Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Dracula is dead. He was lost, drowned in running water and encased in the ice sheet that floated over the river... Or is he? No, he totally is. It's been a year since he died, and although the villagers in the little hamlet below don't trust the Count's castle, they at least know that he is well and truly gone.
Sadly, some people just don't know when to leave well enough alone. When the Monsignor Ernest Muller comes to the quiet little town to see if the honest, god-fearing people are keeping up with their fear of God (you know, by going to church), he discovers a town of atheists. He realizes the only way to end this godlessness is to go up to Dracula's castle and, once and for all, clear the evil from the home (mostly be saying some prayers and putting a giant gold cross on the door -- religion is easy if you have the right tools). Sadly, the Priest that joins the Monsignor falls, breaks the ice, and spills blood on Dracula and, well, that's all it takes for ol' fang face to come back.
Now the evil vampire lord is back from his icy grave, on the prowl for revenge. Will he come after Monsignor Muller's niece, Maria? Will her fiance, Paul, be able to stop Dracula? Or will everyone in the city be killed by Dracula and his minions of evil?
Watching Hammer horror sequels is a bit like watching elaborate shaggy dog stories. Often you know there's a monster involved, but since their back-story was already told in a previous movie, most of the run time is taken up by other characters who are neither scary nor interesting but simply there to act as fodder for the monster. Sometimes this long-form story telling works to great effect, pulling out a twist halfway that re-contextualizes the prior portion of the movie and making everything more interesting and effective -- Kiss of the Vampire did this in splendid fashion. A movie like Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, though, spends so long on the characters we care nothing about that by the time the monster appears (Dracula, in all his glory) the audience has gotten bored. There's no twist, no scares, and everything eventually ends on a whimper.
As such, we end up having to rate Hammer movies on how well they're acted and how good the production values are -- this is an issue that comes up more and more as their various series go on. On that front, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is passable at best. The whole of the movie takes place across four locations -- a bakery, a tavern, a nice house, and outside Dracula's castle -- all of which are pretty standard for Hammer films. The Dracula exterior is especially annoying since it's obviously just a fake front and there's no castle behind. Worse, it doesn't resemble the location from previous movies, making one wonder if Dracula has a host of castles that he just moves from each time he's killed. "This year, when I die, I'd like to summer in the southern countryside."
The bakery is also of note, only because the tiny bakery/tavern location has a few small rooms above it, but a gigantic storeroom under it. It's laughably huge, honestly -- big enough for Dracula, his servant, another vampire, and their coffins to all reside within and no one has any clue. It has a basement large enough to fit under half the city -- it's just not logical.
The characters, too, end up being rather rote. Paul is the main character of this story, once it gets going. He's the standard "hardworking, honest man just trying to be good enough for the woman he loves". Hammer played with this trope character a year earlier with the fourth Frankenstein film, Frankenstein Created Woman and its character Hanz. Paul here and Hanz there could be the same guy, always fated to meet near-unattainable women, always fated to come across a monster.
That's not to say Paul is a bad character -- he's decently acted by Barry Andrews -- but we already know most of the beats that will befall him. His girl, Maria Muller (Veronica Carlson), will become the prey of Dracula, and he'll have to be the one to save her (since women in Hammer movies are incapable of saving themselves). Even the most interesting part of his character -- he's an atheist dating the niece of a monsignor -- is ruined when he finds religion near the end of the flick after a fight with Dracula. He's just... bland. So damn bland you don't care about him.
Sadly, no one else rises from the tedium either. Even Dracula by this point is rather rote and lacking. Christopher Lee has presence, that cannot be denied, but it seems like his whole character is just presence by this point -- he's a monster fueled by blood and rage, which would be fearsome if he wasn't relegated to five minutes of footage and forgotten otherwise.
In the end, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is a passable Hammer film. Like many mid-era Hammer horror, this is not one modern viewers are going to care about. If you're into film, you'll likely want to see it just for completeness, but this is a forgettable outing that can soon be forgotten once it's done. Skip unless you have to see everything Dracula.