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The Satanic Rites of Dracula


‘…brisk, silly, and allows for three face to face confrontations between the Count and Van Helsing, which is what you want when Lee and Cushing are involved…’

What kind of rites does Dracula have? Satanic rites, that’s what, and Alan Gibson’s 1972 film is all about the Count standing up for them. Yet this is a late period Hammer film, and so the titular character is largely off-screen for most of the duration; Dracula isn’t even given a mention, let alone seen, for the first 30 minutes. Instead, we bring the Dracula vs Van Helsing legend up to date to 70’s London, and focus instead on a world of motorbikes, sheepskin jackets, nightclubs, government corruption and secret agents; something of a stretch for Bram Stoker’s characters.

The first oddity here is that the narrative from Dr Who scribe Don Houghton, is almost entirely set in one location, Pelham House, where various high-ranking government officials and scientists have been lured to take part in some kind of socially non-distanced BYOB black mass. It’s a pandemic panic, and the British government response is, predictably, to party. Fortunately, the British Secret Service are on the case in the form of Torrence (William Franklyn); we see an agent escape from Pelham House in the opening scenes, but he dies after spilling the beans about the nefarious scenes he beheld. Torrence enlists the help of occult expert Lorimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and after the vampires captures his daughter Jessica (a game Joanna Lumley) to be Dracula’s consort, the forces of good must raid Pelham House and discover who is responsible…

No spoilers are required; the villain is Count Dracula, now calling himself DD Denham and the head of a huge corporate entity which is seeking to end his vampirism by unleashing a deadly virus on mankind; the four government ministers correspond to the four horses of the Apocalypse. The Count’s self-destruction will also be humanity’s, so the stakes are high, and yet The Satanic Rites of Dracula has a intimate feel; the small band of determined adventurers are very much in the style of Dennis Wheatley’s more pulpy writing, popular at the time.

If vampires can be killed by water, why would they build their nest under a well-maintained sprinkler system? Or chose to live in a building surrounded by hawthorn bushes, which are also as deadly as garlic or crucifixes? Gibson’s film doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but it’s brisk, silly, and allows for three face to face confrontations between the Count and Van Helsing, which is what you want when Lee and Cushing are involved. This is a much derided late-in-the-cycle Hammer film, but it’s a fun, nostalgic ride for a vintage cast (Freddie Jones! Richard Vernon!) and some amusing updates on the classic characters involved, a few wrong turns perhaps, but generally headed in the ‘satanic’ rite direction.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula is streaming for free on imdbtv in the UK.


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  1. It’s an interesting concept…700+ year old Drac feeling suicidal in London and wanting beaucoup company in the after death after life??? When it came out, I wondered if Doug Houghton was our distant Scot relative, but never verified. Hawthorn was allegedly the stuff stakes were made from (and thornless maypoles), at least in Slavic countries. It’s part of the rose family, a scent vamps despise, along with juniper, nightshade, and mustard seed. Hawthorne can provide discomfort to humans. Thorns harbor weird bacteria that reacts with skin. I’ve read original pitch for movie was snarky humor, but Christoper Lee had a fit. Satan vs Drac—I suspect Stoker would be disappointed. Renfield called Drac his god and prince. Then again, Van Helsing thought holy tools did the job…and called him son of Satan. Drac seems to have more powers…having renounced the entire pantheon of deities. What I don’t get is how can anyone grow tired of London?

    • I can! I’m always relived to get the train back home! Yes, Lee seemed to be set against the silliness, the original title was Dracula is alive and well and living in London, and he reportedly did not care for it at all. Updating the lore is fun, and at least this Hammer film has a fresh angle to peddle, and some folk-lore to key into. Will have to see if we can track down your Scottish ancestors, hopefuly not living under the title DD Denham…

  2. “It’s a pandemic panic, and the British government response is, predictably, to party” Like that ! BoJo approved for sure ! 😀

    I stopped my Hammer vampiric serie long time before the “Satanic rites”, too afraid by its calamitous reputation. But I like the pitch you describe.

    • Hammer is all over the place in the 1970’s, but there are gems. I’ve seen Satanic Rites several times before, but the nice, crisp, almost HD version on imdb tv was the best viewing I’ve had to date. And knowing that the film physically goes nowhere helps if you remember that before viewing.

      I suspect most of BoJo’s best ideas came from this film…

  3. Bring Your Own Bible?
    I’d just like to know how they read their bibles upside down at a black mass. That would give me a huge headache!

    And I’m surprised Tarkin didn’t just call in a super destroyer and wipe them out with a barrage of lasers….

    • He probably might have done so, but there are strict rules about damaging property, and Pelham house is what we call a ‘listed property’. No no space lasers.

      I guess a black mass may not be a fashionable term, how about a green or rainbow mass?

      • Man, when a grand admiral is bogged down by bureaucracy, you know things are bad.

        Oh, right. I hadn’t even thought of that. How about “A Stygian Mass”? That way you still get that creepy feeling. Because if someone invited me to a Rainbow Mass, well, not really creepy….

              • I’ve actually never watched Fresh Prince. Never been free on prime as far as I can tell. I’m sure I’d give it a try if it were though. I did like early Smith movies.

                Yep, MLP needs that grimdark. Only idealists and idiots watch shows that are nothing but positivism. Now that we’re so advanced, we know better….

                • Fresh Prince was fairly rubbish tv at the time, but the revival looks like a whole new world of rubbish tv opening up.

                  My Little Pony2 ; The Abattoir Years

                  • Nothing like new rubbish. It’s always the best.

                    I think you’ve tapped into something with these new MLP movies you mention. Really appeal to an untapped audience that might have never considered MLP before….

                    • There’s always something to be said for old rubbish, but when you look at new rubbish, it blows old rubbish away. I like to mix the two together to get the best of both rubbish worlds.
                      My Little Pony 3; The Crackdown
                      My Little Pony 4; The Face of Death

                    • It’s called Knight Ryder and it’s a reality tv show with Winona Ryder visiting Renaissance Fairs in the evening.

                    • I’m focused on my celebrity recycling show Walken on Broken Glass, Chris is brilliant in this…

  4. I was surprised by the complete lack in Count Dracula films of the era of the lesbian vampire, having cut my teenage hormonal teeth on Countess Dracula and Lust for a Vampire. Perhaps they inhabited a parallel universe – the infamous “vampiverse.” A fun watch, great to see so many confrontations between The Big Man and The Wee Man, to give them their full Scottish translation. Big change for Lumley from robot to human, although perhaps the distinction may not have been so apparent in her acting. Wheatley pulpy? I suspect you have not read many. Wheatley was the inventor of the mainstream non-stop thriller as later epitomised by Alistair MacLean and Lee Child and his novels were always characterized by thorough and interesting research, another MacLean trademark.

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