There is only one man (or beast) that rivals Cary Grant on this blog and that man is Dracula. I have been fascinated by the immortal evil of him ever since I first laid eyes on him on television many lifetimes ago. Never was that more true that when I, as a child, realized that Dracula could not die. It was the day when a man’s deep, booming voice said it in a commercial. It sent chills down my spine – DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.
There are monstrous spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968),directed by Freddie Francis, is the fourth and most successful of Hammer Studios’ 8-films focused on Dracula and the third of six starring Christopher Lee as the king of the undead. Hammer Studios began its horror journey with the hugely successful, The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 and quickly sought to follow with the only creature to rival The Monster on the big screen. To play him Hammer hired Lee who, as you might know, has become as legendary as Bela Lugosi has in the part.
Produced ten years after the first installment in the series, Horror of Dracula, Has Risen improves on the first in a few ways, although I am sure most fans would disagree. I will admit I have a soft spot for this one though. It is the version I remember seeing most on television and the one that caused the most loss of sleep. The film’s title is very effective as were the previous deaths of the Hammer Dracula outings. At the end of Horror of Dracula, his ashes scatter in the wind after the storied Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) subjects him to light. I am not sure how he ever put his ashes back together for Dracula: Prince of Darkness in 1966, but he did. That second installment featuring Lee ends as the Count sinks into freezing waters, an ending that leaves open the possibility for a return.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave opens a year after Dracula fell into the frozen waters. The village where the Count wreaked havoc is still reeling. The Monsignor (Rupert Davies) visits the village to make sure all is fine only to discover a frightened lot who refuse to attend church because Dracula’s castle is too close for comfort. Determined to do away with the evil that lurks, the Monsignor goes to the castle with the village priest and a huge crucifix in tow. He is convinced that Dracula is dead and is determined to prove it. Near the top of the hill, however, the priest, whose faith is strained, is too afraid to continue. The Monsignor continues upward, reaches the entrance to the castle alone and places the crucifix on the door. In the meantime, the waiting priest falls on the ice, cracks his head open and the blood drips down into the mouth of Dracula, thereby raising hell in the form of Christopher Lee.
As you can imagine, Count Dracula is none too happy to have a crucifix affixed to his castle so he vows revenge with the help of the priest who is now under his spell. The target is the village, with focus on the Monsignor’s beautiful niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) whom he makes the object of his bloody lust.
With eyes aimed at Maria, many suffer Dracula’s dark powers. This version of the Prince of Darkness is particularly brutal, even tyrannical at times barking orders as one would pass the bread at supper. The priest is torn between his life-long faith and the pull of Dracula’s power, the latter winning excessively often. For instance, when the tavern girl (Barbara Ewing), who has been bitten and enslaved by Dracula, fails to deliver Maria as ordered, the priest burns her body. He suffers for it, but the act is done. The priest is also complicit in Maria’s being taken by Dracula. Luckily, the love of Maria’s boyfriend, Paul (Barry Andrews), a young atheist, is more powerful than fear.
After the death of the Monsignor, who was hurt during a narrow escape with Dracula and the priest, Paul is resolute to destroy the monster. Armed with the Monsignor’s book, which contains the rules for protection against vampires and details about how to defeat them, Paul sets out to find Dracula’s lair and once there drives a stake through the vampire’s heart. Unfortunately, the stake alone is not enough, it has to be accompanied by a prayer, which Paul nor the priest could deliver. As a result, Dracula is able to remove the stake and escape taking Maria with him.
Back at the castle, Maria removes the cross the Monsignor had placed on the door and tosses it to the landing below. Paul arrives at the castle entrance and battles Dracula until the Count is thrown over the wall to be impaled by the cross. Once more, he turns to dust. The priest has restored his faith and young Paul is now a believer.
The final battle in this film lacks some of the face-to-face combat essentials that add to the drama. It all happens too quickly. That said, Dracula’s demise here is effective. Impaled by a cross, the Prince of Darkness fights ferociously to free himself. All semblance of humanity is gone from his being. He is the stuff of children’s nightmares before he vanishes once again as dust.
The story told in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is compelling because of the religious theme entrenched throughout. Although Dracula stories on film are always about good versus evil, religion and the religious figures used in this one up the ante. In addition, the sets and overall look of the film are fantastic – it’s the bloody gothic thing that renders you unable to look away. If I have a complaint about the movie, it is two-fold: Peter Cushing is missed as Van Helsing and there is not enough Christopher Lee.
The day I saw the commercial announcing Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is as vivid as if it had happened yesterday. Until that day, I never even considered that possibility that such a being could exist after perishing or that movies could break from reality so freely. Those words destroyed my movie innocence and scared the living daylight out of me.
The confession of my nightmares in this post are intended as an entry to The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews. Be sure to visit them between June 1 and 3.