1970's Hammer horror "Scars of Dracula" marked the sixth appearance of Christopher Lee in the title role. While Lee gives one of his most fearsome performances as the Count, the film does not enjoy as much of a reputation as some of the other entries in the series. Many contemporary critics decried the film's violence and pointed out the film's obviously shrunken budget: the cheapness of the model work, overreliance on matte paintings, and especially the absurdly cheap special effects, exemplified by the highly unconvincing rubber bats that inspired unintentional laughs instead of menace. While "Scars of Dracula" cannot hide its reduced budget, it still has much to recommend it.
The definitive screen Dracula, Lee imbued the character with malevolent charisma, often overshadowing the other actors, with the exception of "Horror of Dracula" and "Dracula 1972 A.D.," where he played opposite fellow Hammer icon Peter Cushing, as Van Helsing. "Scars of Dracula" boasts an excellent supporting cast, led by Dennis Waterman ("Up the Junction," "The Sweeney"); Hammer regulars Michael Gwynne and Michael Ripper, Patrick Troughton ("The Omen") as Renfield stand-in Klove; and a very attractive female cast, led by Jenny Hanley as Sarah, with Anouska Hempel ("Blacksnake") as Tania, Drac's ill-fated concubine, and Delia Lindsay as Alice, the Burgomaster's naughty daughter. It's a sign of the times that the film ramps up not only the gore, but also the nudity.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker ("The Vampire Lovers") and scripted by Anthony Hinds, the film overcomes its budgetary limitations with tight pacing, and frequent killings. Lee is genuinely scary, and the audience is not tempted to root for him as might have been the case in other films in the series (1966's "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," for instance). Here it's clear that this guy is a bad, bad man. Pure evil, in fact. The audience's sympathies are with the good guys this time.
While the horror and violence on display in "Scars of Dracula" are tame by today's standards, there are still some genuine shocks to be had, and a suitably monstrous central performance from Lee that rises above the film's cut-rate production values.