The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

A Satanic ritual, equipped with Baphomet and a naked blonde chick for an alter, takes place in a secluded English mansion called Pelham House. Upstairs, a man works to escape from his restraints, as Nehru-jacketed thugs patrol the grounds. He manages to escape, but trips an alarm and is pursued by more thugs on motorcycles. Luckily, someone is waiting outside the gate, dispatching the thugs and taking him back to the intelligence agency he apparently works for.

It turns out that those participating in the ritual are all well-placed politicians, high-ranking military officials and a Nobel-prize-winning scientist, Professor Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones). Before dying of his injuries, the undercover agent reveals that he photographed five men. Five photos are retrieved from the microfilm in his watch camera, but the fifth shows nothing except the door to the house.

Seeking more information on the occult, the head of the department, Torrence (William Franklyn) seeks out Inspector Murray (Michael Coles), who has handled similar cases for Scotland Yard. He in turn refers them to Professor Lorimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), whose family has a long history of dealing with such situations, and investigates with his granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley). It turns out that Van Helsing and Keeley both attended Oxford, so it's time for a visit.

Van Helsing finds Keeley disheveled and barely coherent, although he gathers that Keeley has developed a new strain of Black Death that is 100 per cent contagious and causes flesh to rot on the bone. While trying to talk sense into him, one of the Nehru gang shows up, shoots Van Helsing (who luckily escapes after the bullet grazes him), hangs Keeley and steals the petrie dishes containing the disease.

The race is now on to save the world by April 23rd, the ultimate black sabbath, when it turns out that Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), resurrected by a Chinese sorceress (Barbara Yu Ling) plans to unleash the plague upon the world and take Jessica as his bride.

I believe this is the second Hammer Dracula film to take place in modern times (modern being 1972 in this case), and this is quite far from the gothic horror of the Dracula films from the 1950s and 1960s. It has the potential to be a mess, combining Satanism, spy movies, evil world-domination plots and classic horror. Happily, it works, at least when the action is happening. Too bad there are long portions where it drags, telling us much more rather than showing us.

The Hammer Dracula series came to an end with this one, which was a good thing (the quality and budgets had been steadily declining), but at least it went out with a bang.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Duration: 87 minutes
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Michael Coles
Director: Alan Gibson

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