With the exception of 2012’s The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, Hammer has been more than a little anonymous amongst the horror community in terms of visible offerings and, to today’s audiences, the historical back-catalogue is relegated to screenings, in the UK at least, on London Live and Horror Channel amongst the more contemporary offerings like Hostel and Saw.
To commemorate the release of their 1957 debut colour offering, The Curse of Frankenstein, Studio Canal and Park Circus in conjunction with the likes of FrightFest (where several titles were screened during this year’s London event in August 2017) are releasing eight new Blu-ray restorations, including Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb and To the Devil a Daughter, the last major film release in 1976 for decades.
Scars of Dracula, the 1970 offering directed by Roy Ward Baker, may seem a little tame by today’s standards. Indeed, in the context of the horror films coming out of America particularly at the time, it looks a little out of sorts. However, there is still sufficient unease and menace within it today to give a little kick to audiences keen to find out what a Hammer film was.
The ghoulish fun of these films is not only to see legends like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at their very best, but also to see some of the UK’s best-loved talent, in this case Denis Waterman pre-Minder and Sweeney and Jenny Hanley, then coming off the Bond film O.H.M.S.S, showcasing their abilities.
Dracula (Christopher Lee) is revived from bones by the blood of a bat and is out to get his fill of flesh, notably from a local village who have lived in fear of him for ages. A young man, Paul Carlson (Christopher Matthews) disappears after being banished from one of the villager’s houses and his brother Simon (Waterman) and fiancée Sarah Framsen (Hanley) are determined to get him back, in spite of the unhelpful locals. Dracula’s right-hand ghoul, Klove (Patrick Troughton, suitably sinister) drives a mad coach and horses and tries to redeem himself in his master’s eyes by bringing suitable female flesh for consumption.
This film pales into comparison compared to the extreme gore and shock of later horror films like Friday the 13th , Hostel and Saw, but the make-up effects are startlingly good, especially in the Blu-ray re-mastering, and would do the likes of Giannetti Di Rossi and Tom Savini proud. Lee is incomparable as the Count and the production values are first rate.
Scars of Dracula belongs to a different area, and you sense that Hammer were clearly looking over their shoulder at what was emerging and their twilight was fast approaching in terms of what they could bring to the big-screen. Still, there is a great joy in watching this and others in the new release slate through Studio Canal and this ranks as one of Hammer’s greatest ever.
SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) / DIRECTOR: ROY WARD BAKER / SCREENPLAY: ANTHONY HINDS, BRAM STOKER / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER LEE, DENNIS WATERMAN, JENNY HANLEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW