While it could be argued that on some level all vampire films cannot help but display allegorical significance, with the sub-genre’s erotic and psychological symbolism of duality, Taste the Blood of Dracula, the fourth in the Hammer Films series starring Christopher Lee as the ruthless lord of the undead, is particularly explicit in its emblematic strategy. Centered around the revenge that Dracula takes on a group of men and their families after the men murder his servant, the film suggests that the façade of respectability is exactly that, an illusion projected to cover up insatiable appetites. The men, community leaders and upholders of the moral fiber of their town, have in fact established a secret society dedicated to experiencing every kind of illicit behavior, indulging in both the depraved and the scandalous for their own jaded amusement. It is this relentless need to indulge that leads to an encounter with one of Dracula’s disciples, one Lord Courtley (a grimacing Ralph Bates), a decadent dabbler in the black arts, and ultimately results in the resurrection of Dracula himself. The men murder Courtley to cover up their involvement in the ritual yet Dracula pursues them, unleashing the darker sides of their families and bringing about the men’s destruction by feeding off of their own inner demons. While all of the Hammer Dracula films emphasize the physical and psychological lasciviousness and decay that accompanies a vampiric plague, an infection that in many ways only represents the unlocking of hidden desires, Taste the Blood of Dracula is unusual in that it keeps Dracula somewhat on the sidelines. He is more the force behind a kind of twisted moral retribution rather than just the aggressor in a struggle between good and evil. Even the film’s proscriptive title indicates a temptation to ingest that which is forbidden. What the film makes clear is that the so-called “secret society” has already been metaphorically sampling the Count’s blood long before being offered the actual substance by the maniacal Courtley. Indeed, the heroine (Linda Hayden) is in as much danger from her own corrupt father (Geoffrey Keen), a member of the “society” whose perverse sadomasochistic lust for his own daughter is disturbingly evident as he drunkenly attempts to beat her, as she is from Dracula. The vampire is only the all too naturally spreading weed in a disregarded and unkept Victorian garden.
Even the weakest Hammer films looked shockingly good from a design standpoint, and most were shot with a lush eye for dark gothic splendor, even the narratively contemporary films. The 19th-century setting of Taste the Blood of Dracula, with its indulgence of stylistic flourishes and generically familiar connotations, allows for the production team, from director Peter Sasdy to cinematographer Arthur Grant to designer Scott MacGregor, to excel in establishing a necromantic air of lust and violence. The widescreen format is a necessity for any Hammer film, and this one in particular fares well from not having its boundaries mutilated as Warner Home Video did before on their non-letterboxed VHS release. The Warner DVD of Taste the Blood of Dracula is immediately a necessity to any fan because it finally restores the film to its original theatrical proportions, but while the print is good overall, one might be disturbed by the occasional smudge or piece of grit that passes by, something that with today's technology is simply inexcusable.
Nothing save a theatrical trailer, and it is another reason why one wishes that Anchor Bay had the rights to all of the Hammer films.
A must! Taste the Blood of Dracula is not only one of best in the Christopher Lee Dracula series but one of Hammer's best overall productions.