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So, I did actually spend last Friday to Tuesday inclusive at my parents' house, sorting out stuff for Mum and visiting Dad in hospital. I'll probably write about that properly at some point, but the short version is that things are basically fine there at the moment, though they certainly do (and will continue to) need a lot of monitoring from me and my sister. Right now, though, I have a precious weekend to myself, and what I feel like doing with that time is writing about Dracula films. So here we go.

This is one of the entries in Hammer's Dracula series I've seen least frequently. I mean, we're still talking a good 5-6 times, but that is peanuts next to how often I've watched my favourites in the series (more like 10-20 times each). I had mentally filed this one alongside Scars of Dracula as being essentially a pastiche of the earlier sequels, but without their deliciously dark atmosphere or charming characters (for all that I kinda like Scars anyway). But having rewatched Taste the Blood now for the first time in probably about ten years, I think I have been unjust to it. It doesn't really belong in my 'pastiche' category for these sequels at all - rather, it is what I would call a 'straight' sequel, as in it is genuinely trying to be a good film in the spirit of the original, and is not markedly dependent on re-hashing elements from earlier films. OK, so it's one of the weaker entries in that category, but it's still more worth watching than I'd assumed.

That said, it certainly isn't perfect. It suffers quite badly from having too many characters, so that in spite of having seen it multiple times, knowing the general outlines of the plot and recognising much of the dialogue, it still took me probably more than half the film to figure out which of the four younger main characters were meant to be the sons or daughters of which of the three older main characters. A couple of particular character moments also just don't ring true, to the extent that they rather kicked me out of the world the film was trying to create.

In particular, after one of the younger characters, Alice, has killed her father while under Dracula's thrall, she disappears (having run off with Dracula). Alice remains a human, not a vampire, but she is still under Dracula's influence, so it's not particularly surprising that she doesn't appear in the least bit sorry about her father's death. Instead, she lurks in the bushes while her father's funeral takes place the next day, still wearing her yellow party dress from the night before, so that she can call out to her friend Lucy, and lure Lucy to Dracula in her turn. What doesn't make the slightest jot of emotional sense, though, is that when Lucy hears Alice's call, and goes and finds her among the bushes, Lucy doesn't say "Gosh, Alice, I'm so glad to see you. I've been so worried about you. Where have you been? And I'm so sorry about your father's death. You must be ever so upset." Instead, they both fall straight into girlish giggles, and Lucy thinks nothing of it and complies readily when Alice (who is MISSING, remember) asks her to meet her later on that evening without saying anything about it to anyone. All of this while the guests at Alice's father's funeral are still drifting gradually out of the churchyard.

Similarly, later on Alice's boyfriend Paul shows no particular concern or distress when his own sister and father both also disappear. Yet he remains doggedly obsessed with trying to track down and rescue the missing Alice. It's almost like she's the only character who actually has a fully-developed story arc, while everyone around her is merely the equivalent of a Star Trek red-shirt. In fact, yet another of the younger characters, Jeremy (played by none other than Martin Jarvis!), is apparently so unimportant that he effectively ends up in plot limbo. Towards the end of the film, he gets transformed into a vampire and kills his father. The next, and last, thing we then hear about him (from Michael Ripper as a very jobsworth police officer) is that they have him locked up in a cell and will deal with him directly. We're supposed to just consider his plot-line finished at that point, but wait! He's a vampire for goodness sake! I have a lot of unanswered questions about that. How did you manage to capture him so easily, for one thing? Didn't you notice his superhuman strength and sharp fangs? Does the cell you've got him locked up in admit the sunlight directly, or might he manage to survive his captivity for a while, escape, and then wreak all sorts of havoc of his own? A better-plotted film with fewer characters to deal with might answer those questions itself, but as it is they certainly provide lots of opportunities for fanficcers.

On the positive side, though, this film benefits from including a major plot theme which doesn't simply stem from Dracula and his predation, though it does end up linking in with it. This is something I noted as a strength for the previous film in the sequence, Risen from the Grave, where the theme in question was about faith vs. atheism. Here, it is about domestic abuse, and actually adds up to a pretty strong parable about emancipating women from the control of domineering men who don't have their interests at heart. The main abuser is Alice's father: one of three men who resurrect Dracula early on in the film via a satanic ritual. He is characterised as a hypocrite, who appears to live a respectable Victorian gentleman's lifestyle, and tells his wife that he spends one Sunday evening a month doing charitable work, but in fact spends it instead looking for thrills at a brothel. It is when he and his two fellow thrill-seekers meet the genuinely outré Lord Courtley one evening that they become drawn into a world far darker than their limited imaginations could conceive of, and end up (they believe) murdering Lord Courtley after a botched ritual - but in fact resurrect Dracula instead.

After this, with a guilty conscience weighing heavily upon his shoulders, Alice's father really starts showing his nasty side. He drinks heavily, shouts at his wife, makes unreasonable demands of her without offering any kind of explanation, and arbitrarily bans Alice from going out to a party just because he doesn't want her to. When he discovers that she has sneaked out anyway without telling him, he lours through her bedroom door and staggers forward drunkenly, threatening to whip her and tearing her dress as he grabs for her. This literally drives Alice out of the house and into the arms of Dracula, lurking at the bottom of the garden, so we have a pretty clear message there already - treating women like possessions rather than people only endangers them. Under Dracula's influence, Alice then kills her own father, so that Dracula in a sense pushes her to free herself from her abuser. But (fairly obviously) this is presented as a perverted form of liberation which she wouldn't have chosen of her own accord, and which doesn't actually solve her problems. Indeed, it is not intended to do so - Dracula is simply using the situation to pursue his own revenge motive, not philanthropically trying to help Alice.

Meanwhile, Dracula in his turn is of course also domineering and abusive. Under his power, Alice then goes on to lure her friend Lucy and the other members of her father's circle to their doom - all again for Dracula's benefit rather than hers. At first she is portrayed as welcoming Dracula's power over her, calling him 'Master', languishing love-sick over his coffin as he sleeps during the day, and insisting when she brings her friend Lucy to him that she must "Do as he tells you!" Obviously, Dracula's supernatural powers provide a straightforward explanation for this behaviour, but as has been hinted earlier in the film when she killed her father under his influence, there is an extent to which Dracula's hypnotism works with the subconscious desires which are already there in his victims' minds, rather than ploughing a completely unbroken furrow. So it becomes a way of exploring the dynamics of a real-life abusive relationship, through the exaggerated medium of the supernatural situation.

In the end, though, the scales fall from Alice's eyes as Dracula, his revenge now complete, casts her aside, gruffly declaring, "I have no further use for you." But this is a terrible misjudgement on his part, since he does in fact need her to remove a cross which is barring his escape route. Too late, though - his utter disregard for Alice's feelings has already broken his spell over her, and she now has the autonomy and the motivation to work against him, leading directly to his destruction at the end of the film. Her full arc, then, sees her escaping from an abusive father into the arms of an abusive lover, but there eventually coming to realise that she doesn't have to put up with this shit, and freeing herself from the demon - both literally and metaphorically. For the sake of completeness I should probably add that she does have a human boyfriend, Paul, who is there to represent the good lover as an alternative to Dracula the bad lover, but in all honesty Paul doesn't do terribly much. The core of the story is all about Alice and Dracula.

Also in line with Risen from the Grave is the portrayal of Dracula and his modus operandi: viz., conceiving an elaborate revenge plan, but using other people to do his dirty work while he lurks in the shadows hypnotising people. I think this motif of Dracula as a malevolent influence on his victims' minds is hugely more effective and creepy than just using him directly as a monster - I mean, of course it is more scary to think of ourselves helplessly doing dreadful things under a malign influence than it is to imagine fighting off a mere external monster. So that's a big plus for me. But Dracula doesn't just lurk here, either, any more than he did in Risen from the Grave. In fact, he successfully hits all three of the key notes which I identified in my review of Prince of Darkness: the icily aristocratic, the darkly sexual and the violently monsterish. I could ask for a little more of the icy aristocrat in the mix this time, but it is there as he looms around the church he is using as his hide-out, declaring that people must be destroyed or welcoming Lucy into his lair. He also benefits from excellent lighting in this film (again like Risen but utterly unlike Scars), and particularly from the repeated use of a narrow strip of light across his eyes while the rest of his face remains in shadow, which nicely evokes the hypnotic power of his gaze that is so important to the plot of this film.

Finally, I like to say a little in each of these reviews about how the film I'm dealing with develops the Hammer Dracula franchise. One interesting point here is that this is both the first and the only film in the sequence to have no readily identifiable Van Helsing figure in it. Instead, the characters are already aware of the existence of vampires, seem largely unsurprised to discover that they are real, and turn not to a human being but to a book entitled Vampires and Vampirism in order to deal with them. Obviously, this is an index of the place of this film within the sequence. The audience have (potentially) sat through four similar films already, so the book becomes a sort of meta-reference to the knowledge of the vampire mythos which they have brought into the cinema with them. This is a known phenomenon now with a documented set of rules - not something we need an expert in the mysterious to explain to us.

Another unusual aspect of this film, at least at this stage in the sequence, is that it is set in London, rather than somewhere unspecified on the borders between Germanic and Danubian Europe. I'm sure I must have known about that on previous viewings, but I'd forgotten it since I last saw this film, and it does seem quite strange on a revisit (especially since we revert to the generic European settings in the next film, Scars). We're given a perfectly sound in-story explanation for how Dracula gets there: his dried blood and clothing are carried from Danubian Europe by a travelling salesman, and then sold on for his resurrection in Lord Courtley's satanic rites. But it is still quite a surprising change of direction after so long spent ignoring the fact that London is where much of the original novel takes place.

I would guess it was an experiment in ways of bringing the story closer to home for the audience, which was then followed up by shifting not only to London but to a contemporary setting a couple of films later for Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. But I would rather have liked a little more to be made of it, once it had been done. You know, just a few characters speaking lines like "A vampire! Loose on the streets of London?!" - that sort of thing. I'd also have liked to know how Dracula's disintegrated dust got from the altar of Courtley's family chapel at the end of this film to his crypt back in Castle Dracula at the start of the next. It wouldn't have been hard to give us an answer to that, since the same person (Anthony Hinds) wrote both scripts, but obviously by this stage he didn't think it was worth bothering about. As it happens, though, since he didn't really bother finishing up vampire!Jeremy's story after dumping him in a police cell either, he has given us plenty of scope to invent our own answers. My personal canon now involves Jeremy breaking out of the cell, reverently gathering up Dracula's remains and striking out across Europe to take them home in time for the next story. But that's just me.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2014 11:45 pm (UTC)
It's probably over twenty-five years since I saw this, but I remember being very impressed by the Dracula resurrection sequence here, placing Dracula as an agent of nature or anti-nature, emerging from a cocoon at the centre of a devilish storm inside a church after consuming someone from within - or so I remember it.
Jan. 15th, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
Yes, that's pretty much how it happens. The special effects would probably look a bit ropey to you now, but the dramatic presentation of the sequence is strong. I bet it would be pretty amazing on a first viewing, when you don't know what's coming. It certainly lends Dracula a whole new supernatural aura which he hasn't quite attained before this film.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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