In London in the 1970s, Scotland Yard think they have uncovered a case of vampirism and head off to seek the expert advice of Professor Larimer Van Helsing. Investigating further, Van Helsing discovers that some extremely rich and powerful figures are ploughing money into a huge foundation with a boss who has never been seen.
It turns out that this boss is in fact the resurrected Count Dracula who is finally sick of the endless pain and suffering of eternal life and is plotting to unleash a new enhanced strain of the Black Death thus taking everyone in the world down with him when he dies.
Talk about flogging a dead horse. There's no wonder Christopher Lee got sick of donning the fangs whenever Hammer came calling! This penultimate Dracula film is slightly better than the abysmal Dracula A.D. 1972, but still suffers from placing the film in a contemporary setting, instead of the traditional period settings which Hammer were exceptional at recreating. However, The Satanic Rites of Dracula has always been given a lot of bad press and a lot of it is undeserved. Hammer clearly didn't know what to do with Dracula anymore and so this ends up a random mix of traditional elements from Hammer, the newly popular Devil/occult themed films and bizarrely enough, the James Bond films.
The plot, whilst it may not be keeping with the historical legacy of Count Dracula, is still chillingly believable as Dracula wants to end his life and take everyone down with him as the ultimate act of revenge. However we see so little of the Count during the majority of the film that one could be forgiven for thinking it was Dr. No or someone trying to take down the world. Speaking of Bond, this film does seem to smell a little of being a spy caper. There's plenty of espionage, underhand dealings, sinister headquarters, secret agents, conspiracies and of course, the plot to take down the world. It seems as though Hammer was throwing caution to the wind and trying to contemporise Dracula a little too much. Like the similarly-themed Fu Manchu films, the horror aspect is thrown away for most of the film and it turns into some low-brow action/spy flick. It's so obvious that the writers were struggling to find worthwhile things for Dracula to do - having him running a massive corporation isn't exactly what Bram Stoker would have thought his character would be doing.
Thankfully Christopher Lee is back as Dracula and Peter Cushing is back as Van Helsing so at least Lee's last appearance in the series ends on a pretty respectable note with the two titans battling each other one final time. Even if the script fails them, these two icons are always worth their pay cheque and this is no exception. Dracula's demise is a little weak though and I would liked to have seen Van Helsing finally hammer home a massive stake through his heart to end the personal vendetta between the two. Comparing the final showdowns in the previous films where Dracula is turned to dust or drowned, this one ends on a little whimper.
Apart from the Dracula fighting, the older Van Helsing seems a little out of place in the "action man" environment and most of the hero stuff is left to one of the younger supporting investigators. Again the old guard and the new breed are brought together with mixed results and I would have preferred the action elements to be left alone so that Van Helsing could stake some more vampires in grisly old school fashion. After this, Christopher Lee said he was done with Dracula and hung up his cape. Cushing would stay on for one more vampire flick, the quite enjoyable The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires which dealt with Dracula but only fleetingly at the beginning.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula isn't a bad way for Christopher Lee to bow out as Dracula, especially compared to the previous instalment and the plot is interesting in theory. But when you look back to some of the highlights of the series including Horror of Dracula and Dracula, Prince of Darkness, you can see how much they were milking this series, and milking it badly too. It's fallen a long way since 1958.