Even though Dracula drowned years earlier, the local town still lives in fear of his legacy and are forever in the shadow of his abandoned castle. When a young woman is found dead with the teeth marks in her neck, a visiting monsignor performs an exorcism in the castle to finally rid the world of his menace.
But on their way out, an accompanying priest falls and hits his head. The resulting drops of blood resurrect Dracula. Outraged at what has happened, he plots his revenge and targets the Monsignor’s young niece to be his bride.
After helming the first three Dracula films, director Terence Fisher left the series and it’s no coincidence to note the stark decline in quality between this and its predecessor. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave suffers from the overriding problem that it’s too generic and contains too few memorable moments to distinguish it from the rest. After the first two Dracula films (the original for being a genre classic and Brides of Dracula being memorable for not featuring Dracula at all), the rest of the period Dracula films all blur into one for me.
There’s some standard set-up featuring good-looking women destined to become slaves, Dracula’s minions running around trying to get the Count back from the dead and the hero of the piece blustering around the screen doing whatever he needs to do to kill time before Dracula is resurrected. Then once Dracula is brought back to life, it’s a quick re-run of the original (Dracula homes in on one young woman, said woman’s family and friends try to stop him) before he’s killed off again. Couple this with the same sets and locations, the same music and generally the same look as the others and you get an indistinguishable sequel which doesn’t promise much and doesn’t deliver much.
Like all of the direct Dracula sequels, the film’s strengths and weaknesses are basically the same. It’s halfway through the running time when Dracula is resurrected, so the first half gears up towards this moment and then the last half is directed at finding ways to kill him. The opening half is sluggish, dull and tedious as a variety of nondescript characters go about their business, unaware that danger is coming. The film builds up the tension and the focus is solely on Dracula’s resurrection. You’d think it would be a big deal when he is given a new lease of film. However, once Dracula is back at the half way point, the film hits a brick wall and drifts into familiar territory. It spent all of that time building him up and then they simply do nothing with him for the rest of the film.
There’s no wonder that Christopher Lee was always unhappy about playing the role as all he does here is hanging around in a cellar, bite people who come down and then simply wait around for the next victim. This was supposed to be about Dracula’s revenge so why can’t he come up with a more elaborate and deadly plan than simply turn the Monsignor’s niece into a vampire? Surely he’s more scheming than that – heck, in one of the following sequels he turns into some sort of James Bond bad guy complete with gun-waving motorcyclist henchmen. He gets more lines this time around but quite frankly, he’d have been better off keeping quiet. His sheer presence was enough to turn the role into something sinister and supernatural in the previous films and there was a sense of awe and mystery surrounding Dracula. Some of that impact is lost when he opens his mouth and starts talking. I’m not knocking Lee, he’s one of my favourite actors – I’m just saying that the role worked better when Dracula was silent and deadly.
Hammer also plays around with the vampire mythology a little bit here with Dracula getting a reflection, walking around in the day time and a scene in which a huge stake through his heart has little effect. It’s all well and good tweaking the formula for stand alone vampire flicks but keep it consistent throughout the same franchise! At least the attempted staking does provide a healthy dose of the film’s blood quota. The other Hammer trademarks are evident with the two lead females parading around in little clothing to reveal their ample bosoms. Carlson in particular looks stunning and was roundly heralded as “Dracula’s most beautiful victim” in the promotional material. You’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise as she’s the definition of the kind of woman that Dracula (heck, any guy!) would love to get his hands on – buxom, blonde and beautiful.
Rupert Davies does what he can in the Van Helsing-like role as the monsignor-turned-vampire-hunter but he’s no Peter Cushing. Both he and Barry Andrews, who plays the younger hero of the piece, aren’t terrible in their performances but they’re not equals to Dracula. In the original Horror of Dracula and in the sequels which featured both Van Helsing and Dracula, you always got the sense that both characters were on level footing – both as equally determined to destroy the other and both as capable of doing so. Neither man was bigger or better than the other, they just needed to find the weakness of the other and exploit it. Here, Dracula seems to tower over his foes, so much so that you’d think it’d be impossible for him to lose.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is your typical Hammer film with the right atmosphere, settings and mood and plethora of gore and suggested nudity. But the script is a little stagnant and it just goes through the usual Dracula motions which we’ve already seen before. Far from the worst sequel in the series, but nowhere near the best either.