Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Despite its creative title, Taste the Blood of Dracula is a confused effort that shows
Hammer Films entering the 1970s not knowing how to keep its trademark gothic thrillers from going
stale. With the new ratings system, horror films were turning the corner to more explicit gore and
sex. The blood and sadism that shocked UK critics ten years before was already considered tame.
With new personnel at the creative controls, Taste began as a Dracula-free
story of a three-way pact with the devil and then fell victim to commercial compromise. Christopher
Lee's reprise of the Count is almost an afterthought, the first of several toothless Hammer
attempts to squeeze one more film out of a dead franchise; the distributor-investor 7 Arts insisted
on Chris Lee and the Dracula character as part of its deal. According to the actor, the Hammer
people used every persuasion short of blackmail to entreat him into coming back repeatedly to
save the studio, as if he owed the house of Hammer something for making vast fortunes from his work.
Three successful London professionals (Geoffrey Keen, Peter Sallis, John Carson)
run puritanical households but secretly meet at night in brothels. Desiring more thrills, they
are counseled by a rake they admire, Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates). He offers to let them in on his
deal with the devil, which involves drinking some of the remaining blood of Dracula in an occult
ceremony. Disgusted by the ritual, they instead beat Courtley to death, inadvertently abetting
the resurrection of the Count himself. The Count takes revenge for his servant by vampirizing the
daughters of the murderers, Alice Hargood (Linday Hayden) and Lucy Paxton (Isla Blair), and
using them against their own fathers.
Although Hammer maintained a consistent minimal quality in their films (Well, there's always
Creatures the World Forgot ...) they neither grew their company nor put enough effort into
developing their horror films to change with the times. They followed the Baby Jane trend
fairly well but after 1961 or so repeated their initial smash successes only once or twice (I guess
I'm thinking of
One Million Years B.C. in this
context). I don't know enough of the internal politics, but by 1969 Hammer was clearly in a bad way.
The Dracula character indeed seems to have been shoehorned in as an afterthought. The
underused Roy Kinnear is a welcome sight, but his job is to connect the film with the previous opus
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.
He wanders a few yards away from that green park Hammer always uses for carriage scenes, and lo,
ends up at the foot of Dracula's castle that previously was at the top of a mountain. There he
witnesses Chris Lee's impaling on that big crucifix. The
demonic blood congeals into powder, after going through a stage that looks like a badly mixed diet
supplement milk shake. Kinnear cleverly scoops it up along with Drac's remaining artifacts, as if
he already knows exactly how to profit from it.
Much is made by film scholars of the basic theme of Taste the Blood of Dracula, which has
almost nothing to do with Dracula. The older generation is a corrupt paternalistic dictatorship that
must be overthrown! As if in response to the new "permissive society," the story
has three rich London hypocrites abusing their families with their puritanic tyranny. Poor Linda
Hayden is repeatedly grounded just for looking at boys, and her dates are thwarted at the last
minute by Dad. Of course, she and her thoughtful boyfriend get around that obstacle by sneaking
out a window in approved Hammer fashion. For this, Linda is beaten savagely. Daddy is bad.
He's also a pervert, running around to brothels to cavort (read: snuggle, drink and sit real
close) with ladies of the night. There's even some fleeting nudity here, although it
was 86'd for the American release and possibly the UK release as well. The three glum gents are
unhappy with their level of debauchery and appeal for guidance to an aggressively rakish
gentleman, Lord Courtley. As it turns out, Courtley's already made a deal with the devil and for
some foggy reason helps the middleaged trio do the same. A small
fortune procures more of Dracula's dried blood from Roy Kinnear (now a wealthy shopkeeper) but the
depraved trio don't have the courage or commitment to imbibe. When Courtley drinks the crimson glop,
they express their revulsion by committing murder.
I'm going to presume that in the original premise Lord Courtley character and the whole Faustian
premise was employed because of Christopher Lee's unavailability. Having died in such a terrible
state of Sin, Courtley would then join the living dead as a new "prime" vampire, one with an
original license from Satan, like Dracula himself. When Christopher Lee and his Dracula persona
became an essential part of the distribution deal at the last minute, Hammer took a
crowbar to the existing script. That's why Taste the Blood of Dracula uses up fifteen
minutes establishing the Kinnear and Bates characters, only to discard them and start from
scratch when Lee shows up. The story moves along at a brisk clip, but it's still an awkward
Dracula's presence barely makes sense. Courtley transforms into Dracula, but without implying
that Courtley was Dracula, or was even possessed by him. Why Dracula should want revenge for
Courtley is unclear, unless he's suddenly become the traffic cop for every slight committed
against loyal satanists. As the keepers of his dried blood and effects, Courtley and Kinnear
were actually parasites profiting from Dracula. Courtley was feeding on the body of Dracula
in a perverse kind of communion. The pair were preventing Dracula from being reborn, whereas the
trio of gentlemen the Count wishes to punish are the ones who have unintentionally revived him.
He should be sending them thank-you cards.
Courtley (or his ghost, or the vampire he becomes after "death") might originally have seduced
the daughters and used them to exact his revenge on their fathers. Now we have Christopher Lee
in a woefully mis-motivated situation, watching each paterfamilias bite the dust and keeping
personal score in his dour baritone: "The First." "The Second." We have to wonder if Lee's performance here
was perhaps the inspiration for Sesame Street's loveable blood-sucking undead puppet
The Count, who has helped children learn their numbers for decades.
Hayden's boyfriend comes to the rescue after she's compromised by Dracula and has brought
her girlfriend Isla Blair to a sorry end. Then we get a finale that shows the Count unable to
prevail against one kid armed with a cross. Lee's reactions are dynamic (some great shots there,
for sure) but
he's put in ridiculous positions, like suddenly discovering there's a cross in the church'es stained
glass window (how surprising). As in a Warners cartoon, these symbols only seem to have an effect
after he's seen them and done a double-take. It therefore follows that Dracula's best plan to escape
annihilation from spiritual artifacts would be to close his eyes and exit calmly, taking care
not to bang his shins against anything.
Linda Hayden and Isla Blair are objects of rapture in Dick Klemensen's Hammer fanzine Little
Shoppe of Horrors but their impact in this picture isn't all that memorable. Hayden's a trifle
Sandra Dee-ish; the script doesn't allow her to do much more than suffer and then relish the
joy of slaughtering her dad with a shovel. In the final confrontation she changes loyalties
back to the side of her boyfriend, but it isn't very well defined.
I've always wondered about Christopher Lee's claims that Hammer begged and pleaded for him to come
back and do these films, yet never paid him enough. Lee surely had an agent and any fool knows
that an irreplaceable lead player has a sure wedge in negotiations in even the smallest venues. If
Lee is saying that he gave in and played these roles just to make money for a bunch of English
businessmen from the House of Lords, that's his business. At that time he hadn't yet been
established as a quality character actor in non-horror roles (Billy Wilder did that for him). Lee
was working off and on for Jesus Franco, which to Savant means he would take any role offered, no
matter what the Franco-philes have to say. 1
But there's no criticizing Lee's dedication to the role. These Dracula turns must have been physically
punishing. Carrying women as if they were weightless surely invites back strain for a tall man like
Lee. I personally
think wearing those custom bloodshot contact lenses and those full-orb red eye coverings looks like
inhuman torture. Never having contacts and being very eye-sensitive, I blink with discomfort at the
thought of him wearing those things. He should have been given triple hazard pay.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is one of the better Hammers by Peter Sasdy, a directorial victim of
Hammer's waning days. His style is reasonably fluid and he does a good job of making cheap settings
look better than they should. The art direction is handsome and there's some okay production value in
the church and the brothel. Sasdy's work looks a lot less rushed than
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
by the obviously less involved Freddie Francis.
However, no director could save this awkward picture after the pasted-together plot goes haywire. I
never got through the remaining two or three Hammer
Dracula sequels that followed this one, although I've seen bits of Dracula AD 1972 that sent me
scrambling for the remote. Christopher Lee fans won't be deterred, but curious outsiders should be
Warners' DVD of Taste the Blood of Dracula looks fine for the most part, with good color and
an extremely sharp image. Bright hues flood the screen in the titles, and at odd moments when Sasdy
wants to express himself by bathing Linda Hayden in crimson. James Bernard's score here is considered
one of his best, and the soundtrack is clear and bright.
This is supposedly the first time that Taste has appeared in the States uncut. This is
parroting information read at
The Mobius Forum, but the partially
nude Snake woman and several shots of Ralph Bates dying and Chris Lee were reportedly snipped, even
on Warners' mid-90s VHS version of the film. 2
The trailer is the only extra. The garish cover is from original UK art and features a close-up of
Lee's fierce face that looks more like AIP's Count Yorga. The Linda Hayden image is authentic but
unflattering - she's much prettier than that. A handsome still on the inside snapper cover shows her
to much better effect.
Significant help and a Sesame Street joke for this review came from Gary Teetzel.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Taste the Blood of Dracula rates:
Movie: Fair ++
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 28, 2004
1. From Gary Teetzel:
Actually, Lee always says Hammer urged his cooperation by saying "Think of all the people you'll be
putting out of work." So by Lee's account he was doing it for the "little people" and not Sir James.
2. I don't acknowledge
The Mobius Forum enough. They're
the best resource for breaking news on Sci Fi, Horror, cult, art, exploitation and Asian DVDs,
and a lot of informed and influential people post there regularly.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson