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Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

Starring: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Barry Andrews, Ewan Hooper

Written By: Anthony Hinds Directed By: Freddie Francis

The Short Version

It’s Hammer, so you know that the color and production design are gorgeous.

The religious aspect plays very heavily in this installment; really, too much.

Otherwise, you’ve seen this movie before.

The pacing is pretty slow.

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave isn’t terrible, but it’s not exactly a destination film, either.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

EMMENTALER.

The “real” Swiss cheese.  It’s hole-y.


Pairs Well With...

PILSNER URQUELL.

This is the beer the student pranksters get our hero to pour all over himself before his big meet with the hopeful future in-law.  The pranksters are jerks, but you could do worse with the beer.

“If you want to be a success in life, forget the truth.”


As is the case with so many men, the repeated pitfall in the life (or undeath, whichever) of Christopher Lee’s incarnation as Count Dracula seems to be his relationship with women.  He can’t go more than a few days without one, and he can’t be happy with willing ladies who ask to be put to the fang, either, regardless of how gorgeous they are.  No, he’s always got to after some unwilling female relation of his worst enemy; the sort of woman who tends to be surrounded by stake-wielding allies.

Silly man; no wonder he keeps dying at the end of the movie.

Silly stake-wielding allies; they always end up doing something with him that allows him to come back later.

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave begins with what we will come to understand is a flashback, and a beautifully photographed one at that.  A young man we quickly take for an altar boy (Norman Bacon) walks into a small village church and sets about the mundane chore of cleaning and sweeping up.  When his eyes fall onto the pull rope for the church bell, however, he notices something amiss: there’s blood dripping down the rope.  When he goes upstairs to see, he makes a horrible discovery indeed.  There’s a dead woman hanging inside the church bell!

A year passes, and we enter the same church again.  It’s dusty and full of cobwebs; there are chairs about, but it’s obvious no one ever sits in them.  And even though it’s time for Mass, the local priest (Ewan Hooper, whose voice is horribly dubbed throughout the film) is at the bar doing shots.  Hell of a day for Monsignor Ernst (Rupert Davies) to show up for a surprise inspection, don’t you think?

When the Monsignor questions the priest and the villagers (who are also at the bar) about why no one’s in Church for Mass, it is explained to him that the Church is considered cursed because the shadow of Dracula’s castle still falls upon the building.  The Monsignor reminds them that Dracula was killed the previous year and left dead in the flowing waters of the mountain above, but the villagers won’t budge.  The castle, they maintain, remains cursed, as does anything that falls under its shadow.  Being a holy man, the Monsignor decides that the best way to allay everyone’s fears is to take the local priest with him up the mountain and exorcise the place.

They get most of the way up the mountain when the priest chickens out.  The Monsignor goes on ahead and indeed performs his rite, getting lots of bad thunderstorm effects in response, and closes out the exorcism by barring the castle door with a large crucifix he has taken from the local church altar.  Unfortunately, while the Monsignor was having his fun, the priest tripped and fell, cut a gash in his head, and let the blood drip into the mouth of the entombed Dracula (Christopher Lee), thus awakening the old evil once again.

When Dracula later tries to return to his castle and finds the place exorcised and barred with a crucifix he can’t stand to be near, he demands of the priest – now his slave – who did this to the castle.  When told that it was the Monsignor, Dracula plans a special revenge for him, a revenge that will involve turning his dear lovely niece…

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave marks Christopher Lee’s third turn as the world’s most famous vampire.  Though the general revenge/bride story framework remains the same as it was since the first film, Horror of Dracula, Lee’s portrayal of the character has evolved.  When we first met him in Horror of Dracula, his speech was clipped, quick, and to the point while he played his part as the Count.  Once revealed as the vampire, he no longer spoke at all, and remained silent throughout his second film, Dracula: Prince of Darkness.  Here, he speaks for the first time since being revealed as the vampire, and while he’s still a man of few words, those words have taken on an angry menace.  When he demands of the priest, “Who has done this thing?”, the words are guttural, animalistic, and dripping with pure hatred; the verbal equivalent of a throat-ripping.  Even his simplest gestures are angry; watching him drive the horses of his coach makes one wonder how the poor creatures escaped even one leg of their journey without being flayed alive.  And yet, along with the anger, Lee has also given Dracula a touch of smugness that shows however briefly whenever things go his way, just the slightest crack of an evil smile with one corner of his mouth.  (A very nice touch on Lee’s part; any broader of a smile would not have worked, but this does.)  He’s also added slightly more sensuality to his approaches to women; still not outright lust, but something more than simple menace all the same.  (Frankly, given the incredible number of can’t-miss-the-view cleavage shots here, he shows remarkable restraint.)

Overall, it should come as no surprise to learn that Lee’s performance as Dracula draws no complaints.

This is not, however, the same thing as saying that what he’s asked to do as Dracula draws no complaints; it just means that none of the problems are his fault.  We’ll come back to those in a minute.

The rest of the cast does well overall.  Rupert Davies is quite serviceable as the Monsignor, as is Barry Andrews as “hero” Paul, though frankly he seems to have walked onto this set by mistake from a more hippie-oriented production.  While physically Ewan Hooper plays the part of the priest-turned-slave well, I frankly do not understand why his voice had to be very noticeably overdubbed while everyone else gets to talk as themselves.  If powers that be didn’t like his accent, they shouldn’t have cast him; having one guy dubbed while the rest aren’t is very, very distracting.  (Filmmakers got away with it for Gert Frobe in Goldfinger, but this is not Goldfinger.)  On the other hand, perhaps it was expected that the audience would be too busy staring at the ladies to notice.  The physical attributes of Veronica Carlson as our leading innocent and especially of Barbara Ewing as our looser lady cannot be denied, but neither can the strength of their performances.  Indeed, Ewing’s performance in particular stands out here, and would do so even if not for her generous neckline.  Though the character is written as something of a stereotype, Ewing brings humanity and emotion to the role that are in some ways even more memorable than Lee’s Dracula here, and which also do the audience the great service of making the middle of the movie bearable.

Because really, without her, it wouldn’t be.

One thing you can always count on with a Hammer film is that it will be beautifully photographed, and that’s still the case here.  The look of the movie is gorgeous (save the really silly thunderstorms), as is the camera technique.  The pacing, however, is another matter entirely.  The film is often incredibly slow, and all the pretty colors in the world aren’t going to change that.  Some of this slowness comes from the direction, and some of it comes from the screenplay.

Alas, pacing is not the only problem to be had with this screenplay.

Dracula Rises From the Grave plays very, very heavily on the religious theme, to the point where it might as well have been subtitled “go to church or else.”  While the crucifix and holy water have often played some part in vampire lore (Stoker’s own Van Helsing called hunters of Dracula “God’s madmen”), here, that is magnified to nearly ridiculous proportions, and the audience is beaten over the head with it.  Now, one not only has to kill the vampire through one of the prescribed methods such as a stake through the heart, but one must also be praying while one does so, or the vampire still doesn’t die.  This is a completely whole cloth invention of this script that is certainly not part of standard lore and which even contradicts the lore already established by Hammer’s own films.  (A little stake and no prayer worked fine for the first Bride in Horror of Dracula, for example.)  It also leads to some very asinine moments, most particularly a scene wherein a stake the size of a fence post – we’re talking a 4x4 cylinder as long as Christopher Lee’s arm – is pounded into Dracula’s chest, and yet he doesn’t die because his would-be assassin is an atheist who doesn’t pray while he does the pounding.  Instead, Dracula stands up, writhes around waiting for this guy to pray, and when he doesn’t, Dracula actually pulls this massive hunk of wood from his own chest in a moment that plays so ludicrously that even Lee himself is said to have called it “rubbish.” 

No word from the script, by the way, on how Dracula could have committed the crime we saw at the beginning of the movie inside of a church on very definite holy ground in front of the very same cross that he can’t bear to look at while it bars the way to his castle later.  Or why Dracula doesn’t simply pack up and head to some nice, crucifix-free Buddhist town in Asia somewhere, picking up a bride whose friends and family have no grudges against him whatsoever along the way.  (Or even taking the serving wench he starts with and ultimately rejects here, which in itself provides another moment for every heterosexual male in the audience to ask if this guy is insane.)

As for the ending… the horror part works, but as with most horror sequences in this movie, the overzealousness of the religious content once again overshadows it.  It is of course more than possible for these two elements to coexist, as they often do to great effect (The Exorcist, anyone?), but in this case, it seems that someone forgot that this was supposed to be a horror entertainment picture first and not a church recruitment film. 

Combine that forgotten focus with the overall slow pacing, and the final result is mediocre at best, despite having had the potential to be something more.

Bottom line, if you’re a Hammer fan, then Dracula Rises From the Grave is worth looking for, but otherwise, it’s hardly a destination film.  Go ahead and have a peek if you happen upon it or if it comes with a collection you find yourself picking up, but there’s certainly no reason to go out of your way to find this flick.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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