Suspiria (1977) – A Nostalgia Review

SUSPIRIA was one of those films I missed the first time around. When it hit U.S. screens in 1977, I found the advertising campaign decidedly uninteresting; for some reason, it suggested a schlocky gore movie to me. Not that I was opposed to explicit horror: I had been sneaking into R-rated movies like THE EXORCIST since 1973, but I had to feel there was something more than just mindless mayhem to get me into the theatre. The largely negative review in Cinefantastique magazine, which called the film “hackneyed in concept, but experimental in form,” was not enough to change my mind, but it did inspire me to check out SUSPIRIA when it played on cable television. That was the beginning of my life-long love affair with the work of Dario Argento, which continues to this day, thanks to the art house release of THE THREE MOTHERS this weekend.

In retrospect, I was of the perfect age and temperment to enjoy Argento’s garish, overblown, and thoroughly ear-splitting horror film. A film student, I loved cinema in general, but I especially loved films that utilized the form to its fullest extent. In Argento, I saw a sort of Italian equivalent of Brian DePalma, a filmmaker eager to employ every device at his command in order to achieve an effect on the audience. Argento did not utilize any of DePalma’s split-screen tricks, but there were similar lengthy tracking shots meant to pull you psychologically into the world of the movie; there was an over-powering rock-n-roll soundtrack (by Goblin), just as there had been in DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1975); and of course, PHANTOM’s young ingenue, Jessica Harper, played the lead in SUSPIRIA.
I had little patience with people of more conventional taste, who preferred subtlety and complained that excessive technique was distracting, distancing one from the drama, reminding the viewer that he was watching a movie. For me, this was the whole point. I knew I was watching a movie, and no amount of “subtlety” (for me, a synonym for a prosaic, unimaginative style) was going to convince me otherwise. I reveled in SUSPIRIA’s artificiality, in the outrageous art direction and unbelievable lighting schemes.
Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) take a taxi to the dance academy - an example of the film's artificial lighting schemes.From the very first reel, the taxi ride from the airport, I knew I was seeing something special, when the passing streetlights were conveyed not with alternating light and darkness but colors shifting from red to green. It was a bold gambit: immediately challenging the viewer with the obvious artificiality, announcing that what they were seeing made no pretense to verisimilitude. No, I was seeing a film in which the director had pulled out all the stops (post-SPINAL TAP, we would say he turned the amplifier up to 11), flooding the screen with sound and color – a rich, overwhelming experience that explored some of the farthest reaches of what cinema could achieve when unleashed from conventional boundaries.
One scene that particularly won me over involved the death of a blind pianist, walking home one night with his seeing-eye dog. The dog senses something, and the man cries out, “Who’s there?” For several minutes, nothing really happens. Argento builds the scene by editing back and forth between the man, his dog, and the stark facades of the buildings surrounding them, while the screeching soundtrack attempts to pulverize the audience’s nerves. The idea of extending a moment through editing was intriguing – creating a sense of anticipation not through action but through the juxtaposition of images suggesting something about to happen.
I was also amused by the way the scene quotes from the English horror film NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (known as BURN, WITCH, BURN in the U.S.). Near the end of that wonderfully suggestive film (also about witches operating in secret in an academic setting), a man outside a university sees the oversized statute of an eagle, atop the building, come to life and take flight, attacking him. In SUSPIRIA, Argento deliberately tilts up one building, revealing the statue of a gryphon. After cutting in for a closer shot, he cuts to a reverse angle, and the camera swoops down – accompanied by the fluttering of wings – upon the blind man.


The effect suggests that the statue has come to life, but subsequent long shots reveal it is still atop the building where it was first seen. Then what was that fluttering sound? What point of view was being shown as the camera swooped down? Was it some kind of invisible demonic force, somethign that resided within the statue? While I was still working out the answer to that question, the blind man’s dog turned on him and tore out his throat! I had to give Argento credit for taking me totally by surprise. The visual reference to one of my favorite films had me expecting danger from above. Little did I expect that death would come from below, not from an enemy but from man’s best friend. What an excellent piece of misdirection!
This scene was also at least partly responsible for Argento’s reputation as a filmmaker who did a poor job of handling basic story points. What did the scene contribute to the plot? In fact, why did the man die at all? Later in the film, we learn that witchcraft is afoot, and we are told that witches can use their power to destroy those who offend them, for whatever reason.  The death was obviously a set piece, thrown in for its own sake, and I simply assumed the blind man had somehow or other offended the coven living in the dance academy. Only years later would I learn the specific reason.
I was not completely blown away by my first viewing of SUSPIRIA. I was – and still am – dedicated to the position that you have not really seen a movie until you have seen it in a theatre. The television experience simply could not overwhelm me in the way that the film intended to, but enough of the impact survived to make me want to see SUSPIRIA on the big screen at the earliest opportunity. Back in the days before home video had decimated the repertory theatre business, this was not an impossible dream. Not too many months passed before the film showed up at the old Cameo Theatre, a dilapidated flea pit on Broadway in Los Angeles.
The Cameo was one of many old theatres in the downtown area, but it lacked the faded elegance of the Orpheum, the Los Angeles Theatre, or the Million Dollar Theatre (the later is the one seen across the street when Sebastian meets Pris in BLADE RUNNER). These other three theatres were relic from an earlier era – movie palaces that had once offered a fashionable, luxurious cinema-going experience – before shifting demographics and changing economics turned them into de facto museums. The Cameo, I suspect, was always a dump: there were no magnificent balconies, no elaborate decor, no carved pillars, no painted murals. It was really barely one step away from being a large auditorium.
Typically, the Cameo played quadruple bills of second run movies, at discount prices. I don’t think the marquee listed the titles (you had to walk up to the box office window to see them), and there was definitely no list of screening times. I suspect that most of walk-in customers simply bought a ticket and took their chances, walking into the middle of whatever film happened to be playing.
Of course, I had called ahead to get the correct starting time. I was too cheap to pay for parking in those days, so I parked literally miles away (there were no nearby streets without parking meters) and hoofed my way over, along with a fellow film student. After buying our tickets, we entered the dark realm of the inner theatre, which gave a pretty decent impression of what the outer circles of hell must resemble: there was a foul stench, incessant rustling, dark shapes silhouetted against dim lights, and the constant murmur of lost souls. From previous experience at the Cameo, I knew that this last sound was the multi-lingual audience translating the English dialogue into their native tongues for the benefit of their non-English-speaking companions.
Then the trailers and previews finished, and SUSPIRIA began.
As fun as the film had been on television, the expanded visual and audio achieved a much more awesome impact on the big screen. Although the projection and sound quality were far from the best, the audience was completely into the movie. The artsy effects and complete lack of realism did nothing to dampen their appreciation of the horror on screen. The sound may not have been six-channel Dolby stereo, but it was louder and more pulse-bounding than it could have been from my television speaker, and it figuratively rocked the house.
The show-stopping set-piece from the film's first reel: the victim is about to plunge through the breaking glassThe famous first murder was stunning. It must be a trick of memory or perception, but the shot of the unfortunate victim, crouched and wounded as a hand shoots into frame with a knife, gave me a sense of vertigo, as it it were off-balance, tilted. The scene goes on much longer than necessary to make its point, with a female victim pushed face first through a piece of glass, then repeatedly stabbed to death (including a glimpse of her beating heart), and finally hanged, her body dropping through a horizontal stained glass window that showers debris on her roommate, impaling and killing her as well. The sequence elicited an awestruck whisper from my friend, who, knowing I had seen the film before, turned to ask, in all seriousness, “Is this the best horror film ever made?”
I gave a vague answer, to the effect that it contained several great set pieces. From my television viewing, I recalled that the pace was uneven, with long slow passages separating the key horror sequences. This became even more apparent on second viewing. Numerous tracking shots down long corridors (with little or no payoff) combine with dialogue of Suzy (Harper) and her friend Sarah (Stefania Casini) whispering about what may be lurking within the dance academy where the film is set, to create some uninspired longeurs. Clever camerawork adds some visual interest to these sequences, suggesting an omnipresent evil, a sort of magical alternative world of witchcraft at work even when nothing is overtly horrific happening.
In the end, however, it is not enough to sustain SUSPIRIA through its many slow scenes. The result is a film of highs and lows, worth seeing for its bravura style but falling short of the critical mass that would achieve masterpiece status. As the lights came up and we headed back to my car, my friend expressed some muted praise for the film as a whole but he was slightly disappointed since the opening reel had led him to believe he had discovered “the mother lode” of horror movies. Alas, that turned out to be not quite the case.

THE COMPLETE CUT

Since then, I have seen SUSPIRIA several more times: on home video and at least twice in theatres, including a 1990s American Cinematheque screening – part of an Argento retrospective, with Argento, actress Jessica Harper, and actor Udo Kier on hand to answer questions afterward (Argento graciously praised Harper’s contribution to the film, declaring that her smile before the final fade out “saved the movie”).* I had heard that a longer version existed, and if I eventually saw it on an imported Japanese laserdisc – once the best way to find complete versions of truncated movies. Unfortuantely, the image was pan-and-scan, if I recall; nevertheless, it was a godsend to see the film in complete form.
In the uncut version, the opening murder is even more brutal, including several more stab wounds and a clearer view of the victim’s still beating heart. The death by dog lingers even longer on the aftermath, watching as the canine rips long strands of raw flesh with its teeth. But most important, we finally learn why the blind man drew the ire of the witches in the first place.
There is a scene in which he arrives to work at the academy, leaving his dog outside. Moments later, a furious Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) burst into the dance instruction room, announcing that the dog has bitten someone, who had to be taken to the hospital. She fires the pianist, who is outraged at the accusation against his dog. Leaving, he announces that, although blind, he is not deaf, implying that he knows some dark secret about the academy. From this, we can conclude that the coven took action both to silence the man and to punish the dog that had attacked one of their own.
The stark white-on-black lettering of the original - a contrast to the garing The other significant difference between the complete version and the U.S. cut is that the U.S. distributor (20th Century Fox, working through a subsidiary label) changed the opening title card. Instead of stark white letters on black background, the theatrical prints in America featured the word “Suspiria” spelled with pinkish “breathing” letters that looked a bit like mutant lungs. Although absurd (movie audiences typically laughed out loud at the sight of them), at the time I thought they had a certain charm. Now I’m glad to see the film, including titles, as Argento intended.

REAPPRAISAL

The restoration of SUSPIRIA to its uncut form heightened the already over-the-top impact and clarified a major plot point, yet over the years the film has somewhat dimmed for me. I still enjoy the aural-visual assault, but I find myself more quickly losing patience with the slower passages.
Also, after seeing the work of Mario Bava (Argento’s forefather in the field of Italian horror), SUSPIRIA no longer seems quite as innovative as it once did. In films like THE WHIP AND THE BODY and KILL, BABY, KILL, Bava had already explored the possibilities of artificial lighting schemes, using wild color palettes to create atmosphere and suggest the characters’ psychological states, regardless of the apparent light sources on screen. It would be fair to see that Argento took this approach at least two steps further with SUSPIRIA (and with its follow-up INFERNO).
Unfortunately, Argento borrowed something else from Bava: a predilection for spooky vignettes that lead nowhere. Bava’s WHIP AND THE BODY, in particular, feels like a half-hour story padded out with endless scenes of characters walking down dark corridors; the beauty of these scenes cannot conceal their dramatic paucity (which might be forgivable) but also their lack of a horrific payoff. Seldom do characters discover anything frightening at the end of those long corridors; the point of the scenes seems to be the journey, not the destination. In a similar manner, SUSPIRIA features numerous shots lingering over the dance academy’s architecture in an effort to create atmosphere and suggest that the house is a repository of evil.
There is also a Bavaesque moment when, after Suzy and Sarah listen to the footsteps of the academy’s staff descending into some unknown part of the building, the camera takes us on a brief trip through the corridors. It is a nice little moody sequence, but the payoff is almost literally nothing: the camera dollies into a darkened, empty room; then cuts to a zoom in on the moon, as a seque to the next scene (the death of the blind pianist). In retrospect, it becomes clear that the camera was following the path that the staff took to their lair; one might even conclude that the death in the following scene is actually a result of rites and incantations that the staff are performing in their lair. Nevertheless, we are still left with a pretty piece of film-making that lacks visceral impact and also fails to elicit a shudder of anticipation. Argento no doubt wants to tease us with the mystery of what is lurking behind the scenes, but as an evocation of Freud’s “Primal Scene,” this sequence falls far short of similar scenes in Roger Corman’s Poe films (an apparent influence on Argento), which frequently featured characters confronting locked doors that hid terrible secrets.
Sara (Stefania Casini) hides from a killer - one of many scenes in which the suspense of slowly paced action is enhanced by Goblin's music.One element that helps push SUSPIRIA past its slow points is the soundtrack by Goblin (inexplicably renamed “The Goblins” in the film credits). This four-piece rock group (keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums) provided both entrancing musical motifs and almost avant garde aural assault. Most of the score is built around a repeating 14-note theme, played in 6/8 time, that suggests a demented fairy tale, effectively conveying the magical quality of the film. Many of the uneventful scenes are scored with whispering voices (titled “Sighs” on the soundtrack album); in a stero mix, the effect powerfully suggests unseen evil forces at work. The murder scenes are enhanced with jangly acoustic guitars; shrill, overlapping vocals; and pounding timpani drums. At times the music is discordant, almost atonal; it may not be a pleasant listening experience, but it adds the perfect punch to Argento’s visual excess – far more effectively than a conventional orchestral score could hope to do.
Though not known for providing in-depth characters, Argento cast his film well; his performers are, fortunately, interesting to watch, even if their roles are underwritten. Harper is the perfect picture of innocence; given little or no personality to work with, the actress uses her personal appeal to hold attention, so that we identify with her as we identify with the undefined heroes of fairy tales. Joan Bennett (known to fans of DARK SHADOWS) probably was not proud of appearing in a violent horror film (her last big screen appearance to boot), but she brings all her professionalism to the role of the academy’s head mistress, Madam Blanc. And Alida Valli (a popular character actress at the time) is perfect as Bennett’s right-hand woman; her stiff body language and sharp manner of speech (regardless of the dubbing) carve an entertaining characterization out of almost literally nothing.
The simplicity of characterization reflects the film’s fairy tale trappings. SUSPIRIA was conceived as a sort of violent, adult version of a story by the Brothers Grimm. Inspired by tales that co-screenwriter Daria Nicolodi’s grandmother had told her (of attending a school where the faculty practised magic at night), the screenplay was originally intended to feature young girls, until the producer objected that audiences would not tolerate seeing children put in mortal jeopardy. Argento had the last laugh: although the characters are played by women in their 20s, the dialogue retains its juvenile tone, and the academy’s doorknobs are set at eye-level, so that the dance students have to reach up for them as a child would for an ordinary door.

SEEN TODAY

SUSPIRIA remains Argento’s biggest international hit, a cult favorite that many fans consider to be his best work. Having seen all of Argento’s other horror films, I would have to disagree. SUSPIRIA is a remarkable exercise in style, but Argento’s most well-realized film, as a whole, is TENEBRE, followed closely by DEEP RED. Working in the giallo format, Argento seems more adept at sustaining a film from beginning to end; his murder-mystery plots may not stand up to logical scrutiny, but they do tie the set pieces together more firmly and keep the pace moving along at an exciting clip. The virtuoso stylization seems to be more under control, crafting both suspense and shocks, without weighting the expository scenes down.
SUSPIRIA’s cult reputation has generated a backlash over the years. Many viewers are put off by the artificiality of style. Some see the simple plot and characterization not not as dramatic devices in the service of creating a cinematic fairy tale but as simple artistic failings. Even Argento fans argue about the strengths and weaknesses. There is a consensus that the film starts strong and fades, never matching its outstanding opening; some even complain that the ending is a major disappointment.
Here, I have to offer a defense. Although I have always been as knocked out as anyone else by the famous first murder (especially the more explicit, uncut version), I find the ending equally satisfying, if not nearly as terrifying. The film finally kicks into gear; the plot, having lain dormant most of the running time, actually comes to life. Most of the movie suffers from a passive protagonist, who does little but take note of the strange events surrounding her; only at the end does Suzy take action.
In some ways, Suzy is a typical Argento character, an innocent artist whose benign view of the world is shattered by a glimpse of the dark side. An American, she has come to Germany to perfect her craft: like Argento’s other artists, she is trying to create beauty, which derives from fashioning order of of chaos, from imposing man-made discipline upon nature, creating artificial structures that delight the mind with their symmetry; however, her education ends up moving in the opposite direction, revealing forces of darkness and chaos that lurk beneath the surface of our perceived reality.
Unfortunately, what separates Suzy from previous Argento protagonists is that she is not galvanized into action at the beginning of the film. Films like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (which is referenced at the end of SUSPIRIA) began with a murder, witnessed by a character who spent the rest of the plot trying to unravel the mystery; the only event Suzy witnesses is a hysterical student mumbling a few barely audible words before stumbling off into a thunderstorm. Suzy reports this to the headmistress but takes no other action. Although Alida Valli’s authoritative Miss Tanner compliments Suzy on her strong will, the young dancer spends much of the film in a lethargy that we eventually learn was induced by drugs inserted into her food.
In Madam Blanc's office, Suzy finally gets a clueIn the third act, Suzy finally wakes up. After learning that the hysterical student – who was later murdered – was convinced that the faculty were witches, Suzy throws out her drugged food. (Apparently peeved, the forces of darkness send a black bat to nip at her hair, but she easily smashes it to death with a stool.) Now able to stay awake and count the footsteps as the faculty descend to their lair, Suzy traces them to Madame Blanc’s office, where in an archetypal Argento moment, the young student suddenly realizes the significance of what she saw and heard earlier; the fragments of memory unite, and she recalls that the murdered student was saying that turning a blue iris will reveal a hidden passage.
Following the directions, Suzy, in a sense, goes down the rabbit hole, discovering the source of evil at play throughout the film. She sees Madame Blanc leading the rest of the faculty in a ceremony that suggests a blasphemous inversion of a church service, and finds herself confronting Helana Markos – a witch who survived a fire that supposedly killed her years ago. Speaking in a raspy (and frankly overdone) voice that suggests a cartoon version of THE EXORCIST, her face covered in ghastly burn marks, Helena is the “Black Queen,” who sits at the head of the coven operating in the academy.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (from Dario Argento's directing debut) makes a cameo appearance as Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) enters the lair of Helan Markos.This confrontation between ancient evil and youthful innocence is a splendid climax. The imbalance in powers between the two characters suggests a hopeless mis-match: not only can Helena render herself invisible; she can also summon the living dead (Sara, drooling blood, pins and needles poking out of her flesh and eyes). All Suzy has going for her is desperation and a make-shift weapon, the sharply pointed “feather” from the statue of a bird. (The statue suspiciously resembles the titular “Bird with the Crystal Plumage,” which figured prominently in solving the mystery of Argento’s directorial debut. The statue appears at approximately the same point, structurally, as the living bird did in the previous film.)
The coven of witches is destroyedFortunately, it is enough. Guided by good fortune – or just plain luck – plus a glimpse of the witch’s outline, Suzy is able to drive her point home, precipitating the destruction of the coven and the academy in a spectacular display of exploding objects, overturned furniture, ripping wall paper, and – at last – a cleansing fire, leaving no doubt that the vile contagion infecting the academy has been thoroughly eradicated. Suzy’s smile of relief, as she wanders from the immolating structure, is shared by the audience. As in a fairy tale like “The Three Little Pigs,” we identify with and exalt for the survival of our hero. The other characters are not believable people whose deaths we mourn; they are shadows, fragments, bits and pieces of our psyche personified on screen and wiped away so that our better self can emerge, unhampered, in the form of the character who will defeat the evil.
With its bloody violence, SUSPIRIA may not fully suppor this reading. In fact, the very nature of film, with actors playing characters, tends to subvert the nature of fairy tales, which exist more fully in the realm of the imagination, making it easier to interpret, for example, the first two little pigs as not separate entities but las ess mature versions of the third pig – that is, as stages of psychological development that will lead to the maturity necessary to survive. (See Bruno Bettelheim’s The Use of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.)
SUSPIRIA may not resonate with the full force of a tale by the Brothers Grimm, but as an exercise in excessive style it is one of the most amazing experiences ever recorded on celluloid. A strange combination of the art house and the slaughterhouse, it may be too violent for the typical cineaste and too contrived for the typical gore-hound. Yet somehow Argento impressively straddles both worlds, offering a unique vision of magic and the supernatural that deserves its place in horror movie history.

TRIVIA

INFERNO, the 1980 sequel to SUSPIRIA, makes it clear that the trilogy (which was finally completed with MOTHER OF TEARS) is inspired by “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow,” an essay in Thomas De Quincey’s non-fiction book, Suspiria de Profundis, which is a sequel to his earlier Confession of an English Opium-Eater. In “Levana,” De Quincey recounts an opium-induced vision of three supernatural figures (Mater Lachrymarum, Mater Suspiriorum, and Mater Tenebrarum), who oversea the tears of sadness, the sighs of resignation, and the darkness of despair that afflict mankind. Helena Markos, the witch ensconced in the German dance academy, is actually Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), although she is never so designated in SUSPIRIA itself (where we are told she was called “The Black Queen”). In fact, about the only obvious reference in SUSPIRIA to De Quincey’s essay is the title.

DVD DETAILS

3-disc limited edition DVDSUSPIRIA is currently available as a 2-Disc Special Edition DVD (see below), but the preferred version is Anchor Bay’s limited edition 3-Disc box set from 2001. Now out of print (some copies are still available from specialty dealers), this set contains the uncut 98-minute version of the film on Disc 1, plus theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots, a gallery of posters and stills, a music video (of former Golbin-member Claudio Simonetti’s new band, Daemonia, performing a beefed-up version of the “Suspiria” main title), and talent bios. The soundtrack features three language options: English, Italian, and French. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles, so English viewers are stuck with the English soundtrack (not a bad choice, considering that is the language of the lead actress, but it would be nice to hear the Italian dialogue for a change and know what was being said). The American trailer features a campy nursery rhyme, a phony skull, and the “breathing” letters seen in the U.S. version of the film. The Italian trailer is virtually abstract: a series of still images giving no hint of the plot, while credits emphasize Argento’s name, as if his reputation alone is enough to sell the film.
Disc 2 contanis a 52-minute Suspiria 25th Anniversary documentary, featuring interviews with Argento, co-writer Daria Nicolodi, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, members of Goblin (Augostino Morangalo, Massimo Morante, Fabio Pignatelli, Claudio Simonetti), Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, and Udo Kier. This gives some pretty good insight into the inspiration for and making of the film. Hardcore fans may wish for even more in-depth detail, but what is here is well put together and even interesting enough to appeal to non-fans. Kier (who has only one brief scene in the film, as a skeptical psychiatrist) signs off by expressing a wish that he and Argento work together again – which came true six years later with MOTHER OF TEARS.
The final disc is a soundtrack CD containing three bonus tracks not found on the original vinyl release from 1977. The bonus tracks are somewhat misleadingly titled “Suspiria (Celeste and Bells),” “Suspiria (Narrator),” and “Suspiria (Intro),” implying that they are all remixes or outtakes of the main title theme. This turns out not to be the case:

  • “Suspiria (Narrator)” contains no narration; it is actually an alternate take of the track titled “Markos,” which features heavy pounding on the drums and some ripping baselines playing over a sequenced synthesizer riff.
  • “Suspiria (Celeste and Bells)” is the track that actually features narration. Keyboardist Claudio Simonetti chants non-grammatical nonsense about witches, while celesta and bells perform a subtle version of the main theme.
  • “Suspiria (Intro)” is not an intro but a new recording of main title music. Although there is no separate credit on the CD, which is attributed solely to Goblin, this version is clearly the one performed by Daemonia, as seen in the music video on Disc.

The DVD set also contains a miniature cardboard poster listing the Chapter Selections on the back, a set of nine stills printed on 7×5 matte paper; and a colorful 28-page booklet. Packed with images (including a reproduction of the original U.S. theatrical poster), the latter features an introduction by Scott Michael Bosco, an appreciation of Argento’s work by Travis Crawford, and a lengthy interview with Jessica Harper (who turned down a small role in ANNIE HALL to play the lead in SUSPIRIA).

 Sara (Stefania Casini) comes back from the dead - as a zombie controlled by Helana Markos (a.k.a. Mater Susperiorum).

SUSPIRIA (1977). Directed by Dario Argento. Written by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi. Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bose, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javiocoli, Eva Axen, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli, Jacopo Mariani, Udo Keir.
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*The American Cinematheque screening of SUSPIRIA offered evidence that the film has a cult reputation that extends beyond that of Argento’s other work. The weekend retrospective of Argento’s work was well attended, but the SUSPIRIA screening sold out so fast that an unscheduled midnight screening was added on the day of the event, and that sold out, too. The only other sell out was for FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET – a film difficult if not impossible to see in the U.S., not available on VHS or laserdisc at that time. (PULP FICTION fans take note: Quentin Tarantino showed up too late to purchase a ticket.)

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) – A Nostalgia Review

Campy poster art for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE

“Ah! The good old time – the good old time. Youth and the sea. Glamour and the sea. […T]ell me, wasn’t that the best time, that time when we were young at sea, young and had nothing, on the sea that gives nothing.”

– Joseph Conrad, “Youth: A Narrative.

Yes, the glories of a youth are a treasure trove of riches that shine on like dusky jewels buried in the pirate chest of one’s memory. For me, however, that “good old time” of Youth and Glamor had nothing to do with the sea. My dark ocean was the cinema screen; my luxury liner was the local theatre; my ticket was still a ticket, but my ports of call ranged from when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, to the Dawn of Man, to Beyond the Infinite. Unlike “the sea that gives nothing,” the vast timeless ocean that I explored – of past, present, and future – gave me everything: amazing adventure and enchanting excitement, fear and fantasy, and most of all – that grandeur of awe that first evokes a Sense of Wonder. I may have resided in a small, unexceptional suburb a half-hour east of Hollywood, but thanks to movies – particularly cinefantastique – my mind soared through the stars: I never felt earthbound, trapped, limited; infinite vistas always lay before me, for little more than a quarter.
Recollecting these hours upon hours spent gazing up at the flickering images on the silver screen, the verbal temptation is to joke about my “misspent” youth, but I cannot deem it so. So much of our identity – so much of our very selves – is derived from our memories. So much of who we are is expressed in our dreams. For me, memories and dreams merge in the movie houses of my youth, and in retrospect I cherish every moment – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Perhaps strangely, I do not harbor a particular fascination for the films of the ’60s and ’70s, except in so far as I relate to them personally. I do not think the films of my youth represent the apex of cinema, nor do I wax nostalgic for the good old days. Many of my favorite movies come from earlier eras; just as many, perhaps more, arrived in the ’80s, ’90s, and on into the present day. Yet there is some kind of magic about the classics of yesteryear.
For me, “classics” always referred to films made before I was old enough to book passage: the Universal films of the ’30s, the Hammer horrors of the ’50s. However, as my luxury cinema liner continues to carry me to new and ever more modern and exotic ports – places of enchantment, mystery, and horror – I realize that many of my past journeys were to places that, although new at the time, have since become cherished by subsequent generations, who regard with reverential awe what I now take for granted.
This concept rammed me like an unexpected iceberg during a cybersurfing trip to Horror Movie a Day, where Brian Collins lamented in this post:

My biggest regret as a human being is that I wasn’t born in 1959 or so. I would have loved to have been a kid in the 70s, getting to experience pretty much all of my favorite horror films when they were first released, instead of 10-20 years later, after many of them had their impact blunted by ripoffs (and now remakes).

Perhaps it was just a cosmic coincidence, but I prefer to think of it as an omen that Brian named my year of birth. Hence, I am launching this semi-regular feature, a sort of travelogue of my past cinematic voyages, from the depths of darkness to the shores of space. Casting my mind back over the many far-off lands I visited from the comfort of my first-class passenger seat in the local movie house, I recall that my very first solo voyage (that is, sans parents) was to a double bill of Hammer horror, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1968).

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is the third Hammer horror film to feature Christopher Lee as the Count, although I did not know that at the time. I had seen the last few minutes of REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN on television, so I had a glimpse of Hammer’s horror output even though I was ignorant of their history. Thanks to movies like FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (1958), I knew that low-budget filmmakers would sometimes cash in on a famous character name, creating pseudo-sequels to the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930s (which I had seen on late-night television with my parents). I assumed that DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED were examples of this strategy; I had no idea they were genuine sequels to the earlier Hammer films, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).
I cannot remember exactly when this double bill reached the El Monte Theatre, but it was at least a year or two after films were produced. The advertisement in the local papers listed the titles along with their ratings: G for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, GP for FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Since the GP rating replaced the old M-rating in January of 1970, it is safe I enjoyed this experience sometime before my eleventh birthday (which took place in December).
My siblings and I importuned our parents to take us to the film; they had taken us to other mature movies (including the M-rated BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID), but for some reason they decided not to attend these horror movies, leaving us off at the theatre for the very first time. The ratings system had only been around for a couple years, and there were then (as now) concerns about too much violence on screen. Uncertain about the new GP rating (which had replaced the M for Mature Audiences), my dad asked the girl behind the ticket window whether these movies were “okay for kids,” and she assured him they were.
Back then, tickets for kids cost fifty cents. We got some money to buy popcorn and sodas, too. Then we took our seats; the lights went down; the screen opened; and the film began. It is safe to say I have never been the same since…
I’m not sure what we were expecting. We had seen horror movies on television, but they were usually old black-and-white films that relied on atmosphere and suggestion. Even then, we knew that films on TV were often cut (we would hear our parents complaining about scenes missing from films they had seen in theatres), and we knew that the rating system had been invented to deal with the increasing amount of on-screen bloodshed. Ther very fact that we were sitting in a movie theatre, about to watch a horror film, meant we might be seeing something we had never seen before – maybe even (thanks to the confusion fo the ratings system) something that we were not meant to see…
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE begins with big bold titles that give a sort of psychedelic impression of exploding corpuscles. I didn’t know anything about directors and screenwriters then, but I think I had read Bram Stoker’s novel and recognized his name on screen (the credit reads something along the lines of “based on the character created by…”). There followed a brief prologue, with a bell-ringer seeing blood dripping down the rope he is pulling. This leads him to investigate the church tower above – and the youthful audience in my local theatre screamed in fright as a woman’s body flopped upside down from its hiding place, stuffed inside the bell.
This was the first of many frights that day, but in general I did not find DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE to be particularly terrifying. I had always had a fondness for the Count and his vampire brethren, based on my fondness for bats. Although this version of Dracula (personified by Christopher Lee) did not turn into a flapping rubber vampire bat, the association in my mind was still strong, and the Count’s long black cloak was enough like bat-wings to suggest the similarity. I liked Dracula, and even though I knew he had to die, I didn’t particularly want to see him go. In a way, I was rooting for him, not frightened by him.
No, the enjoyment I got from this vampire film was more along the lines of excitement. Although I could not articulate it at the time, I must have sensed that this was a glossy well-made film, filled with atmosphere and action. I might have said it was “fun.” Today, the word I would use is “enthralling.” Certainly, my siblings and I – along with the rest of the young viewers – were as much under Dracula’s spell as any on-screen victim.
But to continue…
One year later, Msgr. Muller (Rupert Davies) finds the locals in Klausenberg still living in fear of the departed Dracula, so he and the local priest (Ewan Hooper) head up to the castle to read a rite of exorcism. The Count makes his first appearance after the local priest lags behind, falls and cuts his head, his blood seeping through the broken ice to revive the vampire. The sight of the bloody lips savoring the rejuvenating fluid elicited a loud communal “EWWWWWWW!” from my fellow theatre-goers.
Dracula turns the priest into a slave and sets out to avenge himself against the Msgr. Muller for putting the cross on his castle. Vampire and assistant head to Muller’s home town in a carraige; the slightly speeded-up footage of the Count furiously whpping the horses, his face twisted in demonic anger, drew gasps of excited approval from the crowd in the movie house. (We didn’t wonder where the horses had come from. Had they survived in Dracula’s stable for a year without anyone to look after them, or were they stolen – like the coffin the priest digs out of the ground so that Dracula will have a resting place in the far-off city?)
Muller’s niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) is in love with Paul (Barry Andrews), but Muller disapproves because Paul is an atheist. Dracula claims Zena (Barbara Ewing) as his first female victim but soon sets his sights on Maria. Muller tries to protect her, but the local priest wounds him fatally. Paul takes over, but being an atheist he refuses to pray after driving a stake through Dracula’s heart.

The vampire (Christopher Lee) is staked but manages to survive

This scene, with its over the top gore, was a highlight of that long-ago afternoon. Kids gagged in horror as the stake went in; they gagged louder when the blood started to spurt; and they really started to scream when the camera cut in for a closer look. Best of all was the big surprise: we had thought this was the end of the movie, but the vampire managed to pull the stake out of his chest and survive! If Dracula is to be portrayed as a fearsome foe, then he should not be easily killed off, and Paul’s horrible moment of realization – that he was now face to face with a vampire who was holding the stake in his hand like a spear, ready to hoist the would-be vampire slayer on his own petard – was worth the price of admission.
Dracula absconds with Maria and heads back to his castle, ordering her to toss the offending cross over the battlements. Paul pursues, and a struggle ensues. Dracula ends up falling over the battlements and impaled on the giant cross, while the local priest, the vampire’s spell broken, says the necessary prayer to ensure that the vampire will die. It is the major, enduring miracle of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE that, after the aborted staking scene, the film actually manages to top itself with the even more spectacular “crucifiction” finale. With the cross wedged in from behind, there was no way that Dracula was going to reach around and pull it out, and the screams of horror in the theatre echoed louder than ever before, amplified by the sight of the vampire weeping blood. The echoes started to fade only when the credits rolled, superimposed over a wide-shot of the empty cross, with Castle Dracula in the background, the Count’s body apparently having disintegrated off-screen.
I cannot recall the exact conversation after the lights went up, but it is safe to say we were stunned – and not in a bad way. There was a sense that we had perhaps transgressed in some sense – seeing more than our parents might have wished us to see, despite the imprimatur of the MPAA’s G-rating. Yet we knew we had seen something good. It might or might not give us nightmares (I never had any), but this was the kind of film that you told people about, relating the juicy details to your jealous friends who had not been so fortunate as you to see the movie.
I have to admit that I was not totally pleased with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. I had dressed up as Dracula for Halloween, and to my young eyes, the pasty vampire makeup on Christopher Lee looked no better than the chalk-white that had been applied to my own face. (Looking back, I realize that the idea was to make Lee’s Dracula appear older in this film, to create a visual contrast with the young ingenues.) I was also disappointed that we never saw the inside of Castle Dracula – the exterior promised so much, but just when the Count was about to take his new bride home and set up house, Paul came along and ruined everything!
Having been raised in the Catholic Church, I totally got the religious subtext of the film, the Battle between Good and Evil. I knew Dracula was alligned with the Devil, and it was up to the Church to send him back to Hell. Of course, the script plays around with this a bit, but Barry Andrews (as Paul) is so clearly a decent person – a scholar who makes a point of giving an honest answer instead of an easy lie – that you know he is on the side of the angels even if he does not believe in them. (It was not until years later, when I became a fan of the Who, that someone pointed out Andrews’ resemblance to vocalist Roger Daltrey.)
Also magnificent was Count Dracula’s reluctant Renfield – a priest who becomes the vampire’s slave because of his own human weakness. This seemed to suggest that, whatever the ideals of the Church, it took a man with some courage to live up to it, and that courage was not always found within those who professed to believe those ideals. Not profound by adult standards perhaps, but it added something extra to the movie.
I’m sure I was too young to fully appreciate Barbara Ewing and Veronica Carlson, but I was not blind to the suggestive costumes that the former wore in her barmaid role, and I could not help noticing that the film contrived to open Carlson’s blouse for one or two scenes. Both women were obviously pretty, but Carlson in particular was gorgeous; she really is forever embedded in my mind as the ideal of the vampire’s victim – buxom, blond, and beautiful.

The innkeeper (Michae Ripper) and Paul (Barry Andrews) console Maria (Veronica Carlson) after a close encounter with Dracula.

The sexual undertones of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE were also quite oblivious to me and (I imagine) the rest of the audience, who were all about my age. When Maria has to get a drunken Paul into bed, it only struck me as a little embarrassing for her when she had to bring herself to undress him. It never occurred to me that the cutaway, after Paul awakens and embraces her, indicated that they had had sex. Likewise, Dracula’s embrace of both women registered as bloodlust, not lust. It was food he was after, not sex, and I’m sure we all assumed that the heaving bosoms on display were simply an attempt to lure in older teenage viewers, in the same way the Raquel Welch’s presence in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. would sell tickets to people who didn’t like dinosaurs.
In retrospect, I realize that Dracula’s visit to Maria’s bedroom was probably the first sex scene I ever witnessed on screen. Sure, it was disguised as blood-drinking, but it was still about the exchange of bodily fluids between a man and a woman. Of course, this had always been latent in the vampire mythology, but DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE pushed the envelope quite a bit. It was not just that Veronica Carlson was gorgeous and profoundly sexually attractive; it was that she was the Good Girl, the innocent blond, yet she welcomed Dracula almost as enthusiastically as the barmaid. As a child, I assumed the Count put a hypnotic spell on his victims, the mise-en-scene suggests something else, a sort of willing seduction to which Maria succumbs without much if any struggle. The implications are bizarrre to say the least: Do women – even the pure and innocent – yearn for overpowering strangers to ravish them in their bedrooms? No doubt it is just as well that this element sailed right past me, because I doubt my ten-year-old mind could have processed it. It would take some heavy-duty psychoanalysis to determine whether that first viewing had a lasting effect on me, but I do know that the scene still stirs up some dark waters; beneath the rippling waves are distorted glimpses of domination-submission, sado-masochism, and even necrophilia. If only my parents had known, when they bought our tickets and left us off like passengers boarding a ship, to what strange destination this dark voyage would take their children!
Looking back, I am also amazed at the way DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE conveyed more than it showed. Although the impact is somewhat muted decades later, there is a nice moment when Dracula’s attitude shifts from seductive to lethal toward Zena. All we see is the change of Chirstopher Lee’s expression; his hands grip Barbara Ewing’s shoulder’s tightly; she screams, and a red filter descends over the image as the scene fades. We know the Count is going to drain her dry, without having to see it happen…
This is followed by perhaps the grizzliest sequence, in which the Count orders the priest to dispose of Zena before she can be reborn as a vampire. Again, we do not actually see what happens, just the image of the priest carrying her body toward the furnace. The dancing red firelight, reflecting off the actor’s sweating brow, conveys what is going to happen in a way that was perfectly revolting to my ten-year-old mind – probably the most genuinely frightening scene for me at the time.
I would go to many more horror movies at the local theatre, sometimes with my mom and/or dad, sometimes with my brother and sister, and later alone. This was a good time for horror films, at least in quantity if not quality, with new titles arriving on marquees on almost a weekly basis. Unfortunately, this was also a time when wretchedly awful movies (which today would be consigned to video oblivion) played on the big screen, and thanks to the relatively recent ratings system, censorship was deader than a crucified vampire, allowing exploitation filmmakers to push the limits of a GP (later PG) rating with blood-and-gore, revealing costumes, and even occasional flashes of nudity. I enjoyed many of these, but few had the same impact as DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE – which set the standard for all the followed.
The film provided the yardstick that has stayed with me the rest of my life. I have always known, despite howls of outrage from concerned moral guardians, that horror films can be violent and sexy without harming the minds of young viewers. Furthermore, based on this film, I always sensed in some intuitive way that even the most horrific subject matter could be entertaining and fun – a truly cathartic, satisfying experience. Other films with the same amount of gore – or even less – might merely disgust with their shoddy cinematic technique, but DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE proved that a little craftsmanship and – dare I say it? – artistry could transform disreputable material into a kind of art.
I did not know it then, but this was the beginning of a life-long love for Hammer horror. Eventually, I would discover the earlier, even better films (made before the company began recycling all their hits), but DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE continues to hold a special place in my heart. Thanks to broadcast television, cable, revival screenings, and DVD, I have seen DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE many, many times over the years, but I would not trade that first experience for anything.
Of course, I experienced a one-two punch on that day, Count Dracula sharing the screen with his fellow titan of terror, the Baron, who appeared in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Unlike DRACULAS HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, the Frankenstein film did terrify me, but I will leave that experience to form the next chapter in this travelogue…

ADULT PERSPECTIVE

So, that is what DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE meant to me as a child, and later as a teenager when I saw the film again on television (usually with the close-up of the stake through the chest deleted).  How do I view the film now, as an adult? Is it pure nostalgia value, or does this trip to Transylvania still have sights worth seeing through more mature eyes?
Having now seen all the Hammer Dracula’s many times over, I can fairly say that DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is a slight step down from the HORROR OF DRACULA and the almost (but not quite) as good DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Some of the freshness has gone out of the franchise, and screenwriter Anthony Hinds (using his “John Elder” pseudonym) seems not to know what to do with the Count, so instead he concocts a love story about two other characters and uses Dracula as a plot complication. Fortunately, the production values and Gothic atmosphere remain as lush as ever, and former cinematographer Freddie Francis does a spectacular job in the director’s chair, milking every scene for maximum visual impact, emphasizing not only the Gothic horror but also the romance. He puts the camera in close during Dracula ravishment of Maria, creating a seductive intimacy that goes even a little bit beyond what director Terence Fisher had focused on in HORROR OF DRACULA and DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

The Count lavishes his attention on Maria (Veronica Carlson).

As often happened in the Hammer Dracula series, the Count seems motivated by petty revenge, which he executes mostly through his assistants (in this case the priest and Zena). The real focus of the story is on Paul and Maria, whose love is thwarted by Paul’s atheistic beliefs (and on his insistence on expressing them to Maria’s Catholic uncle!). The only connecting link between this pair and Dracula is Maria’s uncle. As a result, the story seems a bit arbitrary and stitched together, without the strong, usually action-packed narrative line displayed in the best of Hammer’s classic horrors.
Nevertheless, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE contains several interesting ironies, with the weak-willed local priest falling under the vampire’s spell, while the non-believer Paul is Dracula’s chief adversary. Not unexpectedly, Paul becomes a believer by the end, after seeing the power of the cross destroy the Count. Clearly, writer Anthony Hinds was trying to exploit the religious subtext of the Dracula myth. Even the title rings a note reminiscent of the resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament, and surely it is no accident that Dracula is almost literally crucified at the end — in one of the most spectacular demises ever suffered by the vampire, who weeps tears of blood as he expires.

Unfortunately, the portrayal of Count Dracula as an Antichrist figure is mostly symbolic. Absent from the script is any action that shows him devoted to the grandeur of evil; he behaves like a run-of-the-mill, garden variety vampire, leaving it up to Christopher Lee to imply the character’s stature as the “Prince of Darkness” in his performance. This he accomplishes to a great degree with little more than body language and screen presence, although he is aided by a few masterfully lit and composed shots that emphasize the brooding stillness of the Count as he lurks in shadows, awaiting his next victim. In a matter of a few seconds, these images convey a tiny glimpse of what immortality must be like for the vampire.

In a masterfully composed and lit shot, Dracula waits and broods in his subterranean lair.

Also heavily emphasized in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE are the sexual undertones inherent in vampire mythology. Count Dracula’s first female victim is a dark-haired woman of easy virtue who had tried to seduce Paul. Yet the blond and apparently innocent Maria turns out to be not that different from Zena: not only does she sleep with Paul (even though they are not married); she also overtly responds to Dracula’s advances when he sneaks into her bedroom. Francis puts his camera in close, heightening the tension and the eroticism, which is much more seductive than that seen in HORROR OF DRACULA (which more resembled a rape). Here, the vampire lover gently nuzzles Maria’s neck first, as if sensitizing her skin for the bite to come. And Christopher Lee eschews his trademark red contact lenses for the close-ups of his eyes, implying that it is not blood lust that is so much motivating the Count.

As in many good horror films, the simplicity of the story does stir up some interesting imagery that resonates on a deeper, mythic (sometimes even subconscious) level. The trek by Dracula and Maria back to the castle features the woman clinging to his coffin as if yearning for a lover. Later, she follows through the woods, the camera tilting down to her bare feet, emphasizing her indifference to her own pain as she follows her new vampire lord and master. Then, in a quick ironic shift, we dissolve to the Count carrying her up the rocky terrain toward his castle, looking for all the world like a bridegroom carrying his beloved to the threshold.
Although G-rated, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE hardly seems tame. There is no actual nudity, but both Barbar Ewing and Veronica Carlson display their ample charms, either in corsets of low-cut dresses. And the gore is plenty effective, too, particularly during the failed staking of the vampire. Although some purists (including Lee himself) have objected to this scene, it works wonderfully and gives some hint as to how the Vampire King could have survived for centuries – destroying him with a wooden stake just is not as easy as it looks. The final “crucifiction” scene does not feature as much flowing blood, but it is just as grizzly, with the pont of the cross producting from Dracula’s chest. Francis serves up a variety of camera angles, giving ample screen time for Lee to register the Count’s helpless agony on an almost operatic level of melodrama.

The Count (probably Christopher Lee's stunt double Eddie Powell)  is crucified - impaled on a crucifix.

The cast is strong. Christopher Lee, as always, makes Count Dracula a formidable figure, both frightening and alluring; even if the script does not serve him well, he makes the most of his scenes, indelibly impressing himself on the audience imagination with all the force of an archetype that needs no distinguishing details.
Rupert Davies does a good job as his chief religious opposition, and Ewan Cooper creates a wonderfully weak portrait of the priest who falls under the vampire’s spell. Stalwart character actor Michael Ripper lends amiable support, and Barbara Ewing makes a good first victim, perfectly registering sexual attraction to the Count and then jealousy when he turns his attention elsewhere. Barry Andrews has the right charm and charisma to pull of the young male lead role, and Carlson is absolutely gorgeous – the perfect embodiment of “Dracula’s most beautiful victim” (as she was called in some of the film’s promotional materials).
James Bernard provides another rousing score, reusing his famous three-note Dracula motif (the orchestra almost seems to be singing “DRA-cu-la!”). And Bernard Robinson’s sets are wonderful as always (although it is disappointing that we never see the interior of Castle Dracula). If only the script had been able to meld is religious and sexual motifs into a stronger narrative that did full justice to the Dracula character, then DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE could have taken its place alongside HORROR OF DRACULA as genre masterpiece. As it stands, this is an above-average sequel that lingers in the mind thanks to its memorable imagery and directorial flair.

TRIVIA

DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965), the previous film in the series, had ended with the Count sinking beneath the icy waters around his castle. DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE was trying to pick up directly from where its predecessor left off by showing the vampire revived from beneath the ice. However, the script fudges continuity a bit: We are told that Dracula killed the woman found in the bell-tower in the prologue – an even that took place one year before the main action of the film. Since Dracula had been dead during the ten years of screen time that separate HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) from DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the bell-tower even must have taken place sometime during the later film; however, the Count certainly did not seem to have time for this diversion during the frantic back-and-forth action of PRINCE OF DARKNESS.
This is the first Hammer Dracula that presents “Count Dracula” as a household name familiar to all the characters: When Msgr. Muller announces that the vampire is alive, his sister-in-law gasps in horror, obviously knowing who – and what – he is talking about, without any further explanation. This has the unfortunate side-effect of reducing the tone to the level of an old-fashioned, melodramatic horror movie, abandoning the more modern approach of Hammer’s previous Dracula films, which had avoided such histrionics.
This is the first time that Christopher Lee speaks as Dracula since the opening scenes of HORROR OF DRACULA. The character remained mute throughout the later portions of that film and throughout the entirety of the sequel, DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Curiously, Lee abandons the fast-paced, authoritative voice he used in HORROR OF DRACULA, here opting for a slower-paced, sepulchral tone.
This is the first of Lee’s Hammer Dracula films in which we do not see the interior of Dracula’s castle. This will happen again in the next film TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, as well as the later DRACULA A.D. 1972 and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. Only SCARS OF DRACULA will show us Lee at home in his castle once again.
Terence Fisher, who had helmed Hammer’s three previous “Dracula” films (including BRIDES OF DRACULA, in which the Count does not appear), was scheduled to direct DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, but he injured in a car accident while crossing the street and had to drop out of the project. Although his replacement, Freddie Francis, brought a refreshing visual style to the film, loaded with nifty camera angles and atmospheric staging, it seems likely the Fisher would have hammered out the screenplay’s narrative kinks if he had had the chance.

DVD DETAILS

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is available in a bare-bones DVD presentation from Warner Brothers. The disc offers English and French audio tracks with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The only bonus features is a theatrical trailer. The transfer mattes the full-frame image to the 1.85 aspect ratio of theatrical screenings, and the picture has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The transfer displays all the artful color of the photography (including Freddie Francis trademark use of a custom-made filter that shades off lighting toward the edge of the frame, creating a “spotlight” effect toward the center). In fact, the use of color recalls some of the best work scene in the Gothic films that Italian Mario Bava (another cinematographer-turned-director) was making during the same decade.

Beautiful, atmospheric colors in the DVD transfer recall the best work of Mario Bava.

There is a nice piece of cover art on the front. The back features a close-up of Lee in his Dracula makeup. The inside cover lists the 23 chapter stops, which are printed over a gruesome color shot of Lee with blood streaming out his chest from the stake in his heart. Artwork on the disc features an image of Lee’s face lowering toward Carlson, who rests her head on a pillow – a composition later echoed during the infamous “head” scene in REANIMATOR (1985).

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968). Directed by Freddie Francis. Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds), based on the character created by Bram Stoker. Cast: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Barry Andrews, Ewan Hooper, Michael Ripper.