Scars of Dracula is Hammer’s sixth Dracula film and the fifth to feature Christopher Lee. It follows a familiar template: Dracula is resurrected, causes mayhem among the local citizenry, sets his sights–er, fangs on one particular lovely maiden, and is defeated in the end. It’s one of the lesser of the series because it’s a bit of a retread, but it was still enjoyable when one is in the mood for some classic horror.
Scars opens in Dracula’s castle, not the church where he died in the previous film, Taste the Blood of Dracula. As stated in the extras, this was because producers weren’t sure Lee would be returning to the role so they prepared for a reboot and didn’t worry about continuity. A vampire bat regurgitates blood onto a pile of ashes, resurrecting Dracula. After a young woman has been bitten, the male villagers storm the castle and set it ablaze. While their focus was elsewhere, a price is paid for leaving the women alone, the goriest scene of the movie.
The story then cuts to a nearby town where the beautiful Sarah (Jenny Hanley) is having a birthday party. Simon (Dennis Waterman) is fond of her, but she also has an interest in his brother Paul (Christopher Matthews), who is late to the party. That is because he was fooling around with a woman who accuses him of attempted rape when he leaves. Pursued by the authorities, he jumps into a carriage, taking him to the village near the castle. Unable to find lodging, he stumbles upon another carriage and falls asleep in it. Dracula’s slave Klove (Patrick Troughton), unknowingly brings Paul to the castle whereupon Dracula has him stay the night.
Paul is seduced by Tania (Anouska Hempel) who claims to be a prisoner. When she attempts to bite him, Dracula appears and stabs her for no apparent reason. Surely, he knew what was happening so why wait until they were finished and then kill her? Plus, one would think he would have wanted Tania to add another to their ranks.
Simon and Sarah go searching for Paul and end up at the castle. They stay the night in separate rooms and when Dracula goes for Sarah’s neck, he discovers her cross, which he is repelled by. He asks Klove to remove it but Klove is infatuated with her and refuses. This is nice plot complication because Klove has his own motivations so there’s no certainty about how he will act. During the climatic scene, a thunderstorm rolls in, foreshadowing what’s to come.
The production design is a highlight. The sets, especially castle interiors, are impressive. Most of the characters are stereotypical and don’t offer much for the audience to make a connection. That even goes for Dracula, who mainly works because of how well the character is known and the multiple times Lee has previously played him. The film also suffers from slow pacing. Action scenes are needlessly extended, leaving the viewer frustrated that they don’t get on with it. For example, Sarah allows a bat to take her necklace and cross off her. She puts up no fight, no attempt to swat it away, which is ridiculous.
The Blu-ray looks to be the same as the previous Studio Canal release. The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer available in 1.85:1 and under the bonus features in 1.66:1 The opening scene shows a cloth and ashes in a rich red hue, which is how the color is seen throughout. The cut to an exterior shot shows lush greens under bright blue skies. Blacks are very inky. Focus is sharp and fine texture details are on display.
The audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue is clear and James Bernard’s score is presented with good fidelity. The track has a pleasing dynamic range, from the high-pitched bat screeches to low-end effects like rumbling thunder and roaring fire.
Other bonus features include:
- Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula (HD, 18 min) – A group of writers and Jenny Hanley are interviewed about the making of the film.
- Trailers (5 min) – There are two for Scars, and one for Horror of Frankenstein, which it was paired with as a double feature
- Still Gallery
There are two commentary tracks. On one, historian Constantine Nahr, who says he won’t bash or mock the film even though it “fails at nearly every level,” is informative as he talks about the film and the changing of the guard at Hammer Films. Randall Larson shows up at the 64-minute mark talking about the score for four minutes. The other commentary is from a previous DVD release with Lee, director Roy Ward Baker, and historian Marcus Hearn, who offer a view from the inside.
While Scars of Dracula is understandably not held in high regard, there’s still some fun to be had seeing Lee back as the Count, Troughton in his first film role after leaving Doctor Who, and getting some gore and scantily-clad ladies. The Blu-ray offers a satisfying high-def experience and very good extras for those who want to learn more about it and the famous studio that made it.