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DVD SAVANT

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave


Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
Warner DVD
1968 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 92 min. / Street Date April 27, 2004 / 19.97
Starring Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Barry Andrews, Ewan Hooper, Michael Ripper
Cinematography Arthur Grant
Production Designer Bernard Robinson
Film Editor James Needs, Spencer Reeve
Original Music James Bernard
Written by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Produced by Aida Young
Directed by Freddie Francis

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Fourth in the series and one of the last of Hammer's 60s gothics before the 70s melt-down, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave tries to stay true to the tone of the first instalment, but has the nagging problem of justifying the repetition of old ideas without much in the way of novelty. Christopher Lee has more screen time but his stock functions are boring, and the leisurely plot merely sets up another priest-vs.-evil opposition without any interesting characters. The best things about this one are the color camerawork and the music by Bray veterans Arthur Grant and James Bernard respectively. And to a lesser extent the beautiful Veronica Carlson, one of Count Dracula's most lovely victims. Director Freddie Francis has been quoted as saying that he thought of the film as a romance, and that the Dracula character was merely a "fly in the ointment."

Synopsis:

Seeking to exorcise Dracula's castle, Msgr. Muller (Rupert Davies) bars the door with a cross but the local priest (Ewan Hooper) inadvertently revives the frozen Count (Christopher Lee) from his interment in a frozen creek. With the priest now his lackey, Dracula comes to Muller's town and preys first upon barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing) before setting his sights on his real prize, Muller's niece Maria (Veronica Carlson). Muller might have an aide in Maria's boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews), but Dracula acts too quickly for either of them.

Anyone who made fun of the pale attempts at series continuity in the old Universal monster movies has to wince at the opening of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. Dracula's castle has moved to the top of a mountain without the access of any kind of road, and the frozen moat that imprisoned Chris Lee at the conclusion of Dracula Prince of Darkness is now a stream barely big enough for the actor to lie down in. It was at this point that Lee started doing Dracula films at the rate of one a year, after swearing not to repeat the career-numbing role.

This is also the first non-Terence Fisher Hammer Dracula picture. It's one of Freddie Francis' better directorial jobs, but it lacks the tension and dynamism that Fisher habitually brought to equally weak scripts. Perhaps Fisher's overall reputation was enhanced by his lesser involvement as the Hammer empire wound down - his earlier pictures were more clear-cut and less commercially confused. It's been widely reported that Fisher was slated to direct the film until he wandered into traffic while intoxicated.

The first victim found hanging in a church bell is often confused as a non-sequitir, as Dracula hasn't yet been revived. This is because the awkward script doesn't clarify that the church tower sequence is meant to have taken place sometime before the end of the previous movie, before Drac is frozen in that moat. The busty victim in the bell (Carrie Baker) always provided a good still, however.

The original Horror of Dracula wasn't a big production, but its settings had a grand quality, with considerable atmosphere. The design of this new film seems stuck in some older tradition, like a marching band repeating a tune that it's played far too often. Everything is a cheat, including the town streets made of a building front and a blurry corner in the foreground. Nothing has much character; elaborate sets like the castle exterior have a 40s artificiality to them, augmented by some rather good matte paintings. The silliest idea is a rooftop path that connects the attic windows of the two young lovers. It's a clever bit of set design that just draws attention to its own unlikelihood. Strolling catatonic on the far-too narrow roof-edges, Veronica Carlson reminds us of Olive Oyl in the Popeye Cartoon Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking?

Thematically, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave dabbles with intolerance and Christian discovery. Suitor Paul (Barry Andrews, introduced bare-chested and looking almost identical to Roger Daltrey of The Who) is a worthy match for sweet Maria, who lives by the charity of her Uncle, the Monsignor. But when he admits he's an atheist, he's ordered out of the house. Thus intolearance forces young lovers to sneak around in shadows where demons like Dracula hide out.

Only at the point of dying does the Monsignor call on Paul for help, atheist or not. The film finishes with the groaningly literal gesture of Paul having found his faith through trial by vampire. The reversal is without resonance - it doesn't take much character depth to believe in God after witnessing bonafide devils and heavenly miracles.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is a Christopher Lee picture and that's all that's needed to attract the fans who will happily sit through 88 minutes of the same ol' same ol' to savor a few moments with their hero. Lee talks a bit more - Dracula hadn't said a word since the very opening scene of the original ten years earlier. He has one very good moment demanding that the cross be taken from his doorstep. Lee's mime is a good as ever but he's mostly asked to go through the same old motions - stand still for the creepy lighting, stare imperiously, bare his fangs with discreet menace. As in many Hammer films, we wait forever for the characters to find out what we already know - once the Monsignor realizes that Dracula has revived, he's immediately effective against him. Dracula doesn't seem very powerful when he can't show his face and can only pick on the weak and the helpless.

The conclusion finds Lee in his first impalement gag, struggling with the giant crucifix rammed through him like Francis Lederer in The Return of Dracula. For the first time, he actually looks silly, squirming and gesticulating wildly. I saw Dracula Has Risen from the Grave at least twice in 1969 with audiences that really wanted to like it - they cheered at every Lee appearance, especially when his stunt double does that nice leap off a balcony. But they sat in a stupor through most of the picture waiting for interesting things to happen, and by the finale had no patience left.

Indicative of how culturally lost Hammer was at this time is the total lack of story context. Almost nobody exists except the main characters, and the few excursions to the pub are there almost solely to highlight cheap bosom jokes. Hammer was famous for their beautiful starlets, a reputation that played as a counterpoint to the 007 Bond girls. The self-conscious 'window dressing' here just shows that the filmmakers think that to make a Hammer hit they only need to fill out a checklist of content requirements - blood, check, fangs, check, bosoms, check check. Even the sweet character of Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper is enlisted to provide another decorative & demeaning cleavage moment. If Hammer was infantile about female bodies here, they only got worse when the series went in for nudity two years later in The Vampire Lovers.


Warners' DVD of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave beautifully reproduces the original theatrical experience. The almost perfect image has deep colors and no damage in sight. It even starts with the original Warners - 7 Arts logo. Technically shot at 1:66, the imagery was all composed to be shown at much wider ratios, and the 1:78 16:9 AR chosen here frames the titles well and never seems too tight.

The only extra is a trailer that isn't as campy as the original American ad campaigns that made Dracula seem a little bit like Batman. The unusual cover art is from English originals - our domestic release (held up a few months to go out with Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) used a simplified graphic approach.

Significant help on this review came from Hammerphile Gary Teetzel.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 27, 2004





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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