One year after Dracula’s death, Monsignor Muller (Rupert Davies) stops in on the neighbouring village to see how things are going. He’s rather disconcerted to discover that things aren’t going too well, with the church empty & falling into disuse, & the local priest propping up the bar at the local inn. Apparently Dracula’s shadow is still looming tall over the village even in death, so the Monsignor persuades the priest to accompany him up to the castle to perform an exorcism, & prevent Dracula from ever returning to his home. An unfortunate accident prompts the resurrection of Dracula himself, & when the Count finds his castle inhospitable, he vows revenge on the Monsignor & his family.
The third of Hammer’s Christopher Lee/Dracula series, DHRFTG sees the excellent Terence Fisher replaced in the director’s chair by Freddie Francis. His cinematographer’s eye is well employed in the film, peppering it with impressive visual tricks building an oppressive atmosphere. It’s just a bit of a shame that it’s not exercised on rather stronger material, since the film is somewhat undone by it’s rather slight, silly & uninvolving narrative line. It’s unfortunate really, because the first half hour or so is fine stuff, with some great suspense moments & a couple of neat shocks building nicely to the resurrection of the Count.
One of the principal pleasures of the film is, as mentioned before, it’s neat visual style. For the most part, Francis & photographer Arthur Grant utilise dour, restrained colours, which gives the films’ one big colour (red, inevitably) maximum impact as it scorches its way through the screen, & there is some fine use of colour signifying the nighttime footage. Amongst the captivating images are the Monsignor’s arrival at the castle, where he’s covered in light in the centre of the screen as the edges slip away into yellows & reds; Lee standing on the rooftop, the very air seemingly blistering red around him; or the cross reflected on the fallen priest’s face.
Like pretty much every Hammer film, the films impact is increased by the excellent score – this time by star composer James Bernard, who builds a magnificent head of suspense with his driving & gnawing use of repetitive phrasing. The other great treat in the film is the presence of Lee, who pretty much carries the film through it’s wobbly second half. He’s perfectly at home playing Dracula by now, & delivers one of his finest takes on the role, burning up the screen with blistering, sadistic intensity.
Which makes it rather disappointing when the second half of the film coasts by with strictly routine suspense & horror sequences, & a more than usually weak narrative – as too often happened with these films, the script isn’t too sure what to do with Dracula once he’s been resurrected. It’s not helped by moments of silliness & playing with the vampire mythos – such as Dracula getting staked through the heart, but simply pulling it out again because the “staker” hasn’t enough believe in God. Ultimately, DHRFTG winds up as a strictly routine Hammer entry. It’s strong visual style & moments of heady Gothic atmosphere means that it provides some entertainment for Hammer fans, but it’s not quite at the level of indispensability.
The DVD comes from Warner Home Video, & presents the film anamorphically at 1.85:1. It’s a really great-looking transfer – perhaps not the absolute highest quality, but given the age & nature of the film it looks surprisingly strong with good rich colours. The mono sound is nice & clear, but extras are limited to a trailer only. Still, if the price is right the excellent picture quality means this is worth considering.