Probably one of the weaker entries in Hammer’s famed Dracula series. Coming from a time when Hammer was trying to mix up the formula of their most popular franchise. Possibly due to the success of the Count Yorga films, which featured a cloaked vampire in the modern day. Hammer moved Dracula from his traditional period surroundings into the 1970’s. Resulting in two films, Dracula AD 1972 and this film…the Satanic Rites of Dracula.
The film is very much concerned with the pop- anxieties of the day. Mixing hippies, Satanic cults, germ warfare, and Cold War spy games with horror troupes. Count Dracula is here reinvented into a sort of crossbreed of Charles Manson and Howard Hughes. It works better than it sounds. Which is about the nicest thing I can say about it.
Dracula is of course played by Christopher Lee, who still cuts an imposing figure in his signature role despite being saddled with such weak material to work with. Opposing him is the great Peter Cushing playing a descendant of the original Prof. Van Helsing. The two only get a few brief scenes together, but they’re more than worth the wait.
Cushing’s Van Helsing is flanked by a group of spies and his trusty grand-daughter Jessica(played by a young,vavavoomy Joanna Lumley). This band of heroes is forced to work outside of the government due to Dracula’s control over several powerful men in Britain. Again this echos Cold War era concerns, turning the Count into a sort of James Bond style spy master.
While the movie certainly has its moments, I certainly prefer the atmospheric Hammer horrors of the prior two decades. Dracula is a character that can work in a more modern context, but “Satanic Rites” gives us a Count that’s nether fish nor fowl. (Or should that be bat nor wolf?)
It’s not completely horrible though. There’s plenty of grue for the gore hounds. And a basement full of vampire babes for those looking for classic Hammer cheesecake. But I certainly wouldn’t suggest it for the casual vampire fan. This is for hard core coffin cases only.