One of the few Hammer Dracula films that was R-rated, Taste the Blood of Dracula, was not only able to push the envelope with its depiction of nudity, and violence, but also with its dark themes. It is this dark, vengeful ambiance that propels this film to be one of my favorite Dracula films, even though it does have its serious continuity flaws.
One of the stark contrasts that separates this film from other Christopher Lee/Hammer production films is the lack of actual screen presence of the infamous vampire. During the time of its production, Lee was reluctant on reprising his role as Dracula. This film was originally written without Dracula in it. However, when Lee conceded to the role, the film was rewritten. Even though I have enjoyed the character, I think the film was stronger because of the limited screen presence of the Count.
This film, a follow up to Dracula has Risen from the Grave picks up where the other film leaves off. Dracula is dead, but still has followers. One of which is Lord Courtley (played well by Ralph Bates). Courtley meets three upper crust gentlemen, who are bored with their mundane lives. Courtley finds William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Sam Paxton (Peter Saccis), and Jonathan Secker (John Carson) at a brothel where they get their kicks. He seduces them with even more excitement, a dark ritual which would raise the dead Count Dracula from his grave. Of course, the men are reluctant at first, but then their curiosities get the better of them and they participate. However, when it comes time to drink the blood of Dracula, they cannot go through with it. Lord Courtley drinks the blood and begins to cry out in pain and asks for the three gentlemen’s help. In reply, they inexplicably beat the minion of Dracula to death (one of many story errors that pop up in this film).
They leave the minion to die in Dracula’s old castle. The Count resurrects himself using Lord Courtley’s body and seeks revenge on the men who killed his servant. Why he would want to seek revenge against the men who provided the sacrifice Dracula needed to survive is beyond this reviewer, but Hammer expects a suspension of disbelief so we just “go with it”.
Much to this reviewer’s delight, the vengeful Count is much more cerebral about getting his revenge than he has been in previous films. He systematically kills his targets indirectly. He uses the children/close friends and family of his targets by bespelling them and having them turn on their loved ones. In dramatic Lee fashion, he counts his targets. Dracula is present only when he turns one of the loved ones or watches his targets die. By the time his victims see him, it is too late.
Taste the Blood of Dracula shows us just how powerful the iconic figure is. He is not always on screen, but his presence is always there. Therein lies the terror of this film. The acting is sparse and visceral. Hammer did not use the R rating very often, however, the company pushed the envelope just a little to give us horror. If you can get past plot holes large enough to drive a truck through, then this Dracula film will not disappoint.