When a secret agent barely escapes from a secretive country house where he witnesses a satanic ritual in progress, he uses his dying breath to implicate important scientists and senior members of the establishment, including the Minister in charge of the intelligence division to which he belongs. Realising the risk of being shut down by the very people they’re investigating, they turn the case over to Detective Murray (Michael Coles) who quickly reaches out for the assistance of his old friend Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).
Although many of the main cast continue in their roles from the previous instalment, Joanna Lumley takes over from Stephanie Beacham as Van Helsing’s Granddaughter Jessica. She’s less of a damsel in distress than Beacham was but still makes for a purdy good scream queen in her own right. In fact, there’s such a “New Avengers” feel about the whole movie you keep expecting Gareth Hunt to turn up, even if just to offer some Nescafe.
With Van Helsing as a chain-smoking Steed, Jessica as Purdy and Detective Murray providing the muscle in the Mike Gambit role, this film effectively sets the template the “Avengers” TV reboot would build upon some three years later. It’s a suitably Avengers-eque plot too, as this time Count Dracula – posing as reclusive and notoriously camera-shy Howard Hughes-style property developer D D Denham (D D standing for Disco Dracula, probably) – has gathered the great and not-at-all-good to his will as his four horsemen to create and unleash a plague to destroy the world. Having controlled his empire from the office block which was unknowingly built on the site of the church where Dracula was defeated last time, the Count has plotted out an end for the world: a Dracopocalyse, if you will, even if it does somewhat seem like he’s cutting off his blood supply to spite his fangs. What a silly Count.
The movie also adds a new addition to the Count’s kryptonite catalogue: the hawthorn tree, imbued with anti-vampirical properties thanks to being used to fashion Christ a crown of thorns. It’s funny how many of the things which caused pain and suffering to Jesus also cause pain and suffering to Vampires. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I bet it wasn’t garlic bread at the last supper. There’s also a redemption for silver bullets as effective anti-Vampire ordinance as Van Helsing, in between ciggie breaks, tools up by melting down silver crucifixes into ammunition.
Anyway, this ludicrous plot is embellished by all the usual trimmings: Dracula decides to take a consort picking, obviously, Van Helsing’s granddaughter again, there’s a basement full of buxom vampire babes ready to nibble on the unwary trespasser and Dracula – in one of his least bitey appearances – contents himself with mesmeric manipulation. Add to this a country mansion lair and an army of sheepskin gilet-ed goons and what you’ve got is a tepid spy caper with weak action scenes, some gratuitous nudity and not quite enough blood and horror to satisfy.
Christopher Lee doesn’t seem particularly invested in the role anymore in limited screen time the film affords him (or perhaps persuaded him to agree to). Cushing, though, retains his enthusiasm (as evidenced by the fact this may be Lee’s last Hammer Dracula film but Cushing’s Van Helsing would return once more) but ultimately “The Satanic Rites Of Dracula” gets too much wrong and it’s an anaemic and ignominious end for Lee’s long reign as the cinematic Dracula.