Wednesday, October 21, 2015

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA 1970




     In 1968 Hammer released DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, its 3rd Dracula sequel (counting 1960's non- Dracula BRIDES OF DRACULA) and the film went on the be the company's highest grossing Gothic horror yet. Distributed by Warner Seven Arts in America its success made another sequel a top priority for both Hammer and their current American partner, but a monkey wrench in the form of Christopher Lee's growing resentment of the role (and increasing salary demands) was tossed in the works.
     Lee had long complained of Hammer's DRACULA output ever since his starring role in 1958's inaugural DRACULA. Long a critic of the scripts and the handling of Stoker's literary creation, this came to head in 1965's DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS where depending on which source was to be believed Lee refused to speak any lines in the film or they were all removed by scriptwriter by Jimmy Sangster beforehand (whatever the case, we ended up with a silent Dracula). Lee was begrudgingly coxed back for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and then flatly refused to don the cape again.
    Anthony Hinds fashioned a script that passed the form of Dracula onto a new character in order to continue the series, however Warner balked at the proposal and stated to the effect "No Lee - No Deal". Once again Hammer prevailed and Lee agreed to return with the script re-written to accommodate the now presence of the "real" Dracula.
    In spite of its rather protracted genesis 1970's TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA stands as one of Hammer's better later period entries and it can be argued that it's the best of the DRACULA sequels. Placing the Count for the first time in his literary home of Victorian England, it's anchored by several strong performances by its leads, a wonderful cast of British character actors filling out the cast (including the incomparable Michael Ripper as a police inspector) along with Linda Hayden and Ilsa Blair supplying the requisite heaving bosoms.
    Watching the film, its easy to see what Hammer's initial plot idea was in regards to the "new" character of Dracula which means that rather oddly (although not detrimentally) Lee's Dracula seems to be shoe horned into the plot of a Hammer Dracula movie. As was becoming the norm Lee's screen time is minimal here and all the period Lee sequels suffer somewhat from the absence of Cushing's Van Helsing and a strong forceful protagonist for Dracula (although Andrew Kier did an admirable job in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS) with his ongoing demises coming almost from his own clumsiness rather then a pounding stake.




    Directed by Peter Sasdy (COUNTESS DRACULA and HANDS OF THE RIPPER) it also features Hammer regulars James Bernard (score), Arthur Grant (cinematography)and Les Bowie (effects) and with this being the last Hammer movie all three of these men worked on together, TASTE along with the above mentioned Sasdy titles that would be released in 1971 can all be seen as the beginning of the end of Hammer's golden age.
    The Hungarian born Sasdy was one of Hammer's better late period directors and also directed the interesting bio-horror DOOMWATCH in in 1972 and the classic BBC ghost story THE STONE TAPE also from '72. Whether by design or not all of his Hammer movies have a central theme running through them, being that the sins of the parents shall be paid for by their offspring (or as in this case paid by) and TASTE takes this theme mixing it in with Victorian hypocrisy and parenticide.
     Three Victorian gentlemen and their respective offspring are introduced including William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen - who appeared in several Bond films as the Defense Minister) and his daughter Alice ( Linda Hayden from BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and HOUSE ON STRAW HILL), Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and his son Paul (Anthony Higgins RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) & daughter Lucy (Ilsa Blair) along with Jonathon Secker (John Carson PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) and his son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis - whose appeared in literally hundreds of BBC productions).




     The three men though outwardly proper Victorian gentlemen all indulge in some extra curricular activities as they journey into London's East End obstinately to do charity work, but in reality spend time in a brothel which caters to clientele with "strange" requests. The seeming leader of the group Haywood rules his daughter Alice (Hayden) with an iron hand, banishing her to her room for talking to Paul Paxton (calling her a "harlot") and later threatening to beat her (there's also some uncomfortable undertones of incense) for her burgeoning love affair with Paul.
     Looking to up their excitement the group hooks up with the disgraced Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE) who promises them untold pleasures and experiences by participating in satanic ceremony with him. To initiate this ritual they purchase Dracula's ashes from traveling salesmen Roy Kinner (THE HILL) who had in a pre-credit sequence observed the demise of Lee from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, afterwards gathering his ashes. During the ceremony Courtley mixes his blood with the ashes and instructs them all to drink it. The men refuse and Courtley drinking it alone begins spitting up blood and convulsing on the floor with Haywood and his two companions beating Courtley to death. Fleeing the church they miss on Courtley's resurrection of Dracula. It's obvious this is the point where we were to be introduced to Bates as the new "Dracula" in the original script but (thankfully) Christopher Lee appears in all his Dracula glory.
    Courtley now in the personage of Dracula vows vengeance on the three gentlemen for killing "his servant" and begins tearing a bloody swath through each family using the sons and/or daughters as a means to his end. He gives special emphasis to Haywood's daughter Alice using her to lure the other victims and enact a bloody revenge on he father.




     Lee's Dracula (with once again limited dialogue) is a magnificent presence of evil here (next to the original, I think this is his best performance as the title character) as here he's embodied by revenge along with his usual blood lust. Seeming not wanting so much to ensnare & turn victims in vampires, but to simply destroy them as he throws aside his female victims after they have served their purpose (which strikes me as a bit odd, since I can think of worst ways to spend eternity rather then having Ilsa Blair and Linda Hayden hanging around with you).
     TASTE also benefits with one of the stronger casts in the series with each one of the three male fathers having a unique personality thats helped by Hinds script. In particular John Carson (who was magnificent has the evil squire in Hammer's PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES from 1966) as the only member of the trio who shows some resolve and Geoffrey Keene as the sadistic head of the Hargood family (and as the defacto leader of the group and it's "immoral" compass) are both outstanding as is the hero of the film Anthony Higgins as the young Paul Paxton. Beautifully shot by Arthur Grant, TASTE as a gorgeous "autumnal" look to it and features Hammer's usual excellent set design with the ruined church looking particularly impressive.
     Linda Hayden, who was only 17 at the time of filming, had made a big splash with BABY LOVE in 1968. Featuring a sleazier exploitative Lolita style plot, Hayden generated scads of publicity in the British press for appearing nude in the film and was probably cast by Hammer on account of her notoriety at the time. However with that being said, she's quite good here and was excellent in 1971's BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW as the leader of a group of satanically possessed children in a rural medieval English village. Her shyly seductive smile while laying atop Lee's crypt is one of the most erotically charged scenes in 1960's British horror.




     Ralph Bates was originally looked upon by Hammer to be a younger successor to Cushing and/or Lee (a plan that never really materialized) and with his dark, brooding looks always came across as a lesser version of Oliver Reed. His other Hammer projects include the abysmal HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), the somewhat interesting DR. JEKYLL ND SISTER HYDE (1971) and lower rung of the the"Karnstein Trilogy" 1971's LUST FOR A VAMPIRE.
    Sadly Hammer followed up TASTE with the cheap and shoddy looking SCARS OF DRACULA later in 1970 and the series never quite rebounded with a couple of uneven attempts to update the series to the 1970's with DRACULA A.D.1972 and 1973's THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA  and concluded in 1974 with the kung-fu/Dracula team-up THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (which I've always liked).
    TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is included with Warner's spiffy new Hammer blu-ray set and as with the earlier DVD release contains the restored harder R rated cut. In 1970 Warner initially trimmed some content including some lingering bloodshed and violence along with some fleeting nudity in the brothel scenes on order to secure a GP rating. Supposedly Vincent Price was originally going to be cast as one the gentlemen, but budget constraints negated it.



  



All the above screen grabs are from the Warner Region A blu-ray



      

7 comments:

  1. I quite enjoyed this one too. If you remember, I rewatched it recently on your advice after the Dracula A.D. review. Though I really like Scars too. I think Im just easy to please when it comes to Hammer!

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    1. I should watch SCARS again sometime and give it another try.

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  2. Yeah - I tend to enjoy even the lesser Hammer flicks - there's just something about them - and this one is a goodie - with the familiar faces surrounding Lee a very positive detail.

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    1. Hi Craig,
      This is a really good one and one of my favorites of Hammer. Even with his limited screen time & dialogue Lee is a magnificent force of evil here (and its got Linda Hayden !)

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  3. Christopher Lee was the "Dracula" of my childhood.... and this was one of my favorite of these films (next to Horror of Dracula"....
    A happy Halloween , good Sir....

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    1. Thanks Dr. Theda ! Happy Halloween to you too ! Christopher was the Dracula of my childhood also. Here was a brutal, sadistic force of evil that was really overpowering to my little kid brain.

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