Scars Of Dracula (1970)

AUGUST 27, 2019


At long last! I can't recall why I never got around to seeing Scars of Dracula back when this was a daily operated site, since the only other one I missed at the time was the offshoot 7 Golden Vampires (and even that I eventually got to, earlier this year), though I assume it had something to do with availability. But no matter - I can finally say I've seen this entire franchise, albeit completely out of order and spread across so many years that my memories of most entries consist solely of whatever my own review can muster up. I still long for a boxed set that will a. look nice on my shelf and b. ensure that I watch them in order for a second go around (I've only seen one or two of them a second time), but I'm sure the rights issues will keep that from ever happening.

Then again if anyone could pull it off it'd be Scream Factory, since they managed to get all of the Halloweens together and they were spread even further apart I think. Scars is the third of the Hammer Dracula series they've released (after 7 Golden Vampires and Dracula: Prince of Darkness), so they're clearly making efforts to inch us ever closer to some kind of release consistency. Now that they have a tie to Warner Bros (who controls several of the others, including the original Horror of Dracula) there's at least a decent chance they can nab them all eventually, even if they are - like my own viewing experience - released completely out of order.

However there's been an upside to this erratic order, in which I only once managed to watch two of the films in sequence (something unique to this franchise for me; I'm usually a stickler for going in order). Some of the films - in particular this one - are criticized by critics and Hammer faithful for betraying continuity in this or that way, but I was never quite sure where in the history I was, so I never noticed or even really cared much. Apparently at the end of the previous film Dracula was killed in a church, but here his bones are in his castle (where he is resurrected by a bat); no explanation is given for how they got there, but for all I knew there was nothing amiss, so I was able to watch the film by starting off on the right foot, whereas the die-hards were annoyed before the title even came up.

I'm not saying they're "wrong" to be angry - I've certainly gotten my own panties in a bunch about such things in the past (I've mellowed out a lot since). But for me personally, being blind to this kind of thing helped me enjoy the film much more than I might if I were a student of the series and knew exactly where his body should have been, and I can't help but wonder how much more I would have enjoyed something like H20 back in the day if it was the first sequel I had seen, without being grumpy that it was dismissing my beloved H4 and not resolving the cliffhanger in Curse of Michael Myers. There's a pretty believable theory that Hammer wrote the film in a vague way in case Christopher Lee didn't come back, thus making a break from the continuity to start anew with a different incarnation of the character, and then simply didn't care enough to adjust the script accordingly when Lee did in fact return for his fifth outing as the Count.

But I'm glad he did, because it's the most active he's been in one since the original. He talks more here than in the last few combined, I think, and does more Stoker-y things (like climbing on the walls), giving the character (and in turn, Lee himself) a better showcase than most of the other entries, despite whatever issues one might take with how it compares to the others. Yes, it's a bit odd to see him acting so violently here, but I'll take it over him barely appearing or speaking and let everyone else carry the movie. As for the others, it's yet another guy named Paul (the third, at least, in this series), his brother Simon, and some villagers, plus Simon's fiance who fills the obligatory "lady that Dracula is obsessed with" role. I particularly liked the priest (he's not given any name) played by Michael Gwynn, who (SPOILERS FOR 50 YEAR OLD MOVIE AHEAD!) kind of fills the Van Helsing role to some degree, making it a fun shock when he's killed off with 20 or so minutes to go.

It's also got a little more adventure-y action, with both Paul and Simon scaling the castle, a runaway coach scene, etc - it feels like part of Hammer's attempt to modernize the brand, and I bet the film would pair nicely with Captain Kronos (as opposed to House of Frankenstein, the film it was actually shown with upon release). With Lee doing more and all of this other stuff, it's easy to see why it played so well for me, and it's a shame that the Hammer gatekeepers couldn't have much fun with it. Indeed, the commentary by the usual historian, Constantine Nasr, is downright nasty at times as he lambasts the continuity, the violence, Roy Ward Baker's direction, etc. It'd be like me doing one for Freddy's Dead or F13: New Blood: presumably amusing to those who shared my less than glowing opinion of those films, but a bummer and even kind of obnoxious to those who enjoyed them. He does give it credit on occasion (such as the quite good matte painting for the long drop from the castle) and still provides the usual historical background and anecdotes (he even has Baker's copy of the script with him, with handwritten notes and such), so it's not a total waste of time, but I do wish one of the other Hammer folks could have been roped in, assuming at least one of them enjoyed the movie more.

The other commentary is an older one by Lee and Baker, moderated by Marcus Hearn (another Hammer expert). Hearn wasn't even really needed here; the two men rarely pause as they talk about the film, the state of Hammer at the time, etc., while Lee chimes in with other random observations like his favorite Benny Hill sketches (when that show's cast member Bob Todd shows up in a bit part here). As always these British gents are delightfully candid which makes some of their stories bluntly hilarious, and at the very end Lee admits he's never even seen the movie before, so it's just a treasure - I'm glad Scream Factory carried it over from whatever release it was recorded for (in 2001 or so, based on Lee's saying he hasn't made a Hammer film in 25 years as his last one at the time was 1976's To the Devil a Daughter). The transfer is also spectacular; as is often the case perhaps a bit TOO good as you can often see the wires holding the giant bat that frequently attacks our heroes.

I started this franchise in the early days of HMAD, with Brides of Dracula in 2007, and am just now finishing it up, just shy of a full twelve years later. Needless to say, my memories of the ones I watched more than a few years ago are practically non-existent, so I wouldn't begin to try to rank them or anything. That said, re-reading my reviews it seems I was often mildly charmed by the majority of them, with Dracula AD 1972 being the only one I seemed really "into" beyond appreciation for what it was doing at the time it was doing it. Maybe if I watched them all in order I'd feel differently? Who knows. All I know is I had a good time watching this one and was happy to end my Hammer Dracula viewing on a high note. Here's hoping you find it as enjoyable!

What say you?


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