Retro Review ‘Satanic Rites of Dracula’
In a previous Retro Review I covered the Hammer flick Dracula AD 1972, so I feel it is appropriate to now look at its follow up. In 1973, Peter Cushing reunited with Sir Christopher Lee for, the Satanic Rites of Dracula. Of course this cult classic has healthy doses of your standard Hammer Horror elements; Satanic cults, sexy women, and bright red blood. Unlike additions to the franchise though, the Satanic Rites of Dracula takes a more minimalist approach to the legendary bloodsucker. In fact the Count does not even appear until the movie’s climax.
Reprising his role from Dracula AD 1972, Michael Coles as Inspector Murray, discovers that a cabal of powerful men are joined together in a cult based out of an isolated farm house. Naturally he looks for assistance from Dr. Van Helsing, whom he knows has great knowledge of the occult. As expected Count Dracula is pulling the strings of this cult, but his plot is not what anyone expected. Having grown weary of battling with or feeding on humanity for centuries, the Count has become weary and jaded. He now sees his best option is to wipe humanity out, via a new strain of the bubonic plague.
What many do not expect when watching the Satanic Rites of Dracula is the hip espionage elements director, Alan Gibson, mixes with the Gothic horror. In fact the whole idea of a secretive Dracula manipulating high level officials to manufacture a biological weapon for him, seems more in line with a Spectre plot in a Bond movie. In fact this film eschews the tradition of Dracula hanging out in crumbling old castles and cathedrals as he has set up base in a modern art deco office building. Given that the studio was eight films deep into Draculla stories, it makes sense that they would want to change it up. But at the end of the day this is still a Hammer Horror flick so you have to have the occult imagery and gothic settings. In the Satanic Rites of Dracula, these are found during the scenes where Satanic rituals are carried out at the behest of the Count.
Many cite this movie as being the worst of Hammer’s collection of scary movies, but I personally cannot bring myself to share that opinion. It may be because this was the first Hammer Horror movie I ever saw, so there is a personal meaning to be had. But the Satanic Rites of Dracula is an entertaining film that tries something different with the classic vampire. And of course for any horror fan, seeing Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee square off as Van Helsing and Dracula is always a treat. Any weaknesses there is in the script or production value is more than made up for by their charisma and showmanship. Unfortunately this would be the final time Lee would play this iconic role, but at least he had a nice violent over-the-top death to go out on. Cushing would play Van Helsing once more, in the Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a co-production between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers. While the Satanic Rites of Dracula may not be the best vampire film, Hammer has to offer it is well worth a watch for fans of classic horror.