you will see. It could be that this set is always supplied with the second disc but you may want to check with your supplier before purchasing.

The first disc contains film specific extras as follows…

Commentary with Christopher Lee, director Roy Ward Baker and Marcus Hearn (Hammer expert). This is a great commentary despite its numerous long silences. The information imparted is not necessarily film specific and also gives us a lot of anecdotes regarding Hammer itself. It is a real pleasure listening to these two chat away and Hearn helps to keep things moving along by asking questions and prompting the contributors as the commentary progresses.

Apart from this there is a trailer, stills gallery and the usual biographies, which are about as interesting as these things ever are.

The second disc contains a documentary called “The Many Faces of Christopher Lee”. This runs for approximately one hour and consists of a long interview with Lee interspersed with clips from his films. It was produced in 1996 and it covers certain Hammer films with anecdotes about each one. This is a fascinating piece and is a worthwhile extra that bumps up the content for this package considerably. Amongst others he talks about Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Three Musketeers, Fu Manchu and most notably The Devil Rides Out. Oddly enough he doesn’t talk about Scars of Dracula so this documentary might be included in other Hammer Collection releases (But don’t hold me to that).

This disc also contains two music videos done by Christopher Lee & Gary Curtis, O Sole O Mio/It’s Now or Never and She’ll fall for me. It turns out that Lee is a pretty good singer to tell the truth and in the second video his part is spoken (very odd). Both videos seem to have been done quite recently and are either hilarious or intriguing depending on your point of view… they are certainly an unusual addition to a horror disc and gave me a big laugh.

This isn’t a classic Hammer film but it is certainly watchable, especially for fans like me. The disc is a pretty good one with decent picture and sound and an excellent commentary. If you also get the second disc with this package then it is definitely worth the money and it is a great addition to any horror collection.

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