Advantages Good cast, sets, competent direction, nice score
Disadvantages Uneven screenplay, too little of Dracula
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|How does it compare to similar films?||Good|
Hot on the heels of the box office returns from 1968s 'Dracula Has Risen from the Grave' Hammer rushed it's next vampire project into production. In what was common practice at the house of horror, promotional materials were on the prospective distributors desks before a word of the script had been typed.With Christopher Lee ruling himself out of the role after his dissatisfaction with 'Risen' and a combination of boredom and a fear of typecasting with the role, Tony Hinds set about fashioning a screenplay without the titular vampire. The plan was to groom a new actor in the role of Dracula's disciple, and to hopefully keep the series ticking over well into the 1970s.
Distibutors Warner Seven Arts threw a stake into the works on delivery of the screenplay, and couldn't help but wonder where Dracula was, and more importantly the box office draw of Christopher Lee. Cue the usual call from Hammer supremo James Carreras to Christopher Lee, and the now legendary begging / pleading / bartering that would see a reluctant Lee return to the role a further 3 times.Upon securing Lee's participation, Hinds hurriedly reshuffled the pack, whereby Dracula could return to wreak havoc in Victorian England following his crumbling to dust at the end of 'Risen from the Grave'.
A travelling salesman, an Englishman abroad (Roy Kinnear) to collect curios from the Counts homeland, is bundled from his coach by an unsavoury pair. Stranded in deep forest, miles from anywhere, he is further unsettled by a series of bloodcurdling screams. Unsure of whether to run from or to the source of the screams, whilst charging through the woodland he stumbles upon the Count, howling in pain, impaled upon a golden cross. The salesman is witnessing the death of the vampire as filmed for 'Risen from the Grave'. Safely crumbled to dust, and leaving his cape and other personal effects lying about, the salesman scoops up the dessicated Count, and starts for home.Back in England, a trio of rich businessmen are leading a double life, William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Jonathon Secker (John Carson) are all keen to project an image of respectable men who give much to charity. They are also members of a small society devoted to illicit thrill seeking, whether it be drink, drugs, or women. Even such daring acts lose their thrall for these 'gentlemen' and they become interested in a scheme relayed to them by the devil-may-care Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates).
Courtley is a rogue, known to dabble in the black arts, and also widely known as trouble. Yet, the bored thrill seekers listen intently when he tells them he can bring them experiences beyond imagination, for a small fee, naturally. The fee allows him to visit the salesman in possession of Dracula's belongings...and blood.Retreating to a derelict church, Courtley begins a satanic ritual, the climax being the drinking of the blood of Dracula. Disgusted by his suggestion, and the sight of him gulping down with relish the thick bubbling remains of the Count, they panic and beat him to death, leaving him prone on the church floor.
They depart the scene of the crime and vow never to speak of the events again. They soon decide that they must return one more time to dispose of the body, the only inconvenience being that the body has gone. Something more sinister has happened to Courtley, a revivified Dracula has made use of that body and is plotting revenge against the men who killed his disciple.An interesting, if slightly confused premise, afterall why would Dracula be upset that he was alive again and what would he care as to who died to make it so? Regardless of such holes in the plot, Hinds presents us with a refreshing Dracula outing that points the finger at the hypocrisies of Victorian society. Naturally Dracula is keen to have a very full revenge, and targets not only the thrill seekers, but their repressed families, which inevitably leads to vampirised daughters and new found sexuality, heaving bosoms, and all that jazz.
In the directors chair is Hammer newcomer Peter Sasdy, a young Hungarian filmmaker who would threaten to revitalise a stale Hammer. He brings a much more contemporary feel to the film, and eschews Fisher's careful setups and Francis' visuals in favour of a more mobile camera, often hand held, and with much use of extreme close-ups. Orson Welles it isn't, but in terms of Hammer it was a step forward, and for a while suggested that the studio was willing to move with the times.Armed with an impressive cast, and a reasonably sound screenplay, the biggest casualty in this promising brew is Dracula himself. Shoehorned into the plot, he is required once again to lurk in shadows, emerging only to issue instructions and oversee his minions' work. Lee is nothing if not professional, and it is one of his better turns as the Count, but once more, it is a sad waste of his talents, and a blatant compromise on behalf of Hammer to appease the distributors.
Others in the cast fare much better, Keen, Sallis and Carson are in good form as the thrill-seekers, and Kinnear provides a neat cameo as Weller the curio-collector. Ralph Bates is an odd choice for a villain, and I have to confess to not ever having been a fan of his numerous Hammer roles, and again he hams in his efforts to convince us that he really is pretty evil. Further down the cast list is a young Martin Jarvis, the lovely Linda Hayden as Dracula's most voloptuous victim, Isla Blair, and the ever dependable Michael Ripper.Scott MacGregor creates some impressive sets on a miniscule budget, and with careful lighting by Arthur Grant, this is one of the more impressive looking latter day Hammers. After a particularly full-on score for 'Risen', James Bernard contributes a beautifully restrained effort for 'Taste..' and it is easily one of his best Hammer scores.
Brian Johnson provides some of the better special effects for a Hammer picture, although as per the norm in a Dracula picture, it is restricted to stakings and some crumblings. Nevertheless it helps to provide 'Taste' with a very solid and polished feel. Yes, the usual Hammer frailties are there, a poorly motivated count, some plot holes you could drive a Buick through, cramped sets, day for night shooting, interiors purporting to be exteriors, and a running time that leads to a rushed and rather odd climax, but 'Taste the Blood of Dracula' remains a very enjoyable and refreshing entry into the vampire cycle.It opened in May 1970 to reasonably brisk business, and performed well enough for Hammer to rush the execrable 'Scars of Dracula' onto the studio floor for an EMI deal. As an indication of Hammers desire to drain every last drop of blood from it's Dracula franchise, 'Scars' was in cinemas a mere six months on from 'Taste'.
Peter Sasdy would contribute 2 more films for Hammer, the potboiling 'Countess Dracula' and the much more impressive 'Hands of the Ripper' before he slid into obscurity on the back of some truly wretched horror flicks. Hammer themselves would stumble on for a few more years, but 'Taste' was certainly the last of the Dracula films to possess any thought or quality in it's production.Released on DVD by Warners in 2004, it is another threadbare effort that gains kudos only for the superb uncut print on display. This print, a 1.85:1 anarmorphic widescreen transfer which preserves the original ratio, restores early scenes set in a brothel which were excised from US prints subsequently finding their way to these shores for television transmission. Rest assured, snakes and writhing belly dancers are back where they belong. The picture is vibrant with strong contrast and impressive blacks, little visable damage and a reassuring lack of artefacting or blocking, save for some scenes of fog.
Sound comes in a Dolby mono mix, which more than does justice to Bernards score, and overall the dialogue and score sit comfortably on just one channel, always precise and never overlapping leading to a muddied delivery.Warners pull out none of their stops and present the DVD in one of it's cardboard 'snapper' cases. The cover art is from the British quad, and is striking enough. Functional unfussy menus lead you to the plethora of extras, or, perhaps just a cleaned up British trailer and the scene selection. Should you wish to learn German, don't fear, as subtitles are provided along with Arabic, Dutch, English, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian and Swedish.
Running time is a hasty 88 minutes, and the film carries a 15 certificate which is pretty justified, there are a couple of nasty stakings for the weak hearted out there, although the brothel scenes are tame by todays standards.Available at £11.99 from Play.com, but stubbornly expensive at £15.99 from Virgin and HMV on the High Street.
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