If there's one thing I've learned about the Hammer Dracula movies this week it's that they should not be watched back to back as I've been doing. Watching them in succession reveals a sameness to them, recycled plots, scenes, character types, which diminishes the enjoyment that these movies would provide if watched spread out over time.
Scars of Dracula (1970) is a case in point. The story is cobbled together from plot points taken from previous entries. When cad about town, Paul (Christopher Matthews) goes missing, his brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) and Simon's girlfriend, Sarah (Jenny Hanley) go looking for him. The search leads them past a village full of frightened people who want no part of them and on to Castle Dracula from where they must escape Dracula (Christopher Lee) and his henchman, Klove (Patrick Troughton) only to return once again for a final showdown with the vampire count.
This familiar territory is gussied up with some new elements. Dracula still can't turn into a bat, but he can communicate with and control them. In the prologue, while villagers try to exterminate him by burning down his castle, he sends his horde of giant vampire bats to kill all of the women and children taking shelter in the village church. Dracula can also climb sheer walls now, as he did in Bram Stoker's novel, and uses a dagger to dispatch one character and tortures another with swords heated up in the fireplace.
The cast is very good in Scars of Dracula. Christopher Lee has done a lot of complaining about the character and Dracula's diminished role in each succeeding movie, and how Dracula wound up being essentially mute because he refused to speak the lines given to him since they were so poor. The truth of the matter is that Dracula was only speechless in Dracula: Prince of Darkness and for the most part the character has had more screen time, and more lines in each successive movie since Horror of Dracula. In fact Dracula is on screen nearly twice as much here, and has more lines. The character also has a greater range of development here than the first two entries which are considered to be the classics in the series.
The effects in this movie require a great deal of suspension of disbelief to be convincing. Matte Paintings of the castle look like what they are. The giant vampire bats are nicely designed but poorly executed. Dracula's demise, while an exciting concept, goes on for far too long and the obvious stuntman and dummy that stand in for Christopher Lee diminish the effect of the scene. A bizarre optical effect meant to convey the notion of Dracula's hypnotic gaze penetrating through his closed eyelids is effectively eerie.
It's interesting to note that Hammer's usual reliance on the cleavage of its female stars actually becomes somewhat important to the plot here, as we are given numerous loving shots of Jenny Hanley's cleavage as she gently lifts forth her gold cross which she keeps nestled there. When one of the bats finally manages to remove it, even Dracula's gaze is captured by her cleavage, now covered in scratches.
This movie hangs heavy with gothic atmosphere, as if Hammer was eager to use as much of it as they could before moving Dracula into the modern era with their next outing. This movie is perfect for watching late on a raining Autumn night.