|Scars of Dracula|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2001|
Some copies also include a second DVD, featuring the documentary 'The Many Faces of Christopher Lee' and two music videos with Lee.
What with many of Hammer's best films in the hands of distributors who show little inclination to release them on DVD, it falls to Anchor Bay to give us almost all the others, in their 'Hammer Collection.' However, with the likes of 'Scars of Dracula,' they're beginning to reach the bottom of the deep Hammer barrel.
Nonetheless, this fifth Hammer horror featuring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, looks much better on this DVD than it ever did in U.S. theaters. It was released by a minor distributor, which apparently decided to use the cheapest color processing available; prints were ugly and grainy. Here, Moray Grant's photography has the lush, creamy colors that were intended. Scott MacGregor's production design ranges from splendid -- the interiors -- to woefully inadequate, such as the forecourt to Dracula's castle, with an embarrassingly obvious backdrop. The movie may not be very good, but it is reasonably important in horror movie history, so this presentation is welcome.
The movie can drive a horror fan nuts. The script by "John Elder" (Hammer exec Anthony Hinds) is awkward and routine, annoyingly different from the previous Hammer Draculas, but very like lots of other horror movies. Unlike the previous entries in the series, there's very little continuity between 'Scars' and its predecessor. Here, Dracula is revived when the dust of his body mixes with blood drooled by a hovering bat. No, I am not making that up.
Once revived, he doesn't seem to do very much, although local villagers, led by a landlord (Hammer mainstay Michael Ripper), are very upset. They storm the castle, beat up Dracula's human servant Klove (Patrick Troughton, who was Dr. Who for three years), and burn the castle. (Which, afterward, seems none the worse for the blaze.)
Later, or meanwhile, it's hard to tell which, we meet randy Paul (Christopher Matthews), his brother Simon (Dennis Waterman), and his kind of girlfriend Sarah (Jenny Hanley). The script grinds through a complex series of coincidences which end up with Paul a guest in Dracula's castle, and one (Anouska Hempel, now a famous dress designer) of Dracula's ladies in bed with him. The furious Dracula catches them together, unaccountably stabs her, then flees at the morning light. The last we see of Paul, alive anyway, is when he visits Dracula's tomb rather too late in the day.
Eventually, Simon and Sarah come to this country -- we'd seen Paul smash through a border gate -- and they, too, encounter the grumpy landlord, a frightened priest (Michael Gwynn) and, finally, Dracula himself.
The movie is frustrating because so much of it is so routine, and some of it looks so cheap -- while more attention is paid to the character, the personality, of Dracula than in ANY of the previous Hammer outings. Lee talks a great deal more (in 'Dracula, Prince of Darkness,' he had no dialog at all), does more stuff straight out of Stoker (eyes glowing through closed lids, crawling up a wall), and in general is more of a presence. But despite this, and the generally high level of acting one expects from Hammer, the movie cannot evade a second-string, hangdog aura. It was the last Hammer Dracula with Lee set in the 19th century, the last that could even sort of be linked to the series that began with the classic 'Horror of Dracula' in 1958.
But it has been given first-rate treatment by Anchor Bay in this attractive DVD release. In addition to the nearly perfect print, there's a very good commentary track by Christopher Lee and director Roy Ward Baker, hosted by Hammer expert Marcus Hearn. Some attention is paid to Baker's unusual career; he began as an assistant to such as Alfred Hitchcock, turned director in the late 1940s, then came to the U.S. where he made a few ordinary and one exceptional movie ('Inferno'). Back in Britain, he did the classic 'A Night to Remember,' the best movie ever made about the Titanic, then drifted into television. He worked frequently for Hammer, usually on their more prestigious movies, such as 'Quatermass and the Pit' and 'The Anniversary' (which starred Bette Davis).
Lee continues to be a very busy actor even today; he's in the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, as well as the next 'Star Wars' film. He has an incredible memory, casually demonstrated here as he recites filmographies and even family connections for many of the cast members. His unquenchable ego surfaces from time to time ("...not to be immodest, but...") as well as his shy warmth and compassion.
On the other hand, he and Baker spend too much time castigating modern-day movies; it becomes particularly ironic when Lee complains about the extreme gore of current movies (which was true 20 years ago, but not now) over some of the goriest footage Hammer ever filmed, a mass bat-attack. (The movie overuses the bat props, which aren't good, but no worse than those in other films.) 'Scars of Dracula' is, in fact, one of the most brutal Hammer movies; apparently just to justify the title, there's a hard-to-watch scene of Lee applying a red-hot sword to Troughton's back. Plus lots of bat attacks.
Some editions of the DVD include an extra disc; the main attraction is a well-illustrated talk by Lee about his long and surprisingly varied career. He talks directly to the camera, showing off props from some of his films, occasionally even demonstrating them, as with a sword from 'The Three/Four Musketeers.' There are also two music videos; Lee has a very good operatic voice, but his delivery is also operatic, not appropriate to these songs. Still, for those fond of the actor, these are delightful additions to a video collection.
And so, despite its faults as a movie, is 'Scars of Dracula.' The Hammer Horrors are now part of movie history, a very vivid part, and having one more DVD of a Hammer movie is very welcome.