Around the World in 31 Days: United Kingdom

[NOTE: Originally posted October 3rd, 2014 as part of that year’s 31 Days of Halloween]


Released: 1973
Director: Alan Gibson
Writer: Don Houghton
Notable Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Barbara Yu Ling
Plot: In London in the 1970s, Scotland Yard police investigators think they have uncovered a case of vampirism [an SY officer infiltrates a satanic cult dedicated to restoring Dracula – me]. They call in an expert vampire researcher named Van Helsing (a descendant of the great vampire-hunter himself, no less) to help them put a stop to these hideous crimes. It becomes apparent that the culprit is Count Dracula himself, disguised as a reclusive property developer, but secretly plotting to unleash a fatal virus upon the world. (source: user Jonathon Dabell)
Commentary: The last Hammer production to feature the great Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, I caught The Satanic Rites of Dracula on Hulu as was hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (her recent Movie Macabre revival). Elvira being Elvira, she panned it as she pans all her hosted movies. But where you can usually feel her actual love for a B-film through her bad puns and putdowns, here she really did seem to dislike it.

I disagree with The Hostess with the Most Chest, but don’t go by me. I’m hopelessly biased. There isn’t a Hammer movie I don’t love, even if it’s objectively bad. And The Satanic Rites of Dracula is dreadfully slow going. It didn’t help that the print was murky and poor. Rather than indulge in the psychedelic grooviness of Swingin’ London (like its lovely predecessor, Dracula A.D. 1972), it just kept a rainy and drear Soviet atmosphere.

But yeah, I dug it. It didn’t dawn on me until the end credits that Joanna Lumley was the heroine, Jessica Van Helsing. She was so serious, so refined and dignified. (Me, I’d like to see Absolutely Fabulous vs. Dracula. The Count doesn’t stand a chance against Patsy and Edina.)

And then, there’s poor Drac and his death wish, which I thought was near poignant and makes this film stand out.

What We’re Afraid Of: Elvira was afraid of boredom; the rest of us (no one, really, I just blather like an idiot because I think I know what this movie’s subtext is) may just be viscerally afraid of blasphemous Christian inversion and deranged alternative lifestylers, no matter how silly.

I remember a review of The Ninth Gate once stating that it’s impossible to have a satanic ceremony on film that isn’t inherently ridiculous. That’s probably true in nearly all cases.
But there’s something that this film made me realize. With their kinky group nudity and sexually appealing female virgin altars, it seems to me that in 60’s and early 70’s, satanism movies spoke more to both the fears and thrills of the sexual revolution than to any societal/spiritual fear of the devil (That same year The Exorcist would soon turn the weather vane in the latter direction). It’s not necessarily sex-positive or healthy, and yet, did films like The Satanic Rites of Dracula help some few people let their inner freak fly? Who knows.

The film also features that uniquely British marriage of government officials and secret hellfire club kinks. The devil worship cult that raised Drac from the dead was composed of government officials. We all know that in real life, Brit lords and ministers love themselves a spanking or two. Rule Britannia baby!

The cult leader was an Asian woman , and most of the vampiric horror involved lady vampires in the thrall of Dracula. So we also have elements of both fear of the exotic, and of course, the perennial fear of many a horror movie, female sexuality.

The plot involved a secret plague that Dracula wanted to unleash on humanity via his ‘four horsemen.’ But I didn’t get any sort of dread of environmental/biological disaster here. It’s more in the spirit of a campy cockamanie Bond villain plot.

So it goes…
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