Taste the Blood of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hammer’s fourth entry in the series, was made in late 1969, and released on the 7th of May, 1970.
That star Christopher Lee was becoming disillusioned with the Count was an open secret, and his reluctance to play him again was exacerbated by the fact that, despite James Carreras constantly pleading poverty, Lee discovered the films were making plenty of money for the studio from their American releases.
New blood: Dracula (Christopher Lee) enslaves Alice Hargood (Linda Hayden) and turns Lucy Paxton (Isla Blair) in Taste the Blood of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
“I told my agent to tell Hammer that if they really didn’t have any money then they could pay me a percentage of the American distributor’s gross,” he later said. For Carreras, this was out of the question. Hammer decided to call Lee’s bluff, and cast 29 year old newcomer Ralph Bates as Dracula, initially in the guise of Lord Courtley, proclaiming him as the ‘new boy’ for their new Dracula.
Sanguine draught: Reluctant to play the Count anymore, Christopher Lee poses for this publicity shot for Taste the Blood of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
The studio didn’t reckon on Warner-Bros-Seven-Arts, who reminded Sir Jimmy that their co-funding of Taste the Blood of Dracula was entirely dependent on Lee appearing as the Count. With their collective tail between their legs, Hammer sent producer Aida Young to schmooze the star over lunch, in the hope of persuading him to make the film.
Femme fatale: Dracula (Christopher Lee) takes on a reluctant female disciple in the guise of Alice Hargood (Linda Hayden) in Taste the Blood of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Reluctantly he agreed, which so mucked up John Elder’s screenplay that he had to simply turn Bates into Lee after the blood ceremony, leaving the former only 5 days’ work from a six week contract, and the latter waiting in the wings for a piece of the action.
A grown up sequel which begins exactly where Dracula Has Risen from the Grave leaves off, Taste the Blood of Dracula transfers the action to Victorian England, and centres around a group of three bored gentlemen (Peter Sallis, Martin Jarvis and John Carson) seeking the ultimate thrill. Debut director Peter Sasdy imbued the movie with a stark nastiness that raises it above most of its counterparts and, ironically, the more ludicrous scenes are the ones that involve Dracula, in particular the corny dialogue, most of which Lee refused to say.
Letter of the law: Inspector Cobb (Michael Ripper) is sceptical of Paul Paxton’s (Anthony Corlan) intelligence in Taste the Blood of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Notwithstanding this, his performance is still outstanding, and Taste the Blood of Dracula has some chillingly sadistic moments which carry it above and beyond what was becoming the standard Hammer fodder.
Sadly, it marked the end of Anthony Hinds’ association with the studio. Tensions between the parties had been mounting for some time, and a wrangle over the use of scenes from a treatment originally tendered by Hammer director Freddie Francis’ son Kevin, which had been rejected a year earlier, led to suggestions of plagiarism. Although Francis acknowledged that it was not Elder who had “nicked the scenes” for Taste the Blood of Dracula, but another member of the production team, the incident left a nasty taste in everyone’s mouths. How could Hinds, as a company director, claim he didn’t know what was in screenplays when this one had been written under his pseudonym of Elder?
Bloodshot: The effect might be chilling, but Christopher Lee struggled with the painful ‘full’ contact lenses required for Taste the Blood of Dracula (Hammer 1970)
Hammer’s solicitor suggested he relinquish his directorship, and he readily agreed; Anthony Hinds, the genius to whom many attributed much of the studio’s success, officially resigned on the 19th of May, 1970.
It was, in so many ways, the end of an era.