Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) is the fourth Hammer Film Dracula movie and features Christopher Lee in his third turn as the count. That should be enough of a review for any horror fan, but I'll continue.

It's been one year since Dracula was destroyed in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), but his castle remains overlooking the village, and the people fear his evil lives on. A visiting monsignor (Rupert Davies), determined to put their terror at rest, convinces the local priest (Ewan Hooper) to lead him through the mountains to the castle, and there, he perform a rite of exorcism and places a large golden cross on the door. But the priest flees down the trail, slips on the rocks, and falls near Dracula's resting place, and bleeds into his mouth. The count is resurrected yet again. Incensed he can no longer enter his ancestral home and with the priest under his control, he follows the monsignor to the city and sets his sights on making the holy man's niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) his undead bride.

Director Freddie Francis (who made Tales from the Crypt in 1972 and was an Academy Award-winning cinematographer) imbues the movie with the requisite style and atmosphere one expects from a Hammer film: period piece, full moon, fog, ramshackle inns and taverns, Gothic castles and churches, ornate mansions, copious bloodletting, and women in low cut outfits. Certainly, this Dracula film is beautifully shot and designed, and Lee, as always, is a striking presence with his black cape, bloodshot eyes, and bared fangs.

There also appears to be a strong anti-religious bent to the film, or at least criticism of the church. The monsignor, a pompous and self-righteous parishioner, brings about the return of the evil in his efforts to vanquish it. The priest is weak-willed and cowardly. He falls under the sway of Dracula and helps him attack victims and violate women, churches, and graves. Also, the hero of the film Paul, (Barry Andrews) who is Maria's betrothed, is an admitted atheist. This point also reveals the monsignor's hypocrisy because he praises Paul's initial honesty regarding spilled beer and laments how people don't say what they really mean, but as soon as he learns of Paul's non-belief (which Paul is quite open about), he becomes angry.

At the center of the film is the suppression of truth. The villagers whom Dracula tormented so long no longer speak his name. Even though the evil remains and they live in fear, the villagers refuse to confront anything and blame outsiders for stirring up trouble. Max (Michael Ripper), Paul's father, is a baker and bartender who tells his ambitious son to abandon his studies because the truth never did anyone any good. When the monsignor learns his niece is being targeted by a vampire, he does not inform anyone until after he has been gravely wounded. Keeping the truth hidden, whether it be the threat of Dracula or family tension, does not keep prevent pain but rather allows evil to grow.

The movie's criticism of religion leads to confusion in the climax. SPOILER ALERT: The priest, at the direction of Paul, has led him to Dracula's casket, and here Paul stakes the count. As he moans and struggles, the priest tells Paul to pray, but as an atheist, he won't, so Dracula survives. Later, Dracula is knocked off a ledge and impaled on a cross, and then the priest prays, even though it is Paul who caused the fall. While this can be seen as the priest regaining pure faith, it might have made more sense for Paul to discover his own faith or for no spiritual guidance be necessary. It seems the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner and changed the rules of vampirism to get out of it. END SPOILER

Other vampire rules are altered. Dracula is seen in a reflection when he returns to life, and that's never explained, and having never seen the previous film in the Hammer series, I don't know how Dracula can be defeated by being kept in a frozen river with his body intact. That blood would awaken him makes sense, but what was keeping in stasis to begin with? The priest cannot remove the cross from the door, and yet Maria, under Dracula's power, is able to. The priest stays at Max's tavern but never raises any suspicion among anyone even though he frequently spends time in the cellar doing all sorts of heinous deeds.

The movie also ties vampirism with sexuality. After the priest, Dracula's next victim is Zena (Barbara Ewing), a barmaid who flirts with a lot men and makes a move on Paul when he's drunk. After being bitten, Zena becomes completely submissive to Dracula and eager to please him. This ultimately leads to her destruction. On the flip side, the relationship between Paul and Maria is implied to be sexual, and the idea of premarital sex clearly disturbs her uncle. Meanwhile, Dracula enters her room at night to feed, and as he violates her, she becomes corrupted to his will. In a way, it could been seen that Maria is threatened by two vampires draining her vitality: Dracula by drinking her blood and the Monsignor by suppressing her relationship with Paul (It should be noted the monsignor wears a cape in his first scene that bears a resemblance to Dracula's).

While a flawed movie in the mythology and plot departments, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave offers a classical interpretation of the dark prince, and with an intense performance by Lee coupled with intriguing religious and sexual subtext, it's very compelling.

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