SEPTEMBER 13, 2009
While I am usually a strong advocate of watching franchises in order, I make an exception for the (loose) Dracula series from Hammer. I've seen so many goddamn Dracula films, I figure the best chance of any of them have at this point is to be watched on its own, without knowing what came before it whether I saw it or not, so I can have as much of a blank slate as possible. Indeed, after watching Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, I discovered that it was the 4th (of 9, according to the IMDb anyway) in the series, of which I have seen the first (Horror of Dracula) and second (The Brides of Dracula), but not in order.
Anyway, it's not a bad film, but it takes a while to get going. Drac (Christopher Lee) only appears for about 2 total minutes in the film's first 50 or so. Hell, the opening scene is set in broad daylight, which is just saying "Don't expect Dracula anytime soon!" And our new cast of folks aren't particularly interesting; it's pretty obvious to spot who is standing in for who here (they barely even try to change the names in some cases; the Mina counterpart is named Zena). Newcomer Veronica Carlson plays Lucy, er, Maria, and the Jonathan Harker wannabe is some dude named Paul.
But the real disappointment is the Van Helsing fill-in, a monsignor played by Rupert Davies. He's not a bad character in his own right, but he's a lousy sub for Dracula's greatest nemesis. Hell, the guy barely even interacts with Lee, and he is injured badly within seconds of their big "fight" scene and spends the rest of his scenes in a bed. The cool thing about Dracula movies is that there's always an equally badass guy fighting him (usually Van Helsing or one of his descendents) but this movie offers no equally compelling foil. Also, the film sets up a conflict between Paul and the Monsignor (Paul is an atheist), which would have been interesting if they actually teamed up (and thus had to put aside their differences), but it just boils down to the Monsignor essentially telling him to reconsider his faith.
Another interesting element that they don't really do much with is the fact that Drac's "Renfield" of sorts is a priest who is under his control. There's one scene where he needs to help Drac by removing a cross from his intended victim's neck, but he is unable to do it because of the good that is still inside him. The film could have used more stuff like this, instead of half-hearted attempts at a love triangle between Paul, Maria, and Zena.
The plot, to its credit, does add something kind of new to the mix. A large cross has been placed in front of the entrance to Drac's castle, so he can't go inside until it has been removed. But instead of doing something cunning to go about accomplishing this (which would be fine), it ends up being yet another Dracula story where a girl falls under his spell and spends most of her scenes in bed with conveniently large windows nearby. And would you believe a staking scene goes awry? You bet it does!
As the film began, I wondered aloud if it would be directed by Terence Fisher or Freddie Francis (it's the latter), and by the time it ended I wondered if Fisher may have been a better choice (according to the IMDb, he WAS the original director, but had to bow out following a car accident). When the story finally picks up, Fisher's strange reliance on colored filters distracts from the narrative. It would be fine if he just colored the scenes orange or red or whatever, but instead he just colors the SIDES of the frame that way. When the camera isn't moving it's not as bad, but it looks really stupid when the camera pans to follow a character and the red/orange space (with normal color in the middle of the frame) tracks along with them. I actually thought the film was damaged at first.
So I dunno, it's watchable and all, but there's so many ways it could have been better, and even back then, there were simply too many Dracula films for this one to really stick out. The "cross in front of the castle" plot is fine, but it's often lost in what is essentially a remake of the original story, albeit with far less interesting characters. Though I guess it was the first film to ever be rated by the MPAA, so there's something.
What say you?