Scars of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
There is a belief, even among the most devout fans of Hammer horror, that as their Dracula franchise progressed, the films became steadily worse. Even Christopher Lee himself has suggested this to be true, and yet closer inspection of the later entries reveals these allegations to be largely groundless. Scars of Dracula serves to illustrate this point admirably.
The perception that Hammer, as a studio, was struggling and at the mercy of its American distributors has helped fuel these rumours, and there was of course a deal of truth in that. It’s true to say that Sir James Carreras was putting a brave face on his abandonment by Warner Bros-Seven Arts, but he did it robustly and made much of his new coalition with ABPC, although Chief Executive Bernard Delfont had cautioned that each film must not cost more than £200,000.
Errant Paul (Christopher Matthews) makes a grisly discovery at the castle in Scars of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
A bloodbath almost from start to finish, Scars of Dracula was a standalone feature, making no attempt to link itself to any of the previous four films. Happily, Lee got much of Stoker’s Dracula back, and the film evokes more of a horror harking back to the Universal glory days than what had become standard Hammer fare. Given dialogue to spare, the broody yet brutishly cruel Dracula of this episode was directed by Roy Ward Baker.
Dracula (Christopher Lee) sinks his teeth into Tania (Anouska Hempel) in Scars of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Brought to life by an oversized mechanical bat vomiting blood on his remains, the Count continues his terror campaign against the inhabitants of a nearby Mitteleurope town, prompting an angry torch mob led by innkeeper Michael Ripper to storm the castle and set fire to it, despite the uneasiness of their priest Michael Gwynn. Upon returning triumphantly to the church to recover their womenfolk, the townsmen are horrified to discover them murdered and mutilated by Dracula’s army of bats. Some years later, philanderer Paul (Christopher Matthews) is forced to make a retreat from his hometown of Kleinenburg after seducing the daughter (Delia Lindsay) of the Burgomaster (Bob Todd). Inevitably, he fetches up at Dracula’s castle, finding out the vampire in all his gory glory whilst being seduced by the voluptuous Tania (Anouska Hempel). It’s not long until Paul’s brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) and his fiancé Sarah (Jenny Hanley) come looking for him, only to find themselves in Dracula’s thrall and at the mercy of his servant Klove (Patrick Troughton).
Dracula (Christopher Lee) has Sarah (Jenny Hanley) in his thrall in Scars of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
The Count’s particularly evil murderous tendencies, coupled with themes of sado-masochism, put Scars of Dracula more on a par with action that might take place in the Hewitt household, and at times make for grisly viewing. Two scenes in particular caught the attention of the British censor and had to be revised accordingly. Dracula’s frenzied stabbing of Tania was originally followed by him lapping up the blood from her wounds, a scene which was excised in its entirety; while Klove’s later dismemberment of her corpse was toned down in both sound and vision.
Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) brutal treatment of Klove (Patrick Troughton) highlights the sado-masochistic elements of Scars of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Strong performances mark Scars of Dracula out as a particularly accomplished effort. Lee is suitably menacing throughout, but more than able support is lent by Troughton, Waterman and Hanley, with a very capable ensemble cast headed up by the superb Michael Ripper; further sterling support comes from Michael Gwynn’s anxious clergyman, and Wendy Hamilton as the feisty barmaid Julie. The vampire’s demise comes courtesy of a dramatic lightning strike which engulfs him in flames as he plunges from the castle’s battlements; Lee’s regular stunt double Eddie Powell took over for the more strenuous moments.
Simon (Dennis Waterman) determines to discover the truth in Scars of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Roy Ward Baker’s direction is particularly inspired, and enhanced by his refusal to use day-for-night shots against the wishes of producer Aida Young. The resulting sense of atmosphere and uneasiness that pervade the film make it certainly one of the most horrific of the franchise. Released as part of a double-bill with The Horror of Frankenstein, Scars of Dracula was looked upon favourably by fans and critics alike. The two pictures together grossed £55,385 upon release in London, but sadly the US rights went to American Continental Films and, lacking the clout of the bigger distributors, they failed to score with either film in the States. This lacklustre international return was undoubtedly instrumental in Hammer’s decision to consider a new setting for the next film.
Thank you for a most fascinating article! I take exception to your claim that the film broke any semblance of continuity to the films that had preceded it, insofar as Dracula, overcome and, presumably, dissolved at the conclusion of the previous film, “Taste The Blood Of Dracula”, was then brought back to life from that state, was then reanimated by the vampire bat vomiting blood upon a bier very much like that upon which the Count’s corpse rested at the conclusion of “Blood”, albeit one in a different location at the start of “Scars”. Outside of that mistake, the piece was most gripping and factual. Is it true that the success of the “Count Yorga” films inspired Hammer to bring Dracula into what was then the present day?
Perry J. Zanett
SCARS OF DRACULA was great film, a liked it a lot!
In my opinion it was far better than ‘DRACULA 1972 AD’ and ‘THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA’ which followed it.
(The only ‘plus’ these two films had was the return of Peter Cushing as ‘Van Helsing’ but setting Dracula stories in modern day doesn’t work for me).
I think Scars is a very underrated. A reboot rather than direct sequel, it took the franchise back to some basics while upping the gore content to suit modern tastes. Lee was given more to do as usual, including the wall scaling scene from the novel. Patrick Troughton was excellent as Klove, but is this meant to be the same character from Prince of Darkness. His limp indicates so, presumably as a result of the bullet he took in that film and the fact we did not actually see him die.
Hi Nigel thanks I enjoyed reading your story behind the Favourite Movie of mine Scars of Dracula I met Chris Matthews at a movie Convention he is very nice indeed hated when he got killed i was hoping that it would have been Denis Waterman hated his performance Love Classic Monsters regards Eric Vivian.
This article and the e-Mail link that led me to it have convinced me to buy the new Blu-ray disc release of “Scars of Dracula” and re-watch it, so well done!!
To my mind Scars of Dracula was the 2nd best of the Hammer Dracula series. Only the first Dracula 1958 was superior. The action mostly takes place in Castle Dracula and Christopher Lee for once seems to be enjoying himself. If only Hammer had ended the series there they would in my opinion have gone out on a high.
Scars of Dracula, not a bad piece of story telling. Good storyline & an excellent cast. Patrick Troughton was a fantastic actor & managed to steal most scenes. Good Dracula yarn from Hammer.
Scars of Dracula is one of my Guilty Pleasures. I love the fact that Lee has more dialogue and business, he looks and sounds so good, but he is able to convey great depths of feeling into even the wordless scenes; the appeal on his face when he reaches out to Sarah is heart wrenching. It’s a pity that they decided that Dracula would drain his donors dry at a single session. All of the acting is good & most of the characters are believable. I think that the plot has more holes than Swiss cheese: why did Dracula put Paul on a meat hook instead of tossing him out the window? Was Tanya already a vampire at the start? Why did she & Dracula have this weird staring contest in front of Paul, and why did Dracula bite her when he had Paul readily available? The killer bat scenes were, for me, quite over the top and unnecessary. The giant rubber bat was just awful.
Scars Of Dracula was defineitly the bloodiest and most magical of all the Hammer Dracula’s but sadly the cheapest looking, rubber bats, knives that bend, and cardboard castles, a sad sign that Hammer were taking a nose dive.
I would have to agree with those who feel that ‘Scars’ is a sub-par Hammer film. Rather than boasting an interesting ongoing story throughout, ‘Scars’ seems to be a series of set-pieces that meet with varying success. Perhaps the massacre in the church is the most successful, but even here, we don’t really get to know any of the characters who meet grisly ends, so it is hard to get emotionally involved.
There is a definite cheapness to the sets and designs too, which isn’t so obvious in other films in the Dracula series – even subsequent productions don’t look as threadbare.
All that said, there is much to enjoy here. Hammer’s Gothic atmosphere is still prevalent and it is always good to see Sir Christopher Lee as the Count, especially when he has so much to say compared to usual!
I caught Scars of Dracula and The Horror of Frankenstein on a double-bill re-release in 1975, having made a nine mile bus trip especially for the privilege, and can honestly say that I was not disappointed. I thought the whole atmosphere of the film was just right, and travelled home afterwards with Anoushka Hempel’s pleas to “Love me” echoing in my ears. Every one of the cast members gave a solid and truthful performance in my opinion and, as everyone has pointed out, it was great to see Christopher Lee given some meaty dialogue for a change. Such a shame that this was the last of Hammer’s gothic Dracula series. Thank you, Nigel, for producing these wonderful magazines – long may they continue.
An outstanding review of what in my opinion is a very underrated entry into the Dracula series from Hammer films. Is it the best entry? Of course not. But I think it gets a bad rap. I enjoy it and feel it is better than most of the horror movies that are out now. How can anyone hate a movie starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula is beyond me!! Again excellent review Mr. Burton and look forward to whatever you and your excellent staff produce next. Also on a side note went to Amazon and purchased the new blu ray copy of Scars of Dracula after reading this review!
I always enjoyed Scars Of Dracula, I liked Christopher Lee in this Film, and I feel that you see him a lot more in this Film, than some of the others.
Patrick Troughton, as Klove was also a good role, the supporting cast of Dennis Waterman, and Jenny Hanley along with Michael Ripper, and Michael Gwynn, who I particularly enjoyed as The Priest.
The Audio Commentry on this Film moderated by Marcus Hearn, is very Interesting, as you get to hear Roy Ward Baker the Director, on how he faced problems with the BBFC, and also Christopher Lee comments on the Bats being a bit oversized! and I have to agree with him to be honest.
I really feel that this Film should have been the last of the Hammer Dracula Films, even though I liked Dracula AD 1972 quite a lot, in fact it is quite funny in places.
The scene with the Bats attacking The Priest, I think was a little bit overdone, as I feel that Hammer were trying to cross a line slightly, in terms of showing too much Blood.
Scars Of Dracula is still a good Film, I just feel that they should have had more of a better story to go with it, but it certainly isn’t a bad Film, as we are still talking about it today.