Perhaps best known for being the final cinematic smackdown between Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is a pretty decent effort from Hammer Film Productions. This 1973 outing is directed by Alan Gibson and features a screenplay by Don Houghton. It comes on the heels of DRACULA A.D. 1972 and likewise utilizes a contemporaneous setting in which to work its dark magic.
After an undercover agent (Maurice O’Connell) flees the scene of some Satanic rituals, the Secret Intelligence Service has some questions. They’re most interested in why four prominent members of British society have been taking part in such rites, so they ask occult expert Lorrimar Van Helsing (Cushing) for assistance. The spies and the vampire slayer put together the clues and determine that Count Dracula (Lee) is alive and well and scheming to bring back a dastardly version of the Black Plague.
There is a method to the Count’s madness in that he palpably opposes the “decadence” of modern society and wants to cure its ills by wiping it the hell out. He dispatches a government official and a biochemist (Freddie Jones), among others, and promises them power in exchange for their vassalage. This intermingling of occultism and vampirism seems to strike these sophisticated men right where they itch, speaking power to power in a livid amalgam of all that’s evil.
In THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, the Count becomes the villain in a spy picture and one almost imagines 007 crashing through a nearby doorway to save the world. Not only does Lee’s character establish a supervillain cadre, his designs on domination are more explicitly stated than his other impetuous, blood-driven schemes. When he and Van Helsing face off across a desk in a chatty confrontation, it feels almost official and the two share transitory respect. As usual, it doesn’t end well.