Although B movie creators are not strangers to the sensational movie title, The Satanic Rites of Dracula is among the most eyebrow raising titles in the genre. Sadly, the title is probably the most interesting part of this movie. That being said, this film is well worth a watch, which is just what I gave it.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula starts off with a government agent escaping from an English manor house during the course of a satanic ritual which involves several high ranking members of English government and society. The agent reports his observations from the ceremony and his superiors quickly begin to investigate the whole mess. Like any good Dracula movie, this one has a vampire hunting Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing reprising his role) and his family. Cushing, who is probably more famous for his portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, has played Van Helsing in five different Hammer films. Eventually the plot resolves with Dracula located and good triumphs over evil and the world is saved, though it takes a while to get there.
The biggest issue with The Satanic Rites of Dracula is pacing. It takes nearly half an hour for Dracula to make his first appearance, which is only for about ninety seconds of screen time, after which it’s almost another thirty minutes before we see him again. The movie dragged out the plot so long that consistently through the film I found myself looking at my watch, trying to figure out how much more was left. While the dialogue wasn’t Shakespeare by any stretch, if it had been delivered at a reasonably quick pace the movie might have moved along a little more quickly. There are also large portions of scenes that are wholly unnecessary. At one point near the end of the film, a character runs back in to a burning building, sees someone on fire and then runs right back out. Every other character had already run out of the building or jumped out a window, so at that point it was pretty safe to assume that the one guy who remained in the building was, in fact, on fire.
I was also disappointed that the film didn’t really live up to its title. The movie was rather light on both satanic rites and Dracula. I’ll admit that the first fifteen minutes of the movie centered on a satanic ritual, but it wasn’t until the last ten minutes that anything close to another one occurred and that one seemed more like Dracula performing bad magic tricks for a kid’s birthday party. As for Dracula, he had almost no screen time until the last twenty minutes of the film. I think this is a huge shame, as this was Christopher Lee’s last time donning the cape as Dracula. For many horror fans Lee ranks very close to Bela Lugosi and it’s unfortunate that he gets so little time in his last Dracula casting. As far as his portrayal of the vampire goes, Lee was fairly wooden, though this isn’t surprising or uncommon for vampires of that era in film.
While the pacing may have left things to be desired, I was quite impressed with the production value of the film. Set in contemporary England (1973), the movie takes full advantage of the ability to shoot on scene as opposed to trying to build up sets on a soundstage. This gives the movie a more realistic look and significantly increases its appeal. The exterior shots were noticeably better than the interior shots, but even they were much better than almost anything else seen in B movies of the time.
The plot itself wasn’t all that bad. It feels like a mix between low budget horror and an English mystery. There are attempts at intrigue and mystery as well as Dracula trying to bring about the end of the world through an advanced version of the Black Death, which is fitting since Dracula is supposed to be from the Dark Ages. Honestly, if the film were twenty to thirty minutes shorter, it would have been a lot of fun. They would have been able to cut out all of the long boring parts that tended to drag the plot to a halt and they would have gotten to the cooler parts (i.e. the parts with Dracula in them) sooner.
I’d also like to point out that the version I watched was the Elvira’s Movie Macabre version, so from time to time the Mistress of the Dark would pop in for some sarcastic commentary. Being a big fan of Elvira, I was let down by her additions to the movie. She is normally a very witty and amusing addition to these movies, but this time around fell flat. It seemed like the only jokes she could make were about how boring the movie was and puns on the title. Based on her other work, I expected more.
All said and done The Satanic Rites of Dracula was passable, although long and a bit misleading, given the title. While it loses points for abysmal pacing, it makes up with higher than expected production value and the pairing of a couple of classic B movie stars. 3.5/5 Death Stars