Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Peter Sallis, Anthony Corlan, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear, Michael Ripper, Russell Hunter, Shirley Jaffe, Keith Marsh
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content/nudity and brief violence
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/07/1970

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hammer Horrors

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

By the late 1950s, most Americans knew Dracula and Frankenstein's monster only through the Universal horror pictures, and their leering black-and-white images as played by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. So when the "B" level British movie studio Hammer began their own series of horror pictures -- based on public domain materials -- they promised three things: more blood, more sex and full color.

The Hammer horror films, which also included new takes on the Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, the werewolf, the Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, started well with Terence Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958). And, while the rest of the series has its fans, few could argue that any of the sequels matched up to the originals.

Warner Brothers -- the original American distributor for Hammer pictures -- has released three more DVDs: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). You can't deny the power of those titles, and Warner has used some of the original, lurid advertising art for their box covers.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was directed by the Oscar-winningcinematographer Freddie Francis (Sons and Lovers, Glory). It was thethird Dracula movie for Hammer and the third to star Christopher Leeas the famous bloodsucker, even though he barely has anything to do inthis film. With the aid of a disgraced priest (Ewan Hooper) and a bustybartender (Barbara Ewing), Dracula attempts to get to the succulent neckof a pretty blond (Veronica Carlson). But her atheist boyfriend Paul(Barry Andrews) and a good priest (Rupert Davies) have something to sayabout that. The film boasts some spectacular sets and colors, andAndrews provides some personality as the happy-go-lucky Paul. DirectorFrancis is fond of cleavage shots, but this is a "G"-rated film, sodon't expect anything more. It's more camp than anything else; it'sdestined to provide more laughs at parties than thrills alone.

Fans consider Terence Fisher to be the best of the Hammer directors, and one can tell the difference when watching Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The film has a much better sense of rhythm and a moreinteresting use of space, while Peter Cushing (as Dr. Frankenstein)comes across as a more complex character than anyone in the "Dracula"films. Frankenstein has decided that he must track down his formercolleague, a man who figured out how to store brains for later use. Butthe man has gone insane; so Frankenstein must transfer his brain toanother body and cure his insanity in order to wrest the secret fromhim. But our good doctor (Freddie Jones) has other plans. Frankensteinblackmails a younger doctor (Simon Ward) and his fiancee (Carlson) intohelping him. One great set piece shows a water main bursting andsuddenly uprooting the discarded body buried just underneath.

Finally, we have Taste the Blood of Dracula, directed by PeterSasdy, which concerns three well-to-do English gentlemen who like a bitof raunchy fun on the side. They enlist the help of a young heathen tofind new and more exciting delights. He tempts them to drink Dracula'sblood, but they kill him instead. That causes Dracula (Lee) to rise andtake his revenge, not only on the men but also on their sons anddaughters. Lee has less and less to do and is beginning to look bored,but the film still has some perverse pleasures to it.

The three DVDs preserve Hammer's bold colors extremely well, and each film comes with its theatrical trailer. On a side note, the DVD boxes feature some of the most unusual copywriting I've ever seen; whoever wrote it even coins the term "hemogobbling" to describe our bloodsucker.

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