It tastes like slightly salty Grape Kool-Aid, or so says Judge Bill Gibron.
They taste his blood and the horror begins!
While spending a quiet evening in a Victorian brothel, a trio of business associates is accosted by the caddish Lord Courtley. Rumor has it that the brash rascal, disowned by his wealthy family, has sold his soul to the Devil. This intrigues our group of gentlemen, as they are members of a self-made secret society hell-bent on exploring any and all "experience" that the natural—or supernatural—world has to offer. Hoping to be initiated in the ways of Satan, the men want Courtley to help them expand their repertoire of reprehensible, redolent behavior.
Wouldn't you know it, Courtley has just the Antichrist aid. A local merchant has come across the cape, the clasp, the signet ring, and a vial of powdered blood from Dracula himself. The borderline-unbalanced aristocrat wants to use the items in a Black Mass sacrifice. When something goes wrong during the dark ceremony of evil orientation, Courtley is left for dead and our bumbling beefeaters head for the highlands to cover their upper-crust asses. Too late: the body of the late Lord is magically transformed into the Prince of Darkness himself, the neck-drainer known as Dracula.
Angry that his able servant-in-sin is now worm food, the vicious vampire seeks his vengeance against the rich rubes responsible. And our man Drac is not a picky punisher. If he can't get to the males first, he'll be more than happy to place familial females (daughters, preferably) under his sinister spell. As the bodies start to stack up, the police are at a loss. There are a few who know the reasons behind the murders, but they too are not long for this world. That's what you get when you Taste the Blood of Dracula.
Chock full of the spectacular stock in trade that kept Hammer in the horror hierarchy for decades, Taste the Blood of Dracula is a great big Gothic gambol filled with decaying churches, overripe bodices, and secret-society shenanigans. From its evocative Victorian London locales to the straightforward revenge storyline, this is one bloodsucking frolic that doesn't fail the faithful viewer. Now there will be those who piss and moan that this version of the venerable Vlad is missing many of their favorite fang factors. They will decry the lack of Lee (Christopher, that is), the massive overacting and scenery snacking of Ralph Bates (who turns Lord Courtley into an over-enunciating spitting machine) and the less-than-fetching female pulchritude in the guise of the piggy Anne (Linda Hayden) and the figgy Lucy (Isla Blair).
Yet those complaints are poppycock when compared to the air of moral ambivalence, the riotous ritualistic religious elements, and the acute visual splendor inherent in this wonderfully baroque Bram Stoker scarefest. Let's face it: any film that begins with the roly-poly Roy Kinnear screaming like a sissy (he's Mr. Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, kids) after witnessing our beloved vampire bleeding like a stuck pig (he has been stabbed with what looks like elongated miters) has got to be setting us up for more macabre madness. Taste the Blood of Dracula may not be the best in the British motion picture canon of caped carnivores, but it feels like the most authentic interpretation of the bunch. Placing our cruel claret head in the middle of posh English estates and spooky stone ruins just reeks of an air of wickedness.
The script, sadly, is really less than perfect. Our fave rave vampire doesn't make an appearance until rather late in the game. But the minute our cloaked Count makes his manifestation, it's smooth movie sailing from then on. There is something so iconographic about Christopher Lee as Dracula that all other vampires, present and past (yes, that includes you, Bela) should bow to his badassness. Looking both simultaneously stoic and sinister, and ever resembling the part of a regal throat ripper, Lee can turn suave into savage with a mere moving of his mouth. He has the size and the heft to make his paranormal parasite an ample monster. And when he removes his gaze from the nape of a victim and stares at the audience, those blood-red eyes are incredibly chilling. It's an image that burns much brighter than bat transformations or pointed tooth exposing. While others will lobby for Lugosi, Lee holds up better as a master of menace.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is not one of Lee's superior sessions with neck-sucking, however. This version of Vlad is more a metaphysical hitman, working in connection with Lord Courtley and the Devil himself to gain a little retribution from the obtuse mercantile men who betrayed him. And you know Drac—he can only succeed if he has some supple sultriness hanging from his engorged canines. So we are again treated to Lee's leering look, the kind of almost-arched eyebrow glare that drives the gals…batty. Both Alice and Lucy are wooed into the service of the succu-boss, who hopes that by lunching on a little heaving forbidden fruit, he'll end up balancing the supernatural score sheet between himself and the naughty noblemen who played with the bull and now deserve the horns. Oh yeah, Drac'll kill them too. But first, it's time for some feminine fun.
A great deal of the credit for making this potentially creaky creepshow work falls on the solid shoulders of director Peter Sasdy. A Hungarian with lots of BBC TV under his belt by the time of this film, he would helm both this version of the Count's corporeal escapades and the equally evocative Ingrid Pitt scenery-chewer Countess Dracula in 1970. Sasdy's style is understated and full of artistic framing. He loves to use all available elements, from elaborate sets to scenic backdrops, to create a complete cohesive mood for his movies. Taste the Blood of Dracula is no different. Sasdy has all the details in place, making sure that even the least important scenes (like Alice and Peter's garden romps) look like a billion pounds. Indeed, there are many instances where the places and the panoramas threaten to become more interesting than the actions occurring within them. But Sasdy understands this and never lets his camera falter. Images are captured like paints on a canvas and the results are always intricate, metaphorical and awe-inspiring.
There are better Lee/Dracula vehicles out there—movies that truly showcase the evil and death that his undead blood drinker can deliver. But Taste the Blood of Dracula is the blueprint for all good Gothic horror; a chance to see firsthand how well-maintained mood and baneful atmosphere can create something that supercedes a mediocre fright film's shaky components. Sure, the terror in Taste could be called tepid. But the circumstances surrounding such lukewarm foreboding more than enhance the feeling of dread.
There is good news and some very bad news about this release from Warner Brothers. The good news is that the transfer is first-rate, a crisp, clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image. There is hardly a sign of any age or print damage, and Warner has even gone the extra mile and included about four minutes of extra footage originally deleted from the American issue of the film. Reinstated are parts of a sexy snake dance and a couple of quick tit shots. There even seems to be more moments of the coagulating red stuff on screen. Together with a nicely ambient Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack, the technical end of this release is outstanding.
Too bad the disc is treated like a jailbird uncle at a family reunion when it comes to extras. There is only a theatrical trailer here—that's all. No Hammer history. No Christopher Lee discussion. Just the movie and its original merchandising. While there are probably dozens of reasons why Warner skimped on the bonus material, excuses don't make the DVD any more noteworthy. Fans of British horror are notorious for wanting as much background and information as possible, and this DVD's lack of special features will only let them down.
Indeed, Taste the Blood of Dracula is an old-fashioned Creature Feature festival with an amazing look and feel of authenticity and anxiety. There may be better examples of how Hammer made fear its main factor, or how Lee reinvented the role of Dracula, but for anyone wondering what all the mythologizing is about, this film will give them more than an ample "taste."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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