Monday, February 1, 2010

Rising from the Moat

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

Christopher Lee's Prince of Darkness is again reduced to petty revenge, this time lusting after Veronica Carlson's Maria.

DIRECTED by Freddie Francis and scripted by Anthony Hinds, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is set a year after the vampire’s death by drowning at the end of Terence Fisher’s DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965). A priest (Ewan Hooper) finds a woman with bite marks hanging dead inside his church bell, a discovery that further convinces the parishioners that this place of worship – which is touched at dusk by the shadow of Dracula’s castle – is tainted by the unholy. A visiting Monsignor (Rupert Davies) - disgusted by the townsfolk’s fear of an already vanquished monster - takes the priest to the Count’s castle and places a giant golden cross across the door, though not before a storm causes the priest to fall down the mountain and bleed, conveniently, on the shattered ice that has imprisoned Dracula (Christopher Lee). Free to resume his demonic business, the Count seeks revenge on the Monsignor and his blond niece Maria (Veronica Carlson), who’s in love – much to the Monsignor’s disapproval – with God-denying baker Paul (Barry Andrews).

Like most Hammer Dracula’s, The Count is given little to do, here lurking in the basement of the bakery-cum-public house, staring imperiously and baring his fangs on cue. Being a Francis film, its weak script and continuity errors are offset by a series of exquisite set pieces - none more effective than Paul’s attempted staking of Dracula - and a miscellany of visual splendour. Francis and cinematographer Arthur Grant utilise a dour, restrained tableaux, which gives the films’ one big colour (red, inevitably) maximum impact. At the climax, after falling - in a slightly unlikely manner - onto the golden cross, Dracula cries tears of blood and, for once, has the tragic nobility of the character in Bram Stoker’s source novel. Francis also makes the most of the lenient censorship which was extant by 1968: there is ample blood, and the liberal approach to sex is illustrated by lower necklines and more orgasmic shrieks.

Carlson’s mix of good looks and pale complexion made her one of Hammer’s most striking leading ladies.

Although DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE dabbles with intolerance and Christian discovery, the film lacks the tension and dynamism that Fisher habitually brought to equally poor scripts. But perhaps Fisher’s overall reputation was enhanced by his lesser involvement as the Hammer empire was running out of steam; his earlier masterpieces were certainly made when the studio was more clear-cut and less commercially confused. This change from Fisher-like efficiency to the stylish dashes of Francis seems to mirror Hammer’s shift from their confined, spiritual home of Bray Studios to the more sprawling Elstree and Pinewood. The intimate feel and tone of such Bray-filmed classics as THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1965) is ultimately lost on the bigger sound stages, and such releases as LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1970) and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1972) typify a certain loss of soul.