Round two for Hammer Horrors! This time I'm discussing the sixth Hammer Dracula film, Scars of Dracula! With a title like that, you best expect there to be blood >8D
Premise: Dracula returns from the grave once more thanks to the aid of a grotesque bat familiar (seriously, rubber prop or not, the thing looks like the "bat out of hell" from the old saying XD), and proceeds to prey upon the local villagers beyond his castle walls again. However, the villagers fight back this time instead of waiting for Van Helsing to save them, setting the Count's castle ablaze, an exercise in futility as not only do the flames fail to reach Dracula's sleeping place, but he also ordered a swarm of hell bats to murder the villager's women and children while the men were away, IN THEIR OWN CHURCH NO LESS! Drac is not shitting around this time, you cross him, he makes you regret it O_O
Years later, a young man named Paul Carlson is on the run after being falsely accused of rape by a jealous lover, the daughter of the Burgomaster no less, and ends up staying the night at Dracula's Castle. There we meet not only the Count himself, no worse for wear despite the state of his castle, as well as his servant Klove, and mistress, Tania...Who Paul "wisely" agrees to sleep with "rolls eyes." Tania turns out to be a vampire herself of course, and after having her fun with Paul is about to feed off him, only for Drac to show up (you decide who's dumber, Paul or Tania lol). Needless to say, Drac is none too pleased to see his guest, & dinner, sleeping with his vampire bride, and promptly kicks his ass and stabs the hell out of Tania before drinking her blood dry (Klove disposes of her remains later in a grisly & perhaps darkly humorous scene, in that you can tell this isn't the first time Klove's had to clean up after his master & is quite used to it, just another chore on his to do list lol). Paul's brother, Simon, and his fiancee Sarah Framsen, become worried when word gets out about him being wanted by the law, as well as his subsequent disappearance, and thus go looking for him, meeting little help from the locals since they continue to be haunted by the memory of the day the Count slaughtered their loved ones in retribution for their defiance. They of course stumble across the Count's castle as well, where Sarah catches the eye of both Dracula AND Klove (quite the popular lady, though she's no Ingrid Pitt XD). What follows is Simon's struggle to keep his fiancee out of Dracula's grasp anyway he can while also trying to find out what became of his bro!
Pros: Scars of Dracula is perhaps the most violent and gruesome of the Dracula films I've seen yet, the scene with the church full of half eaten victims being particularly shocking (delightfully so, can't help but be impressed by how good the gore effects were at that point). The resurrection scene for Drac was pretty nasty too, and I like the bats in this movie, yes, they're made of rubber, but they're MUCH better looking than what you usually see in these films, their faces are rather demonic & I like the idea of the Count having familiars who serve as his eyes and ears during the day, and are pretty lethal to boot (they're like flying piranhas). Another neat effect was a scene where Dracula scaled up his castle wall like a spider, something that hadn't been done on screen before, so a first for Dracula cinema. I also enjoyed how much more screen time and dialogue Dracula had in this movie, since the character is a man of few words in most of the Hammer films because Christopher Lee disliked much of the dialogue originally scripted for the Count (which is fine, an undead nobleman like Drac logically wouldn't waste his words unless he had something important to say). Basically, its nice to hear Lee's powerful voice and enjoy the Count's sophisticated way with words, harkens back to "Horror of Dracula," another film where the Count would speak like charming gent one second and then go full on archfiend the next.
The second best character in the film was Klove, basically Hammer's answer to Renfield from the original novel & Universal Drac film. Klove had appeared before in Dracula Prince of Darkness but didn't say much and was seemingly killed off, but here he's alive and well again and played by a MUCH more memorable actor, Patrick Troughton, the 2nd Doctor himself! Dude, it was amazing seeing the man who played everyone's fave lovable "space hobo" now depicted as the sinister underling of Dracula himself, he's surprisingly creepy. Whereas the original Klove was more like an evil butler (think Lurch from the Adam's family), this Klove reminds me more of a "handyman/footman" of the undead, dressing simply and living simply, running random errands around the castle and clearly quite used to it, even the disposal of corpses is just another day at work for Klove, which adds to his creepy charm. He's shown to be quite loyal to Dracula, except that he's developed a crush on Sarah, something which puts him at odds with his master throughout the film, torn between his lust for the girl of his dreams and the monster he serves. The Castle, while different from the original Dracula castle, made for an amazing, gothic setting, and I liked how smart Drac was in this film, hiding his coffin in a location only he could get to and from safely (he'd learned from his past run ins with vampire hunters). I also liked how Drac's influence had become so strong no one dared to cross him again, we'd seen the villagers be reluctant to oppose the Count before, but this time we saw the lengths he was willing to go to teach mortals not to defy him...Oh, and the scene where he scars Klove's back with a burning sword was chilling!
Cons: As supremely awesome as Christopher Lee & Patrick Troughton were, the rest of the cast were merely serviceable, i.e. they weren't terrible but they weren't the rivals of Peter Cushing or other past Hammer heroes either. Simon, Sarah, and Paul played their roles well but didn't really stick out from anyone we'd seen take on Drac before, though I admit Paul was more interesting than Simon (& for that reason maybe should have been the lead instead, the bad brother looking for his goody two-shoes brother), but only because he had a libido like Captain Kirk that kept getting him into trouble XD. I gotta wonder if it was a running gag with Hammer that anyone named Paul was cursed to cross paths with Dracula sooner or later, can't be a coincidence that so many Pauls appear in these movies lol. Sarah was lovely as all Hammer leading ladies are, but again, her character wasn't really all that compelling beyond unintentionally driving a rift between Dracula & Klove. The village priest was pretty pitiful by the standards of the badass warrior priests we saw in Dracula: Prince of Darkness or Kiss of the Vampire, but he had least had the nerve to fill in our heroes as to what was going on and tried to do the right thing while everyone else cowered in fear and did nothing. The ending to the film is pretty spectacular, but I admit that its pretty random, so others might call bullshit or just chalk it up to divine intervention, its 50/50 really, depends on your personal tastes & how much you're willing to let go.
Oh, no brides of Dracula besides Tania alas, I was hoping there'd be some in this movie, but Drac doesn't turn anymore ladies or have any vampire brides lurking about alas (he clearly wanted to turn Sarah, but no one else). Tania's death certainly showcased Drac's ruthlessness, but I kinda wish he had a few more minions to do his bidding (what? the brides of dracula are awesome lol). Oh, there was also this bar maid who's job seemed to be to piss off the other villagers & be both simultaneously helpful and unhelpful to our heroes, doing stuff like telling them Drac's castle's whereabouts and what not. You could call it brave, if not for the fact that she herself didn't believe in Dracula, being from out of town, and not understanding why the village feared him so much or how much danger she was putting the Carlson brothers and Sarah in whenever she spilled the beans (so she was basically just ignorant of the danger everyone was really in XD).
Verdict: While the plot of the film is nothing too original, more or less a rehash of past stories alas, and our heroes weren't the greatest, I still insist that Lee's & Troughton's performances were excellent and the brutality of the villains and improved effects made up for the film's shortcomings in my opinion. Most fans tend to be divided on this one based on what I've read online, but I enjoyed it and encourage others to go see it if they haven't already. Check out the earlier Hammer Drac films first & work your way up to it though if you want to appreciate it the most, even if it doesn't really pay much heed to continuity this time around. If you like the idea of Saruman the Wise and Doctor Who terrorizing a bunch of hapless young schmucks and villagers, you'll love this film XD