Monday, October 26, 2015

Hammer's Dracula Films Ranked from Best to Worst

David Peel as Baron Meinster.
1. The Brides of Dracula (1960). This should be no surprise to readers of this blog. Indeed, I recently ranked Brides among my top five choices for the greatest horror films of all time. It's a first-rate affair from start to finish with strong performances, interesting themes, and an exciting, inventive climax. The only thing it's missing is Count Dracula--but David Peel's Baron Meinster is a worthy substitute. Less physically threatening than Christopher Lee's vampire, the charming, handsome Meinster may be a more dangerous adversary. One of the film's best scenes is when the sweet Marianne introduces her paternal friend Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to her new boyfriend.

Dracula is staked--but not for long.
2. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). Vastly underrated, this lively tale has a revived Dracula (Lee) seeking revenge against a Monsignor who has "desecrated" his ancestral home by performing an exorcism. The theme of religion combating the evil of vampirism is not an uncommon one, but rarely has it received such a rich treatment. The film also benefits from director Freddie Francis' brilliant cinematography, some fabulous rooftop sets, and a solid cast. Veronica Carlson may be the most fetching of all Hammer heroines (well, let's call it a tie with Caroline Munro..and Valerie Leon).

Van Helsing's makeshift crucifix.
3. Horror of Dracula (aka Dracula) (1958). The one that started it all is an effective adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. The opening scenes with Jonathan Harker at Castle Dracula and the climatic confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing are marvelous. My only complaint is that the pacing drags in the middle when the action shifts to England. Still, it set the standard not only for the rest of the Dracula series, but for all the Hammer vampire films that followed it. James Bernard's exceptional score would become very familiar to Hammer fans.

John Forbes Robertson as Dracula.
4. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Who would have thought that a mashup of vampires, kung fu, and The Seven Samurai would be so much fun? When Dracula and some unconventional vampires take over a small Chinese village, its residents send for visiting lecturer Van Helsing (Cushing). The journey to the village, punctuated by some well-staged fight scenes, sets the table for an all-out climax that ends with another Dracula-Van Helsing face-off. Be sure to skip the heavily re-edited version called The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula.

Barbara Shelley as a vampire.
5. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1964). Although well-made and sporting an impressive cast, the direct sequel to Horror of Dracula lacks inspiration. Christopher Lee seldom has much dialogue in the Dracula films, but, in this one, he has none! The premise, which injects attractive English tourists into the Transylvanian landscape, seems recycled from the previous year's superior Kiss of the Vampire. Still, there are some nice touches, such as how Barbara Shelley goes from a dull lass to a smoking-hot vampire.

Lee strikes an imposing pose.
6. Scars of Dracula (1970). An improvement over the same year's Taste the Blood of Dracula, the sixth film in the series offers little of interest other than a flashy finale and a creepy shot of Dracula climbing down a castle wall, face first, as he did in Bram Stoker's novel. In The Films of Christopher Lee, the actor said: "Instead of writing a story around the character (Dracula), they wrote a story and fit the character into it."

Count Dracula--corporate CEO.
7. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). As modern-day variations go, I like the idea of Count Dracula as a businessman who recruits four influential blokes to help him take over the world. I don't like the idea of Drac releasing a strain of bubonic plague as some kind of revenge on mankind. The resulting film reminds me of a lesser episode of The Avengers that sorely needs Steed and Mrs. Peel.

Cushing as a Van Helsing descendant.
8. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). My main problem with this entry is that it came two years too late. The 1970 Count Yorga, Vampire had already mixed vampires and contemporary youths. Hence, there was nothing jarring about seeing Count Dracula in modern-day London. The film does get credit for pairing Lee's Dracula and Cushing's Van Helsing (a Van Helsing descendant actually) for the first time since the 1958 original.

Dracula on the verge of being destroyed.
9. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). There was no Dracula in the original film treatment for this fifth series installment. The intention was for Ralph Bates' character to be killed and then resurrected as a vampire to avenge his death. However, when Christopher Lee agreed to appear in the film, the script was rewritten and Bates' character stayed dead--with Dracula avenging him. The premise, which revolves around a sort of Hellfire Club, is initially interesting. However, it soon evolves into a straight revenge tale and ties Satanic Rites for the worst climax in the series.


  1. Interesting list, Rick! I'd probably rate HORROR of and A.D. 1972 a little higher than you have them (HORROR is just a class act all the way, even if the story is familiar, and A.D. 1972 is just loads of fun) but can't quibble too much with the overall placements.

    1. HORROR also did much to establish the Hammer formula and, of course, made Christopher Lee a star. At one time, it would have been my top choice. But the other two have grown on me over the years.

  2. Tho Golden Vampires wasn't intended as a Drac at all, til one of the backers insisted upon it. Forbes-Robertson filming the prologue to justify it. And Satanic doesn't have The Count planning to take over the world, but rather to destroy it utterly - his suicide bid on a global scale, reflecting both the character and actor's desire To JUST GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY.

  3. Btw, Hammer still hoping to get Lee back in the cape, originally scripted Brides of Dracula to have Lee make a late appearance, summoning a horde of bats to take out Meinster. Ironically, it would've put The Count and Van Helsing as temporary allies. Then the scene was rewritten for Van Helsing somehow to do the deed, with Cushing objecting ro it as contrary to character.

    1. I've heard a slightly different account of the original ending, but it did feature the bat attack. Of course, that ending was later used in the excellent KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.

  4. I enjoy seeing lists like this because it proves that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I'm always surprised to see how people's tastes can differ SO much, and I think that's wonderful. I love Hammer's Dracula films, and Peter Cushing is my favourite actor, so this list was right up my alley. Though I'd have ranked them completely different:

    1. Scars of Dracula
    2. Horror of Dracula
    3. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
    4. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
    5. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
    6. Taste the Blood of Dracula
    7. Dracula A.D. 1972
    8. Brides of Dracula
    9. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

    1. It's always fun to read different opinions. I think each of the films has its merits. If you see this reply, I am curious about your low ranking of BRIDES, though. It provides some great scenes for Peter Cushing.

    2. Ha, well in this case, it's really just me liking all the other films a little bit better. When it comes to Hammer Dracula films, there really isn't a "bad" one for me. Just ones that I like less. And I like Lee better than Peel. Swap out the Counts and I'd rank "Brides" higher! :)

  5. I enjoyed reading your list of favorite Hammer vampire films. Perfect time of the year for this!

  6. Enjoyed reading your list. I would have put them in a different order, although that is the way of these sorts of things (I can't believe that you put SCARS ahead of TASTE!) HORROR ties in first place with BRIDES, and SCARS comes last in any list that I've ever drawn up. I know that it is pedantic, but I just have to point out that in HORROR the story doesn't shift back to England in the middle--it's all set in some sort European locale. Admittedly it's a part of Europe populated entirely by English actors speaking with English accents in a very English looking locale, but this is a Hammer film, after all...

  7. First, thanks for the correction of HORROR's locale. As for TASTE, my main issues are the revenge plot (done much better in HAS RISEN) and the weak climax. SCARS isn't strong, but improves as it goes along.