DirectorRoy Ward Baker
Release Date(s)1970 (September 10, 2019)
Studio(s)Hammer Films Productions/Continental Films/StudioCanal (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
The sixth entry in Hammer’s Dracula cycle, Scars of Dracula sees Christopher Lee once again donning the cape of the infamous prince of darkness for another bite at the cinematic jugular in 1970 (only a few months after the previous film). Unfortunately, it wasn’t an entry that many were pleased with and stands today as one of the least popular of the Dracula films made at Hammer.
Attempting to bridge the continuity of the previous film (Taste the Blood of Dracula), Scars of Dracula opens with the character’s resurrection via the blood of a bat on his dusty remains. After taking the life of a local girl, villagers make their way to the castle and set it ablaze, which unbeknownst to them, does nothing to harm Dracula, even at the insistence of his assistant Klove (Patrick Troughton). Returning to the village, it’s discovered that all of the women and children have been slaughtered by Dracula’s winged minions. Many years later, a young man named Paul (Christopher Matthews) makes his way to the castle after having been thrown out by the closely-guarded tavern owner (Michael Ripper) and is taken prisoner. Hot on his trail is his brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) and Simon’s potential love interest Sarah (Jenny Hanley), but it may be too late to save both Paul and themselves from a grisly fate at the hands of Dracula.
The trouble with the Scars of Dracula is not so much that it’s terrible (though certain performances and special effects are certainly no help in that regard), but that it’s fairly bland. Unlike Dracula A.D. 1972, which would follow 2 years later, nothing new is brought to the table. It’s the same type of story we’ve seen in repeated entries, let alone other Hammer productions like the Frankenstein films: bad guy in a castle, scared villagers down below, young people wandering into danger: rinse, wash, repeat. Certainly at the time, it must have felt thoroughly by the numbers to Hammer’s faithful patrons.
On the plus side, the score by James Bernard is one of the better musical additions to any of the Dracula films. To boot, it’s also one of the grisliest entries in the series. For instance, the opening scene involving the slain villagers is incredibly bloody, as is a stabbing that takes place later on. It’s clear that Hammer was trying to compete in a world where R ratings were pushing envelopes with the sex and violence. It was also a signpost that Hammer was not one of the biggest draws in town anymore, and that gothic horror had to change to remain relevant or be left in the past like the ashen remains of Dracula himself.
It was also the first time that Hammer allowed distribution of one of their properties through an unknown entity. Studios like Warner Bros. or 20th Century Fox, who had successfully released their films in the U.K. and the U.S., were no longer interested in Hammer’s output, at least at that point. Instead, American Continental put up the money for the film (along with Horror of Frankenstein). Three more Dracula films were yet to come, but soon Christopher Lee would take out his fangs and retire his portrayal of the character not long after.
Scream Factory debuts Scars of Dracula on Blu-ray in the U.S. with a ported transfer, provided by StudioCanal. It’s obviously slightly older as it isn’t as rich in detail as a fresher scan of the film would garner, but it’s a fine presentation nonetheless. The images are rich with depth and color, including those found on the many period costumes, as well as the aforementioned instances of crimson itself. Skin tones fare well while black levels are deep, though not totally solid. Stability is never an issue, neither is leftover damage, of which there’s little. Overall contrast and brightness levels are satisfactory as well. It should be noted that a scene cut by the BBFC prior to the film’s release of Dracula drinking from a character’s stab wounds has not be reinstated.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The score is given the most clarity overall, while dialogue and sound effects aren’t all that impactful. However, nothing really seems amiss as the material certainly aids the presentation dutifully, if unremarkably. There are also no instances of leftover hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts.
The bonus materials offer the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which is taken from the same transfer as the main presentation. Also included is a new audio commentary with filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr, with a brief contribution by music historian Randall Larson, which is terrific as he manages to dig up vast amounts of interesting information about the film, including his reading of excerpts from different versions of the script. In tow is a vintage audio commentary with actor Christopher Lee and director Roy Ward Baker, moderated by Hammer film historian Marcus Hearn; Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula, an 18-minute featurette about the film, featuring interviews with authors Kevin Lyons, Jonathan Rigby, and Alan Barnes, cultural historian John J. Johnston, and actress Jenny Hanley; 2 theatrical trailers, one paired with Horror of Frankenstein; and an animated still gallery featuring 136 on-set photos, behind-the-scenes stills, promotional images, posters, lobby cards, and newspaper clippings. Not carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD release of the film is The Many Faces of Christopher Lee hour-long documentary and 2 music videos: O Sole Mio/It’s Now or Never and She’ll Fall for Me, both by Christopher Lee and Gary Curtis.
One of the last of the Dracula films to make it to Blu-ray here in the U.S., Scars of Dracula will certainly please continuity fans who wish to watch all of these films in their order of release. Even long-time aficionados are bound to get something out of it. Scream Factory’s release offers plenty of reasons to pick it up, even if it isn’t as satisfying an entry as what came before or after.
– Tim Salmons