Dracula Has Risen From The Grave R1 Review
By the time Hammer got round to making their fourth ‘Dracula’ film, times had changed in international cinema. The violence which they had helped to introduce into mainstream filmmaking had become shockingly explicit and the sex at which they originally had to hint was beginning to become almost as graphic as the bloodletting. It’s not surprising then that Dracula Has Risen From The Grave comes across as an uneasy film which falls down a crack in between the old Hammer style and the new in-your-face horror heralded in America by the same year’s Night of the Living Dead . That said, it’s considerably more interesting than Dracula Prince of Darkness and in visual terms, it’s one of the most stylish Hammer films of the period.
A year after the death of Count Dracula in Dracula Prince Of Darkness, the nearby town remains troubled by their position in the shadow of his castle. A botched attempt by a well-meaning Monsignor (Davies) to exorcise and seal the castle results in Dracula returning to terrorise the village and the one beyond, where the Monsignor’s niece Maria (Carlson) resides. Soon, she and her boyfriend Paul (Andrews) are directly threatened by the infamous vampire.
What immediately strikes you about Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is the visuals created by Freddie Francis and Arthur Grant, his DP. Although both of them were old Hammer reliables, they work together to impressive effect here. The film is full of rich colours, inventive lighting and a use of coloured filters which is either gorgeously expressive or ludicrously excessive, depending on personal taste. Every scene seems to have been framed with a fanatical care which would have seemed vastly over-fussy to a director such as Terence Fisher. The problem with this is that it begins to create an impression that visual style is being used to cover over the cracks in a very fragile narrative. To be honest, not very much happens and we’re stuck for lengthy sequences with two of Hammer’s most deeply boring young lovers. The lack of a worthy opponent for Dracula is also deeply felt. In Dracula Prince of Darkness, we lost Peter Cushing’s marvellous Van Helsing but gained Andrew Keir’s memorably flamboyant Shandor. In this movie, the only opposition comes from Barry Andrews – the dull young hero – and Rupert Davies, a good actor given virtually nothing to work with. The obnoxious drunken youths and the gibbering locals in the village pub are entirely forgettable – with the honourable exception of the splendid Michael Ripper – and the women could easily be interchanged with the female characters in twenty other Hammer movies. As a case in point, Veronica Carlson looks lovely and acts reasonably well but she doesn’t seem to have a particularly distinctive character to play and eventually comes off as a cross between Barbara Shelley and Melissa Stribling. It doesn’t help that the film can’t decide whether to present her as willing and sexually available or a virgin corrupted by Dracula. Her (unseen) bedroom antics with Paul suggest that she’s not a virgin but how then are we to interpret the scene where she throws her childhood doll aside in orgasmic ecstasy ? As Jonathan Rigby points out in his indispensable guide to British horror, “English Gothic”, the story and characters are continually seconded to whatever visual tricks the director can come up with.
Christopher Lee is top-billed as usual, but he only utters 56 words and he isn’t given a great deal to do for the majority of the film. This was also a problem in Dracula Prince of Darkness. Once the story gets going, he has a fine, maniacal presence but in some respects, the character seems to be diminished. He takes a hell of a long time to take centre stage and a lot of things are delegated to his accomplice, the errant priest nicely played by Ewan Hooper. New narrative devices like the famous scene where he tears the stake out of his heart because the staking was not accompanied by the correct prayers are very clever but they don’t make sense, nor do they have a great deal to do with the character as established in previous films. The lack of narrative logic begins to become a little wearing. How did the girl get into the bell at the start of the film when Dracula would have had to enter hallowed ground in order to put her there ? Why is Dracula able to come back to life so quickly and in such a random manner ? Why does the Monsignor have such a sudden change of heart regarding Paul – one minute he’s calling him a blasphemer, the next he’s treating him like a potential relative. Why can Dracula not touch a crucifix in one scene and tear one off someone’s neck in another ?
To be fair, there are some very good things here. As stated above, the film looks stunning and the images have a lustre which is a long way away from the somewhat flat look of Dracula Prince of Darkness - a turgid, poorly directed film which I like less and less every time I see it. Occasionally, the visual coups are genuinely remarkable. The best has to be Dracula’s quite extraordinary death scene. After falling, in a slightly unlikely manner, onto a golden cross, Dracula cries tears of blood and, for once, has the tragic nobility of the character in the original book. Freddie Francis also makes the most of the slightly more lenient censorship which was extant by 1968. There’s a lot more blood in this movie than in the previous three ‘Dracula’ films made by the studio, making the big set-pieces, particularly the two stakings, considerably more gory. I quite like this myself but it could also be quite reasonably argued that the original Terence Fisher Dracula got by very well without an excess of bloodletting. This more explicit approach led, two years later, to Scars Of Dracula, probably the nastiest film that Hammer ever made. The film’s approach to sex is a little bit franker too – lower necklines, more orgasmic shrieks – although nothing compared to what was to come in 1970’s The Vampire Lovers. Even if, like me, you don’t like what’s done to the Dracula legend in the film, you’re likely to find it highly entertaining and it’s paced at a decent enough trot to delay your doubts until the end credits have rolled.
One of Warner’s recent triptych of Hammer movies, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is presented on a reasonably pleasing disc. It’s worth pointing out that this is the full, uncut version of the film and not the heavily cut version released in the USA with a ‘G’ rating – although that rating still appears on the box.
The film is framed at 1.85 and has been anamorphically enhanced. It looks very nice indeed in this transfer and there’s plenty of fine detail to appreciate. Blacks are solid and deep and the all-important colours come across quite dazzlingly. The level of grain varies between the appropriately filmic and the obnoxiously fuzzy sequences to used to establish the weather in the first half hour. Occasionally speckling is present and a small amount of artifacting but overall this is pretty impressive.
The English mono soundtrack does the job very nicely indeed. Clear dialogue, no hiss and very effective music.
The only extra is the original US theatrical trailer. This is a bit camp, although not as overwhelmingly silly as the American promotional campaign which included a poster of a woman with sticking plaster on her neck and the legend, “Dracula Has Risen From The Grave.... Obviously!”
There are 23 chapter stops and the film is subtitled in English, French and Spanish.
Although there are things to like about Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, it’s nothing like a good as the next film in the series, Taste The Blood Of Dracula. Essential viewing for Hammer fans though, of course, and Warner’s DVD presents it fairly well, despite the disappointing lack of extra features.