Warner Bros. // 1968 // 92 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 2nd, 2004
You just can't keep a good man down!
If for no other reason, you've got to give Dracula Has Risen from the Grave props for using the Present Perfect verb tense in its title. I mean, how often do you see that?
Even though the lord of all blood-suckers (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) was vanquished and frozen in a moat at the end of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the local villagers refuse to attend mass because the shadow of the Count's castle, looming from its mountaintop perch, touches the church in the evening. To assuage the villagers' superstitions, the visiting Monsignor Müller (Rupert Davies, The Brides of Fu Manchu, The Oblong Box) drags the local priest up the mountain in order to prove the vampire is dead-dead (as opposed to undead) and to place a huge, ornate cross on the door of the spooky mansion in order to bar entry or exit by any form of evil.
On the way to the top, the cowardly priest takes a spill and splits open his head. His blood conveniently finds its way into the mouth of the Countcicle, waking him from his subzero slumber. Dracula immediately Renfields the mildly wounded, weak-willed priest by giving him the ol' bloodshot evil eye. None too pleased that he's been barred from his own castle by a big, gold cross (and apparently too dim or too prone to blind rage to think of ordering his non-vampire servant to remove it), the Count forces his clerical lackey to take him to the Monsignor's home town in the province of Keinenberg. Once there, he adds a busty barmaid named Zena (Barbara Ewing, Eye of the Needle) to the ranks of his mesmerized servants, but has his eye on Müller's stunning niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed). But the Count isn't going to take full possession of the blonde beauty if her atheist boyfriend, Paul (Barry Andrews, The Spy Who Loved Me), has anything to say about it.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is the first of Hammer's vampire flicks not directed by Terence Fisher (The Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness). This fourth entry in the series finds Freddie Francis at the helm. At the time he took the reins of the vampire franchise from Fisher, Francis had already directed the B-movie classic The Day of the Triffids and Hammer's The Evil of Frankenstein among other small pictures, but he was mostly known as a cinematographer -- he'd won an Oscar for his work on 1960's Sons and Lovers. In Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Francis's moody, atmospheric visuals go a long way in mitigating a clunky, padded script by Anthony Hinds (Taste the Blood of Dracula). As we would expect of any self-respecting Hammer flick of the '60s, there are a plethora of scenes draped in fog, as well as eye-popping color. And Francis spends much time on Keinenberg's rooftops, orchestrating the city movements and clandestine meetings of both vampire and mortals a hundred feet above the streets below. The layers of tiled roofs stretching away into the distance make for a beautifully gothic nighttime setting. The only blatant visual gaffes are a handful of day-for-night scenes so poorly executed they come off as the hokiest of camp.
Structurally, Hinds's script sticks close to Bram Stoker's classic formula of Dracula traveling to a foreign city where he discovers and becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, little effort is made to do anything unique with the formula. The contrast between Müuller's unwavering faith, Paul's atheism, and the fallen priest's struggle to find his way back to God fumbles at profundity, but never gels into a coherent thematic underpinning for plot. In the end, the film is little more than a handful of stylish set pieces. Most of what's in between is dross.
The count's awakening at film's beginning is entirely ridiculous, but made fun by Lee's nobility and innate skill for playing menace. There's also a wicked little scene in which our hunky hero, Paul, manages to stake the sleeping vamp but fails to kill him. When Dracula wakes up pissed off, it's a classic Lee vampire moment. The film's best scene, though, is when the Count appears in Maria's boudoir, seduces her, and bites her for the first time. Its pacing is exquisite, its tone sensual and erotic. The scene has its roots in Stoker and recalls a gothically erotic scene in Murnau's Nosferatu (I doubt this is accidental, as there's also a scene of the vampire driving a horsedrawn carriage, slightly undercranked so he's whipping along at preternatural speed, sure homage to Orlock's carriage scene in Murnau's seminal vampire silent). Freddie Francis's version of the bedroom bite has the advantage of a stately and handsome bloodsucker, paired with the delectable Hammer ingenue Veronica Carlson. Making absolutely certain we properly associate the vampire's bite with sexual deflowering, Francis throws in a shot of Maria's hand pushing her baby doll from the edge of the bed as she's being sucked -- it's so bad, it's good.
Unfortunately, most of the scenes between these highlights must be endured rather than enjoyed. And the film's ending is a cool idea, but Paul has too easy a time of it, making us wonder why everyone was so intimidated by the lean and towering vampire in the first place.
But Hammer films aren't about plot logic. They're about gothic moodiness, lush sets and costumes, the creative use of peasant blouses to display cleavage (of which there's far too little in this outing, I must say), and vibrant color photography that sets off the gallons of red blood one doesn't see in the Universal horror flicks. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave does a decent job of delivering on all of that, even if its script is mediocre. Its major problem is the absence of a dynamic heroic presence. Rupert Davies is no Peter Cushing, and that makes the picture a lesser outing than Fisher's The Horror of Dracula or Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Still, it's better than most of what Hammer would produce in the decade to come.
Again, in terms of visuals, Hammer films are all about color and atmosphere. Warner's DVD is a luscious presentation of the film, framed at 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16:9 televisions. Reds and fleshtones are fully saturated and pop right of the screen. Mist and fog are rendered with subtlety, depth, and detail. There's some minor source dirt here and there, mild flickering in a couple scenes, and some of the establishing shots -- which look like stock footage -- are riddled with coarse grain. This is a fine presentation.
The mono audio track has been spruced up, and hiss is almost entirely absent. It's not an aggressive or detailed sound design, but it gets the job done.
The only extra on the disc is a trailer for the film.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is a decent entry in the Hammer catalogue -- not among the best, but not among the worst either. Warner's DVD presents the film in beautiful fashion.
And don't be fooled by the G rating given the flick by the MPAA. Its quotient of chills, blood, and bosoms should be enough to entertain any Hammer fan.
All parties are hereby found not guilty, and are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated G