Saturday, October 10, 2009

Christopher Lee at His Bloody Best in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

The fourth entry in Hammer’s Dracula series is one of the studio’s best films, even without the presence of Peter Cushing’s dynamic Van Helsing. It opens with a terrific prologue featuring a church bell that doesn’t ring and a dead girl with two puncture marks on her neck. To say more would spoil the effect. However, the story proper begins when a visiting Monsignor discovers that a village in his district remains in the “shadow of evil”—even though Count Dracula has been destroyed. Determined to set things right again, the Monsignor convinces the frightened village priest to accompany him to Dracula’s castle to perform an exorcism.

After an arduous trek through the mountains, the Monsignor completes his mission. Unfortunately, the priest, who has lagged behind his elder, inadvertently revives Dracula. Unable to resist the powerful vampire, the priest becomes Dracula’s disciple. Needless to say, Dracula is not pleased to find a huge cross barring the door to his estate (“Who’s done this thing?” he demands). Forcing the priest to assist him, the vampire count plots his bloody revenge against the Monsignor.

The eyes of Dracula!
The theme of religion com-bating the evil of vampirism is not an uncommon one, but rarely has it received such a full treatment. The three men who combine to destroy Dracula run the gamut from believer to atheist. The Monsignor is a man with great faith in God. The priest is a believer who has lost his way. Paul, the young man engaged to the Monsignor’s niece, fancies himself an intellectual who questions the existence of God. His rejection of religion plays a pivotal role in a scene where he faces Dracula, but is unable to destroy him.

Veronica Carlson as Maria.
Rupert Davies gives a strong performance as the stalwart Monsignor Muller, a fatherly figure with a will of iron. However, the film is very much an ensemble piece, with equal quality screen time going to Christopher Lee’s vicious vampire, Ewan Hooper’s struggling priest, and Veronica Carlson’s innocent, but sensual, Maria (the Monsignor’s niece and Dracula’s target for vengeance). If there’s a weakness in the cast, it’s Barry Andrews’ Paul, whose rock-star looks and attitude come across as a little too modern.

Maria and Paul on the rooftop.
Although vibrant color was always a Hammer trademark, director Freddie Francis took it to another level in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. The shot of Dracula’s castle at sunset, surrounded by a surreal shade of orange, gives the image an otherworldly quality. He achieves a similar effect by using reddish-orange filters whenever Dracula appears. His most striking photography, however, is reserved for the sequences in which characters run along the rooftops to travel through the city. These highly atmospheric scenes are reminiscent of shorter sequences in Hitchcock’s Vertigo and To Catch a Thief.

Though perhaps not on par with the earlier Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave remains a surprising and highly satisfying entry in the series. It was also Hammer’s last great Dracula film. There would still be interesting experiments (e.g., The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), but nothing to rise to this standard.

6 comments:

  1. Rick, this is one of my favorite vampire movies. I love the Hammer movies with Christopher Lee playing the Dracula. I think he plays a chillingly sexy Dracula. I love the beginning of this movie when the priest cuts his head and cracks the ice allowing his blood to seep through the crack to resurect the evil vampire. I bet that pleased Dracula to have blood from a priest. I also like the ending of this movie, but don't want to give it away. I agree it is not quite as good as Horrow of Dracula nor Brides of Dracula, but it is my third favorite in the Hammer vampire films.

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  2. Rick, this is yet another excellent post about a very good Hammer movie. I think that the study of faith is a fascinating theme to explore and it was done very capably here. It is a sign of quality movie making when you realize that the always talented Peter Cushing isn't present yet the story holds up very well without him. It is atmospheric and suspenseful as the unfaithful priest chooses evil over right.

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  3. I still think Terence Fisher was one of the very best directors to work for Hammer, but Freddie Francis was equally great, and his work is underrated. This particular film is, I'd say, the best representation of his skills. I agree that the rooftop scenes are excellent, and Dracula's castle is just so hauntingly beautiful. DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is rich with atmosphere and, sadly, most the subsequent films of the Dracula series are lacking in that quality (although SCARS OF DRACULA comes close). I concur with Aki in that Christopher Lee was a splendid Dracula (my personal fave) and with toto in that the film holds up even without the almighty Peter Cushing. And, of course, this film has Veronica Carlson, and that's always a plus. Most excellent review, Rick!

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  4. Thanks, Hammer fans! If I hadn't blogged on BRIDES OF DRACULA earlier this year, it would have been my first choice for a Hammer Dracula picture. But I do like DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and it has improved significantly with repeat viewings.

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  5. Rick, iam not really into vampire movies. but.... this one sounds very good. i might try watching it.. 8-O

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  6. Rick, I just wanted you to know that I just finished watching DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. Your review was so good, I decided I had to watch it again. I didn't care much for Paul either, Rick. I think Maria should have chosen to be "the bride of Dracula." Christoper Lee looked more charming than Barry. Sark, my husband agrees with you that Veronica Carlson is a beautiful woman. Enjoyed the movie and thanks for the review to remind to watch again, Rick.

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