Warner Archive continues to bring the beloved Hammer Dracula series to Blu-ray
The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
After bringing their flagship Dracula franchise to contemporary times in Dracula AD 1972, Hammer followed up with a direct sequel again featuring Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and his granddaughter Jessica (recasted with Joanna Lumley) as the protagonists. Jessica gets a reduced role this time, and while that’s not really a flaw, those who loved her character in AD 1972 may be disappointed that she’s less prominent here.
A risky undercover operation ends with Scotland Yard detectives making a horrifying discovery: not only are occult blood rituals being performed at a remote estate as they had suspected, but the participants of these satanic rites include some of England’s most prominent government officials and captains of industry.
In over their heads, the detectives consult occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing, who quickly deduces that this is another case of vampirism — though what form that takes isn’t immediately clear (spoiler: it’s Dracula again). The group is quickly swept up into an intriguing mystery as they find themselves against a vampiric cult of enormous influence and power.
With its larger scale story and expanded role of humans allying with and working for Dracula at the highest levels of government and commerce in hopes of currying his favor, Satanic Rites feels like a very definite influence on the world-building and modern mythology of the Blade trilogy of films which fully explore that theme.
My main criticism in analyzing AD 1972 was that Dracula didn’t actively figure into the story or get much dialogue, less a fully-formed character than a threatening construct of the script. Satanic Rites fixes that issue, giving the Count a sinister, nihilistic motivation and even providing our famous nemeses with a brief sit-down conversation that escalates into a faceoff.
Expansive, action-oriented, and definitely fun, Satanic Rites is not the most “classic” feeling of Hammer’s films, but it’s among the most breathlessly paced and entertaining. An even better follow-up to AD 1972 (a pretty decent movie in its own right), it’s not only a worthy film in the series but a respectable final appearance for star Christopher Lee in his last round donning the cape for Hammer (Cushing would reprise his role just once more in the final film of the series, the Lee-less Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires).
The Satanic Rites of Dracula has had a weird DVD history full of cheap, unauthorized grey market editions, ostensibly trading on the film’s (dubious) public domain status. It’s great to finally have a proper and official Blu-ray release from Warner Brothers, and particularly as part of their growing lineup of Hammer Dracula discs.
Like most Hammer films (and indeed most movies of the early 70s), the film has a generally soft appearance which is replicated here faithfully. The film’s few close-ups demonstrate nice detail.
Special Features and Extras
Theatrical Trailer (2:44)
Warner Archive recently let slip that they will be releasing Hammer’s original Dracula, aka Horror Of Dracula, in the near future, so stay tuned for the continuance of this review series.
For those keeping track, this will leave only two of Hammer’s Dracula films unavailable on Blu-ray in the US: 1970’s Scars Of Dracula and the series capper co-produced with Shaw Bros without the participation of Lee, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.