Dracula AD 1972 suffers from a lack of female vampires, a situation that was rectified in the next - and final - Christopher Lee Dracula film for Hammer. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) was directed by Alan Gibson, who had helmed the previous film, and is in many ways an improvement upon it. With far less 'Hey, man' type dialogue, it plays more like James Bond meets a police procedural meets Dracula.
Jessica Van Helsing returned along with her grandfather, but she wasn't quite herself. This time she was played by Joanna Lumley, another model turned actress who had previously appeared with Jenny Hanley and Anouska Hempel and any number of other young actresses in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. She was the physical opposite of Beacham in the role, willowy and slim where Beacham was voluptuous and busty. She made the part her own, however, proving she was not 'just another pretty face.'
In Satanic Rites, the randy old Count keeps an entire cellar full of vampire 'brides'. In a nod to Hammer's 'lesbian vampire' cycle that had begun with The Vampire Lovers, one of the 'brides' feels up Jessica when she is exploring the old mansion in the country. Lumley is a standout in the film. Her slight build matches Cushing's and her keen and obvious intelligence convinces us that she really could be a member of the Van Helsing family. It's almost a dry run for her role of 'Purdy' in The New Avengers. Whereas Beacham's Jessica was a trendy, rebellious adolescent, Lumley's portrayal is both more likable and more adult. She brings out a lot of subtlety that probably wasn't in the script and at least this time, the character doesn't have to spout any 'hip' dialogue.
The brunette victim is played by Carry On veteran Valerie Van Ost, who has the distinction of appearing in the first topless staking scene in a Hammer Dracula film. Interviewed by Jonathan Sothcott for 'Little Shoppe of Horrors,' Van Ost recalled of her character, 'She wasn't that bad. Before she was bitten in the neck, she was a virtuous MI5 secretary…I suppose more people took their clothes off in those days. I suppose they didn't make more than a social, slight objection… When it (the staking scene) was being done, it was such a hoot. We all laughed so much at the theatrical mechanics of how the trick was done. It was shot in several sequences, with half a stake going in, and then a whole stake.
'There was a props man with a sort of bicycle pump, out of the shot pumping the blood, the red paint that they used, called Kensington Gore… He had a bucket of this stuff and he pumped it up a long tube and up onto me. It was sort of very silly, really. It was so amusing that it was difficult to keep a straight face. 'It was fascinating to see how the thing was done. When all the pictures were joined together, it looks as though the stake is going in. It is just four shots: first, the point of the stake going in, then the half stake, then the whole stake. I had half a stake strapped to the front of me and half a stake strapped to the back of me, as if it had gone all the way through.'
The Satanic Rites of Dracula has a melancholy feel to it, as though all concerned in its production knew this was the end of an era. And it was.
NEXT TIME: THE END OF AN ERA.