October Horrorshow: Scars of Dracula

These Hammer Dracula films are showing serious signs of franchise fatigue. Scars of Dracula is the sixth film in the series, and I can’t be sure that anyone involved cared one whit about the project. Unlike the Frankenstein films, which had their ups and downs, there was still great care in producing a viable film. But Scars of Dracula looks and feels cheap.

From 1970, Scars of Dracula was written by Anthony Hinds and directed by Roy Ward Baker. In previous films, there had been lengthy setups before Dracula was inevitably resurrected to chase down buxom young maidens in the night. Baker and Hinds changed things up for this film, resurrecting Dracula in the very first scene. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Shaking up a formula is a great way to inject some new creativity into a film series that had been staggering. Unfortunately, having Dracula revived for the entire film was the only good idea they had.

From this very first scene, a viewer can tell this movie will be unimpressive. The resurrection is done as an afterthought, something to be gotten out of the way so the plot can get going. A bat, presumably another vampire, drips blood from its mouth onto the powdered remains of Dracula, who was killed, as always, at the end of the previous film. And just like that, Dracula (Christopher Lee) is back.

Before I get to the plot, I have to write about the bats. There were a number of bat marionettes in this film, and they all looked ridiculous. It had always been impossible to make realistic looking bats before the age of CGI. Yet at no point did any of these vampire filmmakers just chuck the idea of bats out the window. These fake-looking bats do more to drag a viewer out of their suspension of disbelief in vampire flicks than the fact the bad guy is a creature that does not, and cannot, exist. I’m more willing to believe that Christopher Lee is a bloodsucking demon than I am that a black plastic and cardboard thing with visible strings is a bat.

The plot is simple enough. Dracula is alive and in residence, once again, at his castle. In another town, a young cad by the name of Paul (Christopher Matthews) is forced to flee after being falsely accused of raping the burgomaster’s daughter. His flight takes him to Castle Dracula, which is a bad place to be in these films.

Paul’s brother Simon (Dennis Waterman), and Simon’s love interest, Sarah (Jenny Hanley), track him to the castle in hopes of finding him. Of course, they are unaware of the danger that lurks therein, and Dracula is once again up to his nightly shenanigans.

The plot itself is okay, even though there are a fair amount of overused tropes. It’s the execution of the plot that fails. Cast members come and go, their importance changing. The bats are never fully explained, at times being used as a deus ex machina to move things along. Besides a rather shocking moment in the early stages, the rest of the film can feel like a jumble of Dracula moments strung together to make a movie.

This film also suffers from poor production values, something that was a problem with earlier Dracula films. For whatever reason (probably money), these Dracula films didn’t get proper sets, nor was the photography all that impressive. Something happened to dumb this series down. Whether Hammer was forced to cut corners or did it by choice, the result is a film that comes nowhere near what Hammer was capable of.