If a quintessential example of a Hammer Studio’s exercise in Gothic Horror exists, it is probably this film. Not because it is a flawless piece of film-making, far from it. Rather because this film manages to squeeze just about all of Hammer’s horror-show templates into it’s 92 minute running time.
Here we have the unmistakeably distinctive set design and music score by Hammer mainstays Benard Robinson and James Benard; romantic leads transposing post Summer-of-Love sexual mores (and hairstyles!) to the film’s indeterminate post Victorian location; two pub locales, one peopled with wary, hostile, superstitious East-Ender types, the other rollicking with high-spirited youthful inebriates; a pious religious figure (and a much less pious one); a cameo by Michael Ripper; day-for-night location shots; attractive women in low-cut bodices and nightgowns; yet another outlandish method of using trickling blood to revive the antagonist; an eventful screenplay that doesn’t measure up to critical evaluation — whew! I could go on and on.
But please understand, I do not necessarily regard all of the above negatively, just realistically. “D.H.R.F.T.G.” is a fun watch if you leave your thinking cap off. Several of the most memorable set-pieces in the Hammer canon are here; the discovery of the girl in the belfry, the attempted staking of Dracula, the Count’s seduction of Veronica Carlson, and his over-the-top demise (I won’t reveal it here). These scenes lingered for decades in my mind after I saw the film in the early seventies. I was joyful to find the videotape in the ’90’s and yes, I now happily own the DVD.
One of the harshest critics of this film, incidentally, was it’s star. Christopher Lee, who entered the project enduring serious back pain (stuntman Eddie Powell handled the more strenuous action), disliked the script intensely, especially the attempted staking of the Count. His performance, however, betrays none of his vexation; this is one of his best outings as Dracula. Director Freddie Francis coaxes serviceable performances from the rest of the cast. Rupert Davies and Barbara Ewing stand out, as a noble cleric and lusty barmaid respectively.
At the end of the day, I really like this movie, despite it’s shortcomings. Heck, I feel like putting on right now. So should you.