T: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

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Okay, back to my comfort zone for tonight, with a Hammer film. Now, you could argue that I was just there a couple of letters ago, with Quatermass and the Pit, but I would have to answer that was not really a Hammer flick because Michael Ripper wasn’t in it.

There’s also a little bit of resonance here because a year ago, I reviewed Trog for the letter T. It was the first time I’d seen it since 1970, when I saw it on a double bill with a theater full of sugar-blitzed fellow teeny-boppers who would scream at the slightest onscreen provocation. The second movie on that double bill? Taste the Blood of Dracula. Also unseen by me in the intervening (choke) 47 years. I remembered some of it, but not all.

For one thing, I forgot Roy Kinnear is in it – then again, in 1970, I had not the foggiest idea who he was. I don’t think I even saw Help! until ’72 or so. Anyway, Kinnear is a traveling salesman named Weller, who has the unfortunate luck of showing a snowglobe he got in Karlsburg to some superstitious fellow travelers in a coach. He gets bounced out of the coach and wanders lost in the woods until he happens on the end of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Christopher Lee impaled on the cross. He watches the dead Count resolve to dust – even his blood – and thriftily picks it up for later.

After the credits we are introduced to disagreeable toff William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen) who we know we’re going to like because he calls his daughter a harlot before leaving to spend his Sunday evening as he does every month, doing charity work. His coach picks up his compatriots, Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Secker (John Carson), Since this is a Hammer film, we already know that all toffs are actually perverts and hypocrites, and sure enough, that soup kitchen is a front for a lavish bordello.

The three men have formed a circle dedicated to experiencing the extremes of pleasures, and evenings of snake-charming doxies and champagne laced with laudanum are losing their allure. The possibility of finding something beyond that is provided by the dissolute Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates in a stunning purple ruffled shirt), disowned by his family for practicing black magic in the family chapel.

Courtley convinces the men to buy Dracula’s effects – cape, clasp, ring and powdered blood – from Weller to perform a rite in the disgraced chapel to “extend their experiences…  to infinity.” A few drops of Courtley’s blood results in goblets filled with bubbling plasma. Only Courtley has the cojones to actually drink it, and the results are apparently far more painful than he expected. The three toffs, panicking, beat him to death and flee. A few hours later, though, Christopher Lee reincarnates in Bates’ body, and he’s really pissed off that the toffs killed his servant.

Also, someone is shining a light in his eyes.

Lee’s dislike of the character is pretty legendary by this time, and it’s telling that Dracula doesn’t even show up until halfway through the movie, and then is only a fleeting presence through much of it (Warner wouldn’t distribute it in America without Lee’s marquee value). The Count gets his vengeance on the three killers through their children – Hargood’s put-upon daughter Alice (Linda Hayden), Paxton’s daughter Lucy (Isla Blair), and Secker’s son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis). They do most of the dirty work until the final showdown with Paxton’s son, Paul (Anthony Higgins), who is – economical story! – Alice’s true love (and whom the hateful Hargood despised).

Couching this entry in the Hammer Dracula franchise as a revenge drama does add a bit of distinguishing flavor, even if the whole enterprise feels like the back-up story in a comic book. The actual mechanics of vampirism get a bit confused (One bites turns Lucy into a vampire, but a second, really serious bite from the Count kills her permanently). Still no Peter Cushing, but the world-traveling Secker is presented as having some knowledge of the darker corners of existence, with a handy library to match.

Lee as ever is the most magnetic presence in the room, and is actually allowed to be charming for brief flashes. Director Peter Sasdy was always more in tune with the more perverse elements of the Hammer oeuvre, and is certainly the right choice for this venture – I’m quite surprised at how much skin is on display in the bordello scenes. It’s likely I saw a trimmed version in 1970 to play with the GP-rated Trog. I also have to say that after three ass-kicking and unusual methods to off the Count in Lee’s three previous outings, the method employed in Taste seems rather mundane (and cash-strapped).

“Cor Blimey! A corpus!”

Oh, and Michael Ripper? He’s the clueless cop investigating the murders. But you expected that, didn’t you?

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