The Satanic Rites of Dracula
A Middle Aged Movie Blog. Being the periodic journal of a film loving middle aged independent science fiction writing father of two and his ongoing adventures in cinema and home video
Instead of a few hours of gaming, opted to watch The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), which I discovered trailing through the gutters of Prime video in search of horror classics I’d previously overlooked.
I have an incredible soft spot for Hammer under-performers and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team ups generally. Still, despite this, my hopes for the film were limited. I was somewhat surprised to discover, therefore, that the movie managed to limbo the low bar I’d pessimistically set up for it with no trouble whatsoever.
Ditching the Gothic trappings of earlier Dracula outings and keeping with the modern day setting of Hammer Studios’ creative low point, Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), Satanic Rites is set in modern day London, and is more of a low rent cop movie with some vampires tossed in to spice up the mix a bit than a straight up scare flick.
The plot is as follows: Scotland Yard uncovers a high level conspiracy to bring Dracula back from the dead. A specialist is brought in to help out with the investigation. Enter Peter Cushing as reputed anthropologist occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing. With some help from Jessica Van Helsing played by a game Joanna Lumley, Van Helsing sets about the task of investigating the cult and trying to make sense of a spate of recent murders.
The film is a seedy, bloody mash up of modern crime thriller and grimy vampire horror, with a soft core sex vibe and sporadically funked up soundtrack to complement the pseudo scientific waffling.
The film plays out like a desperate attempt by Hammer to wring cash out of a failing concept. Alas, try as Hammer might, it is clear when watching the film, the horror giants had run out of ways in which to pitch the Dracula mythos by the early seventies. The film may be marginally better than Dracula AD 1972, but it still falls a long way short of earlier outings featuring Lee and Cushing. The script is dreadful. The fact that Lee hardly features in what was to be his final performance as the count is telling. The film is an afterthought of a movie with some interesting ideas, but not enough to distract from the fact the studio was starting to flounder. Quality control was an issue by the mid 1970’s. Whilst it can be argued any film starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is worth a look, this is one for Hammer completists and difficult to recommend to the casual viewer.
Watched low key Doug Liman movie The Wall (2017) on Prime.
The Wall stars John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a couple of soldiers isolated in an undisclosed desert location somewhere in Iraq with eyes on a pipeline construction site, monitoring to determine what happened. Unsure of their position they consider whether they should leave or investigate the scene further.
Needless to say, there’s a pretty decent enemy shooter holed up nearby. When Sergeant Matthews (John Cena) is picked off being reckless and wandering in the open, his colleague Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who fails to rescue him, winds up ducking away behind a wall to take shelter, as the film narrows its focus to the two remaining combatants.
Liman’s film is a tense little number, all low fi psychological cat and mouse intensity and banter interspersed with moments of confused, panicked action, bureaucratic wrangling, agonised inactivity and political philosophising.
For the most part the film works well. Johnson shoulders most of the drama and does a fabulous job of conveying the emotional lability of a man under increasing psychological pressure forced into a confessional by an articulate enemy intent on educating him in the ways of American interventionism.
There is a lot of talking and self reflection. However it’s to the script’s credit that it avoids proselytising. Focus remains on the American side of the wall, and the viewer assumes the role of supernumerary, rooting for the injured American soldiers, whilst simultaneously bending an ear to the Iraqi sniper’s voice which acts as a commentary on the consequences of Bush’s ill conceived invasion and its unexpected impact.
Liman opts to avoid the dramatic signposting of an out and out score, preferring instead, to allow the viewer to hear what the soldier’s hear, the shot of a rifle, the seconds between shot fired and impact, the sound of walls crumbling and dirt and the intermittent howling of the desert wind, the flapping of a loose plastic sheet, the fleshy sounds of a bullet being dug out of an open wound, the sound of rapid breathing, the hiss and static of a sporadically functional radio.
The Wall is extremely spare and absorbing. As events unfold, and Isaac’s predicament becomes increasingly precarious, the viewer starts to wonder whether he will survive his encounter in the desert or if the sniper will prevail. Unfortunately, the film ends on a dull note and would have benefited from maintaining ambiguity. However overall, it is an interesting, effective minor film from the director responsible for Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and The Bourne Identity (2002) that deserves to be seen more widely.