Christopher Lee is an actor who paid his dues, possibly more than any other. He hasn’t made it to over 200 films by starring as glamorous leads in all of them, and by the time he got his big break as Dracula in 1958 he had already been in 42 films, in various minor parts, usually involving his own death. It’s understandable, then, that he was loyal to Dracula, and the studio behind the films, and went back again and again. This 1968 film is his third turn as the original Prince of Darkness, and he would then go on to resurrect the character every year for the next five years.
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is a marked improvement on its predecessor, in which Lee refused to speak any of his lines because they were so bad. This time there are plenty of enjoyable horror moments, lots of blood and a reasonably interesting plot. When a Monsignor of the Catholic Church goes to check up on the town that sits in the shadow of Dracula’s castle, he inadvertently resurrects the monster, and severely pisses him off by attaching a cross to his front door. It’s understandable really, it is annoying when someone shoves their religion down your throat. Maybe Dracula’s just a principled secularist. In any case, the born again vampire then goes on a revenge mission against the Monsignor and his daughter, leaving it up to her love interest Paul (Barry Andrews) to save the day.
Paul is that rare thing, an openly atheistic protagonist of a film. He is also the only clever, able, honourable and respectful man in the film, and shown to be the only one capable of defeating Dracula. This is highly refreshing, and something which Hollywood still shies away from today. This being said, it’s also conceptually confused. The Catholic Monsignor is shown to be intolerant and highly flawed, and the local priest is so weak-willed as to end up working for Dracula, so in many ways the film seems critical of Catholicism. The problem is, vampire lore demands that Christian paraphernalia be used to defeat the undead, meaning the film still accepts the overriding truth of Christianity. Either that or Dracula is susceptible to a powerful placebo effect based on the force of his own mythology. Some creative writing could have found a way of making a virtue of Paul’s atheism and having him use it to win the day, perhaps through not being scared of the supernatural, but instead the result is inconsistent. Even so, it’s good he never has a religious epiphany, turning to faith in fear or to defeat the vampire, something it would be nice to see more of in Hollywood today.