The final installment in Hammer Studios' Dracula series is also the least interesting of the lot. A fairly direct follow-up to Dracula A.D. 1972, this sequel finds the Count (Christopher Lee) developing a potent strain of bubonic plague which he and his devil-worshipping disciples plan to release from 1970's London to wipe out nearly all life on earth. His efforts are challenged once again by the dedicated Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), leading to a rather uninvolving climax. Despite the always-welcome presence of Lee and Cushing, this installment plays too flagrantly with the time-honored Hammer Gothic formula, giving Dracula actual dialogue and surrounding the leads with a dull, amateurish supporting cast -- with the possible exception of Joanna Lumley (later of BBC-TV's Absolutely Fabulous). This also marked Lee's final performance as the Count and signaled the beginning of the end for Hammer's horror heyday. Also known as Satanic Rites of Dracula and Dracula is Dead and Well and Living in London.
A surprisingly good modern day Dracula tale that is as much Fu Manchu as the Count, "Satanic Rites" was once going to be entitled "Dracula Is Dead and Living in London" (talk about a long marquee title). The film has more to its plot than most in that Dracula has taken on the identity of a business man and is secretly creating a plague that will wipe out all life on Earth.
Why? Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) theories that Dracula is trying to indirectly destroy himself (which would explain why he is behaving like Fu Manchu).
Although the film holds up pretty well, it does feel like there's a significant portion of the film missing like it was trimmed down to make it work well as a double feature. For example, the build up to the identity of the businessman behind the whole plot isn't there as it is just plopped down right in front of us at the same time as Van Helsing learns the truth.
The film has shown up in various public domain versions over the years (Warner had let the copyright lapse) almost all of them crummy looking. While still soft looking, the Warner Archive edition provides an improvement with better depth, detail and strong colors.
Sadly, there aren't any special features. It would have been terrific to hear Jonathan Rigby, for example, provide us some detail on the production of the film. Alan Gibson's direction here is serviceable improving on the more uneven (but better looking "Dracula AD 1972").
We do, however, get the original trailer.
A solid final outing from Hammer (which has been unfairly dismissed over the years), "Rites" seems to have a big chunk of the film missing as it moves from horror to a combination of Fu Manchu or Bond styled thriller.