Color, 1970, 94 mins. 57 sec.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Christopher Matthews, Patrick Troughton, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper, Anouska Hempel
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1 / 1.66:1) (16:9), Studio Canal (Blu-ray) (UK/Germany RB HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

After Scars of Draculaabruptly breaking continuity with Scars of Draculaits Frankenstein cycle with the odd Evil of Frankenstein, Hammer Films pulled a similar trick with Scars of Dracula, which bears no real narrative connection to any of its predecessors and now exists as a standalone entry despite the presence of star Christopher Lee. An escalation in terms of both sex and violence thanks to the more permissive censorship standards of 1970, this early salvo in the new post-Warner Bros. relationship between EMI and Hammer (along with Horror of Frankenstein) was released hot on the heels of the same year's Taste the Blood of Dracula but earned far more savage reviews and fan reaction. However, on its own terms as a kind of lurid, tackier variation on the formula, the film has retained a fan following as the final Hammer Dracula film with a period setting before launching into Dracula A.D. 1972.

After being revived from a heap of ashes in his castle by a blood-drooling bat, Dracula (Lee) orchestrates a reign of terror on the closest village including a mass slaughter via vampire bats. After a phony rape accusation, Paul (Matthews) ends up at the vampire's castle where he becomes entangled with Dracula, his disheveled manservant Klove (Troughton), and the mysterious, purple-clad Tania (Hempel) and ends up being held prisoner. Meanwhile his brother, Simon (Waterman), and Simon's fiancée, Sarah (Hanley, unnecessarily dubbed), come looking for the missing Paul and end up fighting for their lives in the Count's clutches.

Undeniably jarring in its major tonal shifts and desire to titillate a demanding audience with scenes of carnage and bare bottoms, this is a film that has its fascinating elements including the integration of some welcome Bram Stoker elements (the memorable castle exterior scurrying in particular), a welcome extended cameo by Hammer mascot Michael Ripper, a particularly lush score by James Bernard, and more extensive use of Lee than usual. Director Roy Ward Baker isn't usually thought of as a regular Hammer director Scars of Draculadespite Scars of Draculathe fact that he had helmed Quatermass and the Pit, The Anniversary, and Moon Zero Two, but he was obviously brought on here since he had just pulled off one of the company's most important recent films with The Vampire Lovers. The tepid response to this film didn't seem to affect him much though as he went on to helm two of the most fascinating films of the twilight Hammer years, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Ultimately most of the blame here has been assigned to a combination of a lack of budget and the fact that the tide was shifting in a rapidly different direction from the bloody-red gothics that had been Hammer's bread and butter for the past decade, though those factors now make it a curious and memorable entry on a very different level than the previous era's.

A very common title on home video back in the VHS days, Scars of Dracula first bowed on DVD from Anchor Bay in 2001 complete with a terrific audio commentary with Lee, Baker, and Marcus Hearn, which starts off covering Lee's oft-remarked frustration with the lack of Stoker in the films prior to this before segueing into the production aspects as well as the transitional state of Hammer at the time. Of course, the fact that both Lee and Baker have since left us makes the track even more of a precious, high-spirited record of their thoughts about the project. A theatrical trailer and a gallery were also included. After that this film (and all of its Studio Canal companions in the Hammer library) went into the vaults for a very, very long time until a U.K. and German Blu-ray release in 2018, featuring a beautiful 1.66:1 HD transfer with more visible information on all sides compared to the earlier DVD. The issue of this film's aspect ratio (as well as all of the EMI Hammers) has been an ongoing debate between the1.66:1 one seen here and the more heavily matted 1.85:1 seen in U.S. theatrical prints, which was handled on the earlier Anchor Bay disc by going with 1.78:1. That Blu-ray also includes the U.K. theatrical trailer and a featurette, "Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula" (18m3s) with Hanley, Jonathan Rigby, Kevin Lyons, Alan Barnes, and John J. Johnston sketching out the film's history at Hammer in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of American financing. Hanley easily wins with her early story about Lee's very serious demeanor involving a rubber bat mishap and a bit about her real cross used a piece Scars of Draculaof costuming, so Scars of Draculabe sure to check this one out.

In 2019, Scream Factory issued the film on Blu-ray in what is easily the most elaborate edition of the film to date. The 1.66:1 transfer is included as a bonus and looks identical, though the default viewing option is a 1.85:1 version that looks the same in terms of color timing but obviously mattes off more on the top and bottom. As with the Anchor Bay (and the earlier videotapes) it also has a very slight horizontal squeeze as well that may have been applied to U.S. prints to lessen the amount of image loss; it isn't noticeable by itself but does look apparent in comparison viewing when round objects look a little bit more oval. Quality-wise it looks very similar so it really boils down to which framing you prefer; it does have to be said that the 1.85:1 framing does look really impressive on a projector. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds pristine either way, with optional English SDH subtitles included. The 1.85:1 version can also be viewed with two commentaries: the earlier Lee/Baker one or a new track by Constantine Nasr, who of course did excellent earlier work on titles like Frankenstein Created Woman. He's considerably less enthusiastic here about the actual film though, noting right off the bat that it "fails on every level" but still providing a wealth of researched knowledge including extensive coverage of Baker and Lee's shooting scripts as well as plot elements that were dropped or severely altered, such as Paul and Sarah originally being brother and sister. Apart from an odd silent gap at the 31-minute mark where it seems some of Lee's dialogue was supposed to be dropped in, it's a jam-packed track and quite a crash course and features a guest appearance in the final stretch by Randall Larson to discuss Bernard's score. The usual trailer is included along with a dupier combo trailer with Horror of Frankenstein, followed by a hefty 10m20s image gallery.


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Reviewed on August 19, 2019.