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Scream Factory shows us the “SCARS OF DRACULA”, an imperfect but important movie from Hammer Films; an absolute beauty on Blu, scars and all.

As the calendar turned to 1970, Hammer Films was struggling with their gothic horror movies versus the newer, more graphic horror films being produced. Hammer Films, feeling the need to compete in the evolving horror market, released their first film rated for 18 and over in the U.K., SCARS OF DRACULA.

Take note that the trailer shows the title as “THE” SCARS OF DRACULA, but the real title of the movie does not include “THE”.

THE MOVIE

SCARS OF DRACULA opens with a scene bringing Dracula back to “life.” Visually it appears to keep the continuity from TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, where he was turned to dust by the rays of the sun. However, the scene has almost no other connection to the previous Dracula movie aside from Dracula being dust.

A servant bat of Dracula drips blood onto the dusty remains, which helps reconstitute Dracula in his coffin safely within the confines of his hidden chamber inside his castle. Afterwards, Dracula must have been peckish, as he feeds from a local village girl. Her father brings her dead body back to show the villagers, and the men are off to finally rid themselves of Dracula.

What ensues is a stereotypical “villagers with torches off to burn the monster and his home” scene.

Unbeknownst to the mob of men, Dracula has dispatched his bats to the village to punish the men for daring to challenge Dracula.

Having torched the castle, the men return to their village church to celebrate, but find a horror waiting for them. Upon opening the church doors, a few bats fly out, and the men step into a massacre scene. Dracula’s bats have killed all the women of the village. The priest, defeated, sadly declares that the devil has won.

In the nearby town of Kleinenberg, a horny devil is at work.

Paul is fooling around with the Burgomaster’s daughter. Angry that Paul is leaving so quickly after their bedroom romp, she accuses Paul of rape, angering the Burgomaster who sets the authorities on his trail. Running from the law, Paul finds himself at the village that is still suffering under the evil of Dracula. He’s refused a safe place to stay at the village tavern and finds his way to Dracula’s castle.

Paul’s brother Simon and his girlfriend Sarah become concerned when Paul has been missing for a few days and follow his trail to the village and eventually Dracula’s castle.

Will Paul, Simon, and Sarah escape the evil grasp of Dracula, and will the villagers rise up and find their courage to fight the oppression of the king of vampires?

SCARS OF DRACULA was an interesting film for Hammer Films.

They were trying to hold on to their classic gothic horror while dipping into more explicit horror, and even mixing blood and violence with sexual scenes — not something the British censors looked kindly upon at the time.

One of the most disturbing scenes in the movie, and probably in any previous Hammer film, was the scene in the church after the massacre of the women. Bodies are shown to have been bitten, battered, and bloodied by Dracula’s bats. Blood is splattered everywhere in the church, the bodies flung about, bloody wounds are shown in detail; even a woman’s eye is shown hanging from its socket.

In addition to that scene, SCARS OF DRACULA shows Klove (Patrick Troughton), a servant of Dracula, dismembering a victim of Dracula and throwing her body parts into a bucket.

A bat attacks a woman to remove her cross, in the process leaving body wounds across her breasts, which is shown in close-up, and there is a scene that Christopher Lee refers to as an “S & M scene,” where Dracula uses a red-hot sword to brand Klove as an act of punishment.

But look closely at Dracula’s face during this scene, and even Klove’s face, because this doesn’t fully come across as a punishment but instead a longed-for act of pleasure for both.

It is true to say that Hammer had not produced a movie as explicit as SCARS OF DRACULA before.

But they still clung to their gothic drama aesthetic, which gives the movie a bit of a bipolar feel.

When it comes to Christopher Lee-starring Dracula movies, I’m prejudiced and perhaps do not look objectively enough at these movies to properly criticize them (more on this later). I grew up on these movies, and SCARS OF DRACULA was one of my favorites, and still is despite many of the movie’s obvious flaws.

Even when he’s disinterested, Christopher Lee is on par with Bela Lugosi performing the character of Dracula. While many critics and historians will disagree (a lot more on this later), I still love SCARS OF DRACULA, and it remains one of my favorite Hammer Dracula movies.

THE DISC

As with previous Hammer releases, the movie is presented in two different aspect ratios, but the audio commentaries only accompany the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1:85.1.

The first commentary track with Christopher Lee, Roy Ward Baker, and historian/moderator Marcus Hearn is a pleasant listen that’s dominated by Christopher Lee.

The track starts off with a frosty Christopher Lee talking about Dracula and the problems he had with Hammer’s treatment of the character. His continual wish to return the character to be aligned with Bram Stoker’s novel and the first Hammer Dracula movie — HORROR OF DRACULA (in the U.S.) — had not been enthusiastically received by Hammer producers.

When talk turns to Lee’s costars and working with Roy Ward Baker, his mood lightens and the conversation flows better and becomes pleasant.

Listening to Christopher Lee and Roy Ward Baker speak is like a pillow for your brain and sounds like you’re eavesdropping on a fireside chat between two old chums.

The second commentary track is by film historian and Hammer expert Constantine Nasr, with about 5 minutes of commentary about the film’s score by James Bernard from film historian Ted Newsom. Nasr gives a long and very informative breakdown of SCARS OF DRACULA and points out its many flaws.

While it was hard for me, as a long-time fan of the movie, to listen to this critical analysis, I can’t say he was wrong on any particular point. Nasr has researched SCARS OF DRACULA well and backed up his analysis by using Roy Ward Baker’s shooting script (with notes), as well as Christopher Lee’s script (with notes).

Nasr, at points in the commentary, will read from either script to highlight a change from the original screenplay to the final product on the screen, usually showing a flaw in the film.

In one instance, Nasr chooses to focus on an early scene involving Paul, Simon, and Sarah. The way the scene plays on the screen, there appears to be a love triangle between the three, with Paul and Simon being brothers vying for the love of Sarah. The movie hints that Sarah is more inclined to give her affections to Paul, but the scene plays out in a confusing manner that does not really depict a true love triangle.

The original intent of the scene, as read by Nasr, shows that Paul and Sarah were originally written as brother and sister, with Simon as Sarah’s love interest. The change in the script isn’t as much of an issue as the poor execution of the scene, which leaves things bit confused as to what’s going on with the three, and it’s never truly resolved.

It was difficult to listen to Nasr’s analysis of SCARS OF DRACULA, but educational.

I still love this movie, but Nasr’s commentary helped me see through my rose-colored glasses a bit and recognize the problems with the movie. Knowing the flaws doesn’t change my impression of SCARS OF DRACULA, but it does help me appreciate the movie even more.

To add to the strange place SCARS OF DRACULA holds in Hammer history, Christopher Lee states during his commentary track that he hadn’t watched the movie before recording the track. But in previous interviews and even in his autobiography, Lee had stated that he did not think SCARS OF DRACULA was a good movie.

Maybe the passage of time and seeing it with his friend and director, Baker, had led Lee to soften his view of SCARS OF DRACULA.

“Blood Rites: Inside SCARS OF DRACULA” is an 18-minute documentary about the making of the film and includes an interview with star Jenny Hanley who played Sarah. Her memory of working with Christopher Lee is a bit different from the memory that Lee has on his commentary track.

Hanley talks about being a bit of a giggler during scenes, and that Lee was in no mood to joke during production of the film. The short documentary doesn’t go into great depth about the movie, but it’s an interesting peek into SCARS OF DRACULA.

THE VERDICT

As with previous Scream Factory releases of Hammer films, their SCARS OF DRACULA Blu-ray is another fine addition to their growing library of Hammer horror films. The commentary tracks and documentary will give fans a complete and in-depth look at where Hammer Films was in 1970, how changing audience expectations impacted the making of SCARS OF DRACULA and its reception from fans.

The movie looks better than ever — the picture is crisp and clear, with stunning color. The red-hot sword has never looked a brighter more spectacular red and really adds to the horror of the torture scene. The sound is not muddied and highlights the stunning score from James Bernard.

If there is one thing missing from this Blu-ray release, it’s an isolated score track. I believe it would be a fun feature to watch the film and to be able to focus on Bernard’s amazing music.

THE SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Scars of DraculaPresented in Two Aspect Ratios: 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 (Original Theatrical Aspect Ratio)
  • New Audio Commentary With Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr and Filmmaker/Film Historian Ted Newsom
  • Audio Commentary With Star Christopher Lee and Director Roy Ward Baker, Moderated by Hammer Film Historian Marcus Hearn
  • “Blood Rites: Inside SCARS OF DRACULA”
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery
  • English SDH subtitles

For more information and to purchase SCARS OF DRACULA, visit Shout! Factory here.

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