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After a wonderfully Whovian weekend, it's time to get back to some film reviews. Not least because I'm already three behind, and am going to the cinema again tomorrow.

So, having watched Cracks and sent it back to Lovefilm, I've progressed onwards to borrowing some of the Hammer Dracula sequels from them on DVD. I still want my own copies for Christmas as well, but am not going to muck about making myself wait until then, when I know very well that December is going to be an utterly miserable month for me thanks to family health issues. My policy is to get some nice indulgence under my belt now, while I still can. I chose to rent this one first because, like Risen from the Grave, I haven't seen it for a fair while, and as an added bonus it has Patrick Troughton in it!

It's the fifth in the series (sixth if you count Brides of Dracula), and by more or less any standard, it is a bit rubbish. It was the second sequel released in a single year, and by this stage Hammer were very definitely churning them out as quickly and cheaply as possible with a view to raking in the cash. By comparison with the first three films (four if you count Brides) the sets and costumes look cheap, and the interior lighting, especially within Dracula's castle, is way too bright, brashly proclaiming the fakeness of the sets and destroying any sense of shadowy mystique. The dialogue is adequate rather than compelling; the characters much the same; and then of course there is also the matter of the giant rubber bat bouncing about the place on a piece of string. That bat seems to have become iconic within reviews of this film as a symbol of everything else that is wrong with it - and well it might.

All in all, it comes across as a pastiche of the earlier entries in the series, now being produced by people who didn't quite understand why they had worked in the first place. Indeed you can quickly fill up a bingo card recognising poor copies of plot elements or characters from earlier sequels. Perhaps worst of all, where much of the success of the earlier films rested on their intensive veiled eroticism, this one stumbles uncomfortably close to the territory of a Seventies sex comedy. We even get the appropriate jingly-jangly synthetic music for a few seconds when we first meet photographer-cum-gigolo Paul in bed with the local Burgomeister's daughter, followed shortly afterwards by her father catching them at it and shaking his fists, and shots of her running half-naked in comic distress through the house. Don't get me wrong - I am all for comic relief in Dracula films, and all for sexy-tiems on screen, but this is just crude and inept on both fronts, undermining the Gothic atmosphere in much the same way as the over-lighting inside the castle.

BUT! All that aside, I still kinda like this film. For a start, it has Patrick Troughton in it - and his character, Klove is easily the best-developed secondary role in the entire film. He has a dilemma! Should he serve the needs of his master, or turn against him to help the pretty girl whose photograph he has found in the pocket of the unfortunate Paul? His vacillations on this issue drive much of the plot, and needless to say The Trout plays it all very convincingly. So, of course, does Christopher Lee his Dracula, who remains as dignified, imposing, erotic, violent, sadistic, and yet strangely sympathetic as ever. You've got to hand it to Sir Lee for his sheer professionalism, here as in every film he has ever made, which has rescued many a second-rate production from otherwise-deserved third-ratedom.

Above all, though, what I really like about Scars, I think, is that it has absolutely loads of what I call 'castle business' - that is, scenes of Dracula mooching around in (what remains of his half-burnt) castle, welcoming guests and offering them wine in a slightly creepy way (see icon for details). I love this stuff, because it recalls the early scenes with Jonathan Harker from the first film, bringing back Dracula the icily-polite and oddly-disconcerting host, whom we haven't really seen since then. It adds so much to his character for me - in particular strengthening his identity as the faded aristocrat, rather than just the evil Satanic monster. Here, it is also used to good effect in evoking sympathy for him, as he refers with obvious anguish to the losses caused by the burning of his castle - and establishing that connection with the audience really helps to make his sadistic / violent scenes a hundred times more effective.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of nice details to note about how this film develops Hammer's Dracula 'mythos'. Like several of the other sequels, it makes use of elements in Stoker's book which were not included in the first film - here, an image of Dracula crawling up a sheer castle wall like a bat. It also gives Klove the same name as Dracula's servant in Prince of Darkness - but we clearly saw his predecessor dying on screen in that film, so presumably we are not supposed to interpret him as the same person. I'm sure the reason is simply that this whole film is a raging pastiche of its predecessors, and the script-writers couldn't be bothered to think up their own name for the character - but it's also fun to wonder whether there is a whole dynasty of Kloves who have sworn service to the Dracula family, or whether perhaps Dracula just calls all his human servants Klove regardless of their actual names. After all, they must all pretty much blur into one after a few centuries.

It's also noticeable that Dracula never once gets his teeth into the leading lady in this film, despite repeated attempts, which I think is the first time this has happened in any of these films. Correspondingly, the leading man (Simon, played by Denis Waterman) also utterly fails to dispatch him. Though he's been told what to do by a (very inept and pathetic) priest, he fails, and Dracula's death at the end is essentially accidental instead - it happens because he is struck by lightning conducted through an iron paling which he is about to throw at Simon. The death itself is jolly dramatic, with lots of lovely agonised screaming from Christopher Lee, and a wonderfully balletic rotation from his stuntman (or possibly just a burning puppet by that stage?) just before the final fall from the castle parapet. However, it also doesn't entirely make sense, as earlier in this film (and indeed several of the others) thunder and lightning have seemed to respond to Dracula's will. For example, when Simon tries to stake him earlier in the film, Dracula's eyes glow red through his eyelids, hypnotising Simon and making him stop, while at the very same time thunder and lightning erupt all around the castle. So it seems a bit odd to have the very same elements turn against him in the final moments of the film.

Finally, to my utter delight and complete amazement, I was astonished to find a commentary track on this DVD featuring none other than the great Sir Christopher Lee (in conversation with the original director). I don't know how anyone persuaded him to do this, given that he seems to hell-bent on denigrating the Dracula films these days, and insinuating that anyone who likes them is a moron. I know still less how anyone persuaded him to do the commentary track for this one in particular, given that even an avid Dracula addict like myself doesn't rate it very highly. But agree he obviously did - some time around 2000, I think, judging from internal references within the conversation.

Even more weirdly, he has nothing but good things to say about the film. Maybe that's the product of not watching it very carefully because he's talking most of the time (about his own performance, his memories of being on set, the people he worked with (especially whether they're still alive or not), and how much better everything would be if everyone listened to him). He certainly claims at several points that he hasn't seen the film since he made it, but I'm unconvinced by that, since at least twice he starts talking about a scene which is about to come up several seconds before it does. I'd be surprised if an actor's memory of the finished, edited film was really so good 30 years later that he could spot exactly when a particular scene was coming up. Or maybe it's just that he is sitting right next to the director, and is a great big luvvie who is happy to suspend critical analysis for the sake of a mutual film-industry love-in. But he does actually say quite frequently that a particular scene is effective, or isn't it all generally marvellous - even in between pontificating on how all Dracula films should follow Stoker's novel more faithfully.

Weird, but nice, and it's even made me feel warm towards him again in a way I haven't really managed since I got banned from his web community. For that, I am grateful, because he was such a childhood icon to me. I still think he's arrogant and inconsistent and basically self-serving - but if he can say a few good words about Scars of Dracula, even if only to contradict them again a few moments later, then he's good with me.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
Every day's a school day - I never knew you'd been banned from a Christopher Lee Forum.

I kinda like Scars of Dracula but also don't - for a lot of the reasons you mention but also because it has no Peter Cushing. Not sure what he was doing then but his wife was quite poorly by then so maybe he turned it down for those reasons - or maybe it was written without him in mind at all, will have to check my Hammer history book.

Also - sorry I didn't reply to your text as only saw message just before class today - no probs and see you later :-)
Nov. 26th, 2013 04:11 pm (UTC)
No, indeed - instead it has an utterly dreadful Peter-Cushing-alike priest, who must be the most incompetent and useless Van Helsing substitute figure in the entire series. Getting mauled to death by a giant rubber bat is too good for him!

I think Peter Cushing had already just generally stepped away from the series by this time, as he hadn't been in the previous three films in the series either, but you may well be right that the reason was connected with his wife's illness. He would be back for the next, though - the awesome AD 1972!

As for the Christopher Lee forum banning - you see, the memory is just so traumatic that I can't usually bear to talk about it. *sob* ;-)

See you later!
Nov. 26th, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
I love that film - which had to be rewritten so that Peter Cushing could be grandfather when originally he was going to be father as he had aged so much after the death of his beloved Helen.
Nov. 26th, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC)
So do I as you know, but I swear only the other day you were citing this as an example of the fact that my taste in films was not to be trusted! It's almost like you are saying you love cheesy low-budget period nonsense as well. :-)
Nov. 26th, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC)
I said that with a winky face.

I love cheesy low-budget period nonsense - my life is built around it. Apart from Mr Pops that is, he is top quality, high budget loveliness.

Unless he doesn't get me The Mummy on dvd for xmas in which case we'll be having words.... ;-)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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