Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

One defining, not to mention praiseworthy, aspect of Hammer’s Films that never gets mentioned are their great titles. While most modern franchises will just go with a number to denote progression, and maybe a descriptive subtitle, Hammer went their own route. Taste the Blood of Dracula ranking up there with the great sequels, alongside the equally descriptive and evocative Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. (Tellingly, Hammer’s production that was aided by Universal, the Mummy, also had the lamest title.) Titles that are as rich and suggestive as the films they advertise.

Taste the Blood of Dracula is a true sequel’s sequel. Starting with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave’s impalement finale, Taste… introduces a enterprising merchant, Weller (Roy Kinnear), who thinks it wise to bottle Dracula’s dried blood. This blood, naturally, gets sold to one Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), a young nobleman disowned by his family for practicing black magic. Courtley lives in the local whorehouse, which is frequented by a makeshift Hellfire Club; three men from respectable society (Willaim Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis), and Jonathan Secker (John Carson)) who enjoy dabbling in the underworld.

The men take Courtley out to dinner, where he offers them a way to extend their lives, and thus their adventures, infinitely; vampirism. Resurrect Dracula and have him make them into vampires. (The incongruity that Dracula, who is now deceased, also holds the secret to immortality doesn’t cross their minds.)

Dracula might get the title, and Courtley might get all the hookers, but Secker, Paxton, and Hargood are the real stars of this show. Their performances are truly believable; they walk around and bicker like old friends. Paxton is the cheapskate, Hargood the de facto leader who pushes them all along while Secker looks on, too timid to say he thinks they should’ve bowed out at “are you willing to sell your souls?” They’re good men who are captivated by evil.

In contrast is Courtley, who’s clearly just a stand-in until Dracula gets resurrected. He’s crass, overly melodramatic, and entitled; all things that mark him as Dracula’s first victim once he’s resurrected.

A resurrection that is puzzling less for what happens, but for what should’ve happened. None of the men are willing to drink Dracula’s blood once it’s presented to them. It smells vile according to Hargood. This offends Lord Courtley, who decides to be the first imbiber. He then falls to the ground, frothing blood from the mouth, screaming “help me!” The group, saints all, help him (off the mortal coil) the only way a boot can, by stomping the life out of him.

Needless to say, once Dracula arises from Courtley’s corpse, he’s quite pissed about the death of his servant and swears revenge.

My puzzlement comes from what should’ve happened. What if they had all drank Dracula’s blood? Dracula clearly uses Courtley’s body in his revival, would he really have preferred Hargood’s portly frame instead? Or weaselly looking Paxton’s? This is Christopher Lee we’re talking about! He’s seven feet tall and weighs 100 lbs,; three of which come from his fangs!

Or perhaps if they had imbibed, all four of the gentlemen would have retched. Courtley had asked them if they were willing to sell their souls; and I assumed he meant that they’d lose their souls once they resurrected the Count; soulless demon that he is. But perhaps Courtley was vomiting up his soul in Dracula’s bloody froth; a concoction that would’ve needed Paxton, Secker, and Hargood’s “contribution” to fully work.. Thus creating the world’s first vomit vampire!

Somehow I think Dracula should’ve just been happy to have missed his vomit incarnation; even if it means losing a follower.

Dracula’s revenge comes swiftly. He turns Hargood’s daughter, Alice (Linda Hayden), into a vampire, and has her split her father’s head open with a shovel. Paxton and Secker honestly don’t notice Alice or Hargood’s absence until Paxton’s daughter Lucy (Isla Blair), also turns up missing. They find her, now a vampire, sleeping in a coffin in the abandoned church where they killed Courtley. Paxton refuses to let Secker stake his daughter, instead shooting his friend in the arm; sending him running. Lucy and Alice then awake and stake Paxton; perhaps the first time I’ve seen vampires turn the tables of demise on us mere mortals. Secker’s death is decidedly less grand, as he’s stabbed by his son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis), a background character so unimportant they didn’t even film his turning.

Leaving one, Alice’s suitor, and Paxton’s son, Paul (Anthony Corlan), to avenge his friends and family. We also learn that patricidal Alice might not have been turned vampire yet; raising some very interesting questions about Hargood’s demise. We assume she was under Dracula’s control when she swung the shovel, but perhaps it was actually Hargood’s vocal dislike of Paul that motivated her swing. The Count only lucky enough to have a front row seat to the death of one of his enemies.

Now Paul isn’t shown doing anything to prep for his battle with Dracula, so, when compared against his father’s Hell-smulder Club, he looks like a damn genius. First Paul cleans up the dilapidated church where Dracula was brought back to life, A small and obvious step, but one that levels the playing field. Fighting Dracula in a fully functioning church is akin to squaring off against the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the Sahara. Once you tear the black mass banners from the ceiling, Dracula starts looking for an escape.

An escape run cut short by Paul’s genius call of sealing the entrance with a crucifix, This causes Dracula to take to the skies, thus giving the church’s stain-glass crucifix the shot it needs to finish, and confuse, the film.

The end is obvious. After one cross-shaped.blast of sunlight to the breadbasket, the Count is down. Falling onto the church’s recently re-consecrated altar, Dracula lays motionless as his body deteriorates. Making this the second, of three(!), vampire movies where Hammer has eschewed using stakes to finish off Dracula. Which either shows their unbridled creativity, or their adherence to Dracula’s literary roots. (In Bram Stoker’s tale, of course, the Count is stabbed in the heart with a Bowie knife.)

—More Christopher Lee as the Count? YES Please!—

Horror of Dracula

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

Dracula A.D. 1972

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