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Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) was the fourth entry in Hammer Films Productions' "Dracula" series, and the third to feature Christopher Lee in the title role. It marked a shift in the series due to a change in director and producer; ultimately directed by former cinematographer Freddie Francis, the resulting film is one of the most visually stunning of all Hammer gothic horror outings. While the narrative contains some standard horror elements and a routine "revenge" motivation for Dracula, any triteness in the story is elevated by the sumptuous visuals. The romantic plot, often a hindrance in such movies, is actually involving and logically intersects with the requisite vampire-hunting. The pace established by Francis is deliberate but not slow, and the atmosphere shifts with ease from a fairy-tale dreaminess to a stark contrast of bloodletting fury. The script (by Anthony Hinds) also boldly manipulates vampire lore, with certain controversial twists that have divided horror movie fans for decades.
After first appearing as the iconic bloodsucker in Horror of Dracula (1958), Christopher Lee had become notoriously shy about reprising the role. He did not appear in the film's direct sequel, The Brides of Dracula (1960), but was persuaded to don the cape for Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), although in that film he did not speak a word of dialogue. By the mid-1960s, Lee was very vocal about his attitudes toward the character and even his business dealings with Hammer. In early 1968, he wrote to members of his fan club, "Over the past few weeks, there has been a great deal of slightly hysterical and acrimonious discussion between me, my agent, [Hammer head] James Carreras, [screenwriter] Tony Hinds and producer Aida Young and director Freddie Francis, about the next 'Dracula,' due to start on 22nd April next. If only I had a tape recorder of some of the conversations concerned, it would make hilarious listening. To sum up, they have committed themselves to the making of this film, but they do not appear to think that they are required to pay me my current market price..." Eventually terms were agreed to and the shooting commenced in April of 1968.
At the end of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the Count had met his demise by drowning in the purity of running water outside of his castle. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave opens with a flashback to a time when Dracula was on the prowl during the earlier film, and is one of the most memorable opening sequences from any Hammer film. As a mute altar boy (Norman Bacon) goes to ring a church bell, blood drips on his hands as he grasps the rope. The approaching priest (Ewan Hooper) rushes up to the church's tower and sees that a fresh vampire victim (Carrie Baker) has been stuffed inside the bell itself. The film proper begins a year later as Monsignor Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) visits the village and is shocked to see the chapel empty at a time when townsfolk should be gathered there for Mass. At the village tavern, the priest tells him that the church is shunned because the shadow of Dracula's castle covers the structure every evening. In the morning, the determined Monsignor climbs a precipice to lodge a large crucifix in the doorway of Dracula's castle and perform an exorcism to finally rid the village of evil. The nervous Priest has held back, however. Drinking, he slips on the rocks, hits his head, and cracks the ice of the frozen stream below where Count Dracula has been entombed. Blood from the priest's wound seeps to Dracula's lips, reviving him. Dracula enslaves the priest, who exhumes the grave of the victim of the church bell and dumps her body so that the vampire can utilize the coffin. From a lair in the basement of the tavern and bakery, Dracula plans vengeance against the Monsignor by attacking his niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson). Maria's boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) could be a worthy opponent of the bloodsucker, but for the fact that he is an atheist and is unable to back up his actions with the conviction of faith.
Hammer had originally intended for Terence Fisher to continue his directing duties on the new film, but he was recovering from a broken leg caused when a motorbike struck him as he was crossing the street. His replacement was Freddie Francis, a multiple Oscar-winning cinematographer, who had earlier helmed another Hammer horror film from a different Fisher-dominated series, The Evil of Frankenstein (1964). Francis' films lacked the authoritative energy that Fisher brought to the fore, but his more deliberate pace seemed fitting for the sumptuous photography. In 1968, Hammer had also just moved from the cramped Bray Studios to the largest studio in England, Pinewood. On the larger soundstages production designer Bernard Robinson was able to indulge in sprawling, intricate Gothic sets, including beautiful rooftop settings for the leads to utilize for nocturnal comings and goings. The elaborate vistas on view were also often augmented by brilliant matte paintings by Peter Melrose. The budget for Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was also slightly larger than previous entries; the funding came from a two-picture distribution deal with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in America. (The other film in the arrangement was When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth ).
Just as filming started, it was announced that Hammer was to be the recipient of a 1968 Queen's Award to Industry, a prestigious honor in England for any company, and this was the first such award for a film production entity. It so happened that a ceremony was arranged (no doubt by someone with a sense of humor) on the set during the shooting of a particularly bloody scene, as Dracula is impaled on a giant cross with blood pouring from his eyes and heart as he writhes and screams - all in full view of the Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, there to present the award on behalf of the Queen!
Freddie Francis tended to downplay his horror films in interviews over the years, as if ashamed of his fine work for Hammer. He told John Brosnan (in the book The Horror People), "I must say that I approached [Dracula Has Risen from the Grave] as more of a love story than as a horror film. I was more interested in the love affair between the boy and the girl than with Dracula, he was just a fly in the ointment. Unfortunately a lot of that was cut out by Hammer and I never had a chance to put it back in again." Certainly scenarist Anthony Hinds found an ingenious and controversial way for the romantic couple's story to intertwine in a tragic manner with the affairs of the vampire; the male lead's lack of a belief in God causes not just a rift in the family of the Monsignor, it also has a major effect on vampire-hunting in the film. [SPOILER ALERT for the next two paragraphs].
Horror fans remain divided to this day by the plot development which leads to one of the most graphic and startling scenes in Hammer history: a wooden stake is pounded into Dracula's chest, but the vile creature is not destroyed because Paul - an atheist - cannot recite a prayer to seal the deed. Christopher Lee later told John Brosnan that "it was all wrong that Dracula should have been able to remove the stake. Everyone knows a stake through the heart is the very end of a vampire. I objected at the time but it was overruled. It was an extremely gruesome sequence. The blood came pouring out." Lee told Bill Kelley (for Little Shoppe of Horrors) that he argued with Anthony Hinds about the scene, which he found "absolutely ludicrous" because it was "tampering with basic mythology." The writer and director overruled the actor, of course, "So, we shot the thing, with my lying in the coffin, writhing around and hissing ferociously, as I tug on this huge stake, getting progressively wetter and wetter and colder from the fake blood that was poring out of the 'wound' in my chest. And the movie went out and made a fortune. So there you are..."
Co-star Barry Andrews told an amusing story about the filming of this scene (to the authors of Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography). The day of the filming of the staking scene happened to be Christopher Lee's birthday, and during the first pass at the scene, "...as he wrestled to pull the stake from his heart, the light went out and suddenly two beautiful maidens appeared bearing a cake with many candles on it. Happy Birthday was sung by everyone on the set and, slowly, Mr. Lee began to rise from his coffin, 'blood' dripping from his hands and chest, and he sank the stake into the center of the cake! He hissed, his fangs glinting in the light of the candles. 'Suck Off'! Everyone roared before breaking into uncontrollable laughter."
One of the most striking visual motifs in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is a filter effect used during several of the Count's appearances in which the frame is given an amber halo edged with a rainbow distortion. Almost subliminal at times, the imagery is hallucinatory and reminiscent of dying sunlight - somehow appropriate for illuminating a vampire. The effect was suggested by director of photography Arthur Grant, who had remembered Francis using a filter effect for Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), a black-and-white film. Francis told Wayne Kinsey (in Hammer Films: the Elstree Studio Years), "...Grant used to get slightly ambitious when he worked with me and he was always talking about the filters I'd used in The Innocents. So we decided to dig them out and use them on this picture." Francis found that the same filters gave his color picture a pleasing multi-hued effect during those shots.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave also established a new Hammer Scream Queen, the fresh-faced Veronica Carlson. The beautiful 23-year-old was invited for an audition after Hammer head James Carreras saw a bikini-clad Carlson in a British tabloid pin-up; she had only a scant few movie and TV appearances to her credit, all of them wordless glamour walk-ons. She told Little Shoppe of Horrors that Christopher Lee was very generous to her as someone who was just a novice at film acting. "For the first time, I felt a real contact with an actor when I worked with Chris - in the scene when I was thrown into the cellar and pushed up against the wall. He always gave me an eye line. Some actors wouldn't; the director would stand in and put a hand up to look at. But Chris said, 'I'll give her the eye line to keep in contact with her eyes.' And I felt so strangely then that reaction as I looked straight into his eyes." Carlson would next be seen in Fisher's splendid Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969).
As Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was about to be released, Christopher Lee became more agreeable with the press and said, "Dracula is a great role and very difficult to play. I find it a stimulating challenge to make him convincing to today's cynical, worldly audiences. I see him as aloof, dignified and austere, exploding into tigerish activity when necessary." On November 1, 1968 the Motion Picture Association of America instituted their new ratings system, which consisted of four classifications: G for general audiences, M for Mature audiences, R for restricted (children under 17 not admitted without parent or guardian), and X. One of the first movies that the new board assigned a rating was Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. Amazingly, despite the fact that the film fairly gushed in blood and dealt with faith vs. atheism as a major theme, the film was given a "G" rating.
The advertising campaign in America was decidedly tongue-in-cheek; the main poster image did not depict the vampire, but rather one of his busty victims, with two pink (and anachronistic) band-aids on her neck, followed by the tagline, "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Obviously)." Warner Bros.-Seven Arts also played up the humorous and somewhat campy ad campaign for their television ads ("When we last saw him... Dracula was dead with a stake driven through his heart....but you just can't keep a good man down"), and made sure to mention the "G" rating. As a result Dracula Has Risen from the Grave became the highest-grossing box-office hit of any Hammer film. There is no record of how many unwitting children were dropped off at a matinee by parents expecting a vampire spoof, only to emerge marked for life. Hammer Films took the hint and proceeded to release a new Dracula film each year for the next four years.
Producer: Aida Young
Director: Freddie Francis
Screenplay: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder)
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Music: James Bernard
Film Editing: Spencer Reeve
Cast: Christopher Lee (Dracula), Rupert Davies (Monsignor Ernest Mueller), Veronica Carlson (Maria Mueller), Barbara Ewing (Zena), Barry Andrews (Paul), Ewan Hooper (Priest), Marion Mathie (Anna Mueller), Michael Ripper (Max), John D. Collins (Student), George A. Cooper (Landlord), Chris Cunningham (Farmer), Norman Bacon (Mute Boy).
by John M. Miller
Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography by Tom Johnson and Deborah DelVecchio (McFarland Publishing, 1996)
The Horror People by John Brosnan (St. Martin's Press, 1976)
Hammer Films: the Elstree Studio Years by Wayne Kinsey (Tomahawk Press, 2007)
"'Who Has Done This Thing!?' - The Making of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" by Bruce G. Hallenbeck, Little Shop of Horrors magazine, No. 13, 1996