The Satanic Rites of Dracula

I was born in the early eighties so I was just a little kid during the great Satanic Panic of the eighties. First and foremost was the McMartin Preschool affair where employees were falsely accused of Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). The charges were trumped up and borne of paranoia and only fed heavily by the coached testimony of preschool kids. However, worry over Satan has been around for a long, long time before the eighties. In the seventies the players of Dungeons and Dragons were painted as Satanists and many other people were marked by similar witch hunts (including actual witch hunts). As far as I know, most (if not all) victims of these investigations have not been guilty of Satan worship. Even the Church of Satan doesn’t actually worship the biblical Satan. Still, we fear that somebody is out there actually worshipping evil and using an evil figure as a template for their life.

Count Dracula is a well known horror character modeled after Vlad Tepes, a brutal ruler whose evil deeds were probably a bit exaggerated after his death. Bram Stoker combined Vlad’s history with existing vampire mythology and formed the basis for vampires in fiction from then on. Pretty much every vampire since has shared some traits with those laid out in Stoker’s novel. Universal Pictures was the first to officially cover the Dracula story and therefore had a massive impact on how people imagine Dracula looked. Since Stoker never correctly copyrighted his work, pretty much anybody could make a Dracula movie especially after his widow had passed away. In the fifties British film company Hammer Films made a string of horror movies starring Dracula, going well beyond the Stoker’s original story for the Count.

One of the reasons that I chose this movie to review was because of Christopher Lee who plays Dracula. Sir Christopher Lee died this year and I wanted to honor him because I am a huge fan of his. This was my first time seeing him in the role and he did not disappoint. He is a mostly silent, steely eyed Dracula who looks both unstoppable and undeniable. There is a force of will behind his performance that makes him incredibly imposing. Of course, he’s opposed by Peter Cushing who plays Van Helsing, a descendant of original vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Cushing is a very intense man. He plays a very determined man who wishes to protect his family by ending a centuries old feud. He is an expert of the occult but he is aided by his granddaughter (Joanna Lumley!?) and Special Branch.

I confess I haven’t watched the rest of the series but they introduce a lot of new elements into the Dracula story with this chapter. Dracula can apparently be reincarnated which explains why he keeps coming back but the spell must be cast by a loyal follower. Dracula co-opts a Satanic cult to find followers and to protect his interests. These cult members are not vampires and merely human servants who have entered the 20th century by using guns and computers. Part of Dracula’s plan includes manufacturing a bioweapon from the bubonic plague which is a new one on me. Still, he also relies on some old standbys of his by posing as a wealthy human, amassing a collection of “brides” and using hypnosis to subdue his victims.

The soundtrack is suitably dramatic but interestingly it’s a little dated and full of brass instruments whereas usually stringed instruments are more common in horror. It’s an English production so they aren’t afraid to use people who aren’t traditionally attractive. The acting is enjoyably subtle until the perfect moment for it not to be. The plot is surprisingly complex but easy enough to follow. It’s cheesy but just the right amount of cheesy for it still to be a little scary. If you’re looking for some light Halloween entertainment I would suggest searching this one out.

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