Despite Lee's protests and initial refusal to play the role, he was 'talked into' starring in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) when distributor Warner Bros. balked at financing a 'Dracula film without Dracula.' This time the Count's tasty morsel was Linda Hayden, who had just become an overnight sensation in Baby Love (1968) in which she had played a sort of 'Lolita' character. At age 17, she became the youngest leading lady in a Hammer Dracula film in her role as 'Alice.' . In a later interview, Hayden told me, 'Baby Love was shot in '68 and Dracula was done in '69. It was over a year between the two, actually. I was offered all sorts of things after Baby Love, mostly sexy roles. They were films that would have made me quite a bit of money, but they were really lower-class Baby Loves. Then this Dracula film was offered to me. The Dracula films were very popular then, because the Hammer House of Horrors was still around. They were all big hits.'
I couldn't let Hayden go without asking her about Ralph Bates, who I knew quite well before his untimely death of pancreatic cancer at age 50. She had fond memories of him: 'Ah, yes, dear Ralph. He was smashing. That was made at a time when he had started to become a very attractive guy and there was a big promotion behind him at Hammer. He wasn't really considered for the role of Dracula as Christopher Lee's replacement - although he probably could have done it. Had Hammer carried on, I think he could have been the next Christopher Lee.'
Directed by Peter Sasdy, Taste the Blood of Dracula plays up the generation gap angle, and, after a sequence in which Alice's abusive father (Geoffrey Keen) is about to 'whip' Alice for going to a party with her boyfriend Paul (Anthony Corlan, aka Anthony Higgins), the audience is ready to cheer when Dracula appears and urges her to do in the old bastard with a shovel to the head. The fact that Alice does so with a sweet little smile on her face is testament to Hayden's ability to project innocence, sexuality and evil all at once - a talent she would hone to perfection in her next horror film, Piers Haggard's brilliant Blood on Satan's Claw (1970).
The second female lead in Taste - and by now, we know that means she won't survive to the film's climax - is Isla Blair, who had been appearing on stage and television since her early teens. She had also had a small role in Freddie Francis' Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1964) for Amicus. Interviewed by Oscar Martinez in 'Little Shoppe of Horrors,' Blair recalled her experience as Lucy - a name obviously borrowed from Stoker's novel: 'I loved playing in Taste the Blood of Dracula. One of the things that was quite amusing in the beginning actually was that I went off for a fang fitting. I thought it was quite funny. You know, instead of a wig or a costume fitting, it was a fang fitting I had to get. And I found myself sitting in this dentist chair - it was all done wonderfully precisely, as you know - I found myself sitting in front of the mirror sort of looking at these fangs…I should have asked if I could keep them because they were beautifully fitted for my teeth. But I didn't.'
The graveyard scenes in Taste were filmed at Highgate Cemetery, a very spooky place indeed. Blair remembered, 'The Highgate Cemetery bit I found very disturbing actually… There was a bit in there where they tried - it didn't work and they eventually ended up doing it in the studio - but there was a tomb that they wanted me in when I was a vampire… And then the coffin would be put inside the tomb in Highgate Cemetery. That was quite a spooky feeling in the first place, actually. And also the weird thing about it was being in a stone tomb. I couldn't hear anything. So it was terribly silent. And the time of the year in which we filmed it, it was November, so it was all sorts of strange mists and fogs. I mean it was perfect for the film but it was quite sort of scary, really, to be there. I mean a lot of the graves are still family tombs and if you look through them, you know, there are coffins inside the tombs.'
Blair is a memorable vampire. After a creepy and intense coach ride to the ruined chapel with Alice, who is now Dracula's love slave, Lucy is bitten by the Count and transformed into an undead, giving her much more to do than poor Barbara Ewing in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, who was merely cremated. And Blair makes the most of her 'creature from the night' appearances.
When her father (Peter Sallis) finds her lying inside a stone sarcophagus, he attempts to stake her, but her eyes jerk open Dracula-style (as the sun is setting) and she climbs out of her tomb. Her father tries to run, but finds himself surrounded, first by Alice, who picks up a large piece of rock, and by Dracula, who glares at him in that way that only he can. Lucy picks up the stake and the three of them encircle the helpless man. She holds the stake over his heart while Alice uses the stone to hammer it home amid a welter of blood. Finally, the Count has revenged himself upon all those pesky humans who have attempted to destroy him over and over again: he's driven a stake into one of their hearts.
Later, Lucy is savaged by Dracula (some gratitude!) and thrown into a pond after he decides he 'has no further use' for her. And so the brunette, once again, comes to a bad end in a Hammer Dracula film.
Far down the cast list in Taste the Blood of Dracula was doe-eyed and voluptuous Madeline (Maddy) Smith as a girl in a brothel in a scene that was mostly cut from the American version. Smith, of course, would go on to co-star in The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1972).