A merchant witnesses the death of Dracula and scoops up some of his remains, his cloak and an amulet for safe keeping. Years later a trio of respectable gentlemen who are fed up of their bourgeois lifestyle decide to indulge in a bit of black arts.
They meet up with Lord Courtley, one of Dracula’s disciples and together they set about resurrecting the Count. But during the ceremony the gentlemen lose their nerve and bottle it but are unaware that Count Dracula has been brought back to life anyway. Dracula sets out to get revenge on them by targeting their children.
The late 60′s and early 70′s was a testing time for Hammer. With 1968′s Night of the Living Dead bringing a more realistic and downright scary approach to horror, The Exorcist just around the corner and their own films becoming stagnant after hardly changing their formula since the late 50′s, the studio was really struggling to find their next hit. So as they always did in times of need, they churned out another sequel to their ‘safe’ franchises of Dracula and Frankenstein. Whereas the Frankenstein series always continued to reinvent itself with new ways for the Baron to experiment, the Dracula series simply rehashed the same old repetitive cycle of events. Dracula is resurrected. Dracula gets revenge for something. Dracula targets someone’s young female relative. Dracula is defeated.
It may have worked the first few times but there were only so many times you could do the same thing with the Count before audiences began to groan. In my opinion, the series reached its peak with Dracula, Prince of Darkness – the first of the sequels to feature the Count and the one in which that whole cycle of events felt fresh. Hammer churned out Dracula Has Risen From the Grave which was more or less the same thing and then along comes Taste the Blood of Dracula, another almost like-for-like rehash.
Taste the Blood of Dracula starts off well by showing us the death of Dracula from Dracula Has Risen From the Grave from a different viewpoint and builds from there, adding some continuity to the story. We at least know that this is set in the same canonical universe as laid out in the previous film. Well, at least until it fast forwards into the future. It’s this change in time period which is the film’s saving grace. A new director in charge heralds a new direction in most film series and out went the rich and lavish technicolour sets of Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis (of which audiences had been saturated with in the countless Hammer horror films since the late 50s) to be replaced by a more grittier, darker and realistic Victorian setting.
The newer setting works in the film’s favour as this is the first time that Hammer audiences could see Dracula roam free in his iconic Victorian locale. The dark, grim setting is a nice contrast to the sometimes fairytale-like colour of the previous films but it’s all for nothing really as there’s little atmosphere to the film. Predictability and the lack of any constant genuine threat throughout the film keeps things off the boil. Dracula is hardly around, Courtley makes an early departure and the three children, converted to do Dracula’s bidding, are hampered by the actors’ inability to get into the roles. The finale is also a let down. One of the trademarks of the series had been the unique ways in which Dracula was killed off at the end of each film but here, instead of a roaring or melting demise, his death turns into somewhat of a damp squib.
Like the majority of the sequels, Taste the Blood of Dracula simply doesn’t know what to do with its title character and this is its main weakness. It’s all well and good spending time building up to his resurrection and these scenes are generally the highlights of the Dracula films. But once the Count is back, the script doesn’t know what to do with him barring the usual stuff. In fact the Count has little control over most of the events in this film and he’s almost a bystander. Christopher Lee had long been sick of playing the character by this point but continued to appear and get top billing, almost sleep walking through the film. Apparently he wasn’t supposed to be in it at all and the script originally centred around Ralph Bates’ shadowy Lord Courtley character (Bates making his Hammer debut here). So it’s no surprise to find out that Dracula gets little screen time as he let’s his minions do most of his dirty work.
The revenge motif isn’t new to the series but here, Dracula’s revenge is not so much of the neck-biting and blood-drinking kind. The vampiric elements hardly get a look in as Dracula simply corrupts children to do his dirty work – children who were already on the brink of corruption thanks to the indulgent and hypocritical lifestyles of their fathers. It’s ironic that he decides to take revenge for his disciple’s death since he didn’t know him at all and his death was necessary for Dracula to be resurrected in the first place but this is just petty nitpicking. The supporting cast do better including Geoffrey Keen (whom most people would recognise as the Minister of Defence from many of the James Bond films) and Peter Sallis, who is more famously known for his vocal work as Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit claymation films.
Taste the Blood of Dracula tries to give the Count some new life by bringing him ‘home’ into the Victorian era but apart from that, it ticks all of the usual Dracula boxes and this is where its problem lies. It’s not the worst of the series, just one of the most routine. Dracula is more like a passenger in his own film and whilst I can understand the reasoning behind it, it doesn’t work well with the title!