There’s a scene in 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From The Grave in which Maria (Veronica Carlson), the innocent niece of Monsignor Muller (Rupert Davies), sneaks out of her bedroom window and walks across the rooftops of a small village in Eastern Europe. She’s making her way to the bedroom of her boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews), who the Monsignor has ordered her to stop seeing on account of the fact that Paul is an atheist. The camera views Maria from above with her pink dress and blonde hair contrasting against the gray city streets below her. It’s a beautiful scene and it is so visually stunning that you can forgive the fact that it doesn’t really move the story forward.
In its way, this scene is the epitome of everything that works about Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Director Freddie Francis was an award-winning cinematographer who stepped in, at the last moment, to direct after original director Terrence Fisher broke his leg. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is full of stunning imagery — shadow-filled forests, beautifully ornate bedrooms, and decaying castles and churches. When Christopher Lee’s Dracula shows up on screen, he literally seems to emerge from the shadows and when he attacks one barmaid who has made the mistake of disobeying him, the entire image is briefly tinted a blood red. When Dracula approaches his victims, his bloodshot eyes fill the entire screen. The film is full of so many memorable images that it’s easy to forgive the fact that, dramatically, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is somewhat inert.
Picking up from where Dracula, Prince of Darkness left off, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave shows what happens when Monsignor Muller and a cowardly priest (Ewan Hooper) perform an exorcism at Dracula’s castle. The priest, frightened by thunder, attempts to flee but instead just ends up slipping and banging his head on a rock. The priest’s blood awakens Dracula (Christopher Lee) who, after putting the priest under his mental control, then seeks revenge on Muller by making Maria his bride. It’s up to Paul to try to save Maria’s life but, unfortunately, Paul is such an atheist that he refuses to recite a prayer even after he drives a stake through Dracula’s heart. This leads to perhaps the most dramatic staking fail in the history of vampire cinema.
Seriously, don’t trust atheists to kill your vampires…
How you respond to Dracula Has Risen From The Grave will probably depend on how much originality you demand from your 1960s British vampire films. Storywise, the film is nothing that you haven’t seen before and Barry Andrews doesn’t exactly make for an exciting hero. But, for me, the film’s visuals make up for the occasional weakness of the plot.
Add to that, Christopher Lee is in top form as Dracula. I’ve been trying to figure out the appeal of Lee’s Dracula because, unlike a lot of other actors who have played the role, Lee never attempts to turn the vampire into a sympathetic character. There is no romance to Lee’s Dracula. Unlike other cinematic vampires, Lee’s Dracula doesn’t spend his time mourning for a lost love or yearning for a release from having to be a prisoner to his undead state. Lee’s Dracula doesn’t even have the sense of humor that modern audiences have come to expect from their iconic villains. Instead, Lee’s Dracula is pure evil and yet, at the same time, Lee is such an imposing and charismatic actor that he makes evil compelling.
As I watched Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, I realized why Lee’s Dracula has such appeal. Lee’s Dracula sees what he wants and he takes it. He doesn’t allow anything to stand in his way and whenever boring mortals like Paul or the Monsignor attempt to stop him, he simply tosses them out of the way.
And that’s exactly the way he should be.