It is the middle of the night and a black mass is being held in an English country mansion, complete with hooded worshippers, a naked sacrificial victim and cockerel to provide the blood. Elsewhere in the house, a man who is not in good shape is being kept tied up in a locked room; he manages to free his hands from the ropes and launches himself at his guard, strangling him. He then quietly makes his way through the corridors and outside, unwittingly setting off the alarm. Luckily for him, there is someone waiting for him in a car by the gates just as the other guards appear and he is driven away to a top secret London location where he tells a hidden government investigation just what he knows - and the news isn't good...
Written by Don Houghton, The Satanic Rites of Dracula was one of Hammer's last attempts to bring fresh blood to the old vampire tales, before they got really desperate and dragged in the kung fu to bring the series to an end. What you get looks like a mishmash of various popular hits of yesteryear all mixed up in an Apocalyptic plot, with a touch of Fu Manchu world domination on the part of the fanged one, some James Bond espionage in the attempt to discover what Drac is up to, a dash of Dennis Wheatley stately home occultism (the film makers are so pleased with that opening scene we keep going back to it throughout the first act) and even a group of evil bikers in a Hell's Angels style.
The result is that while this outing resembles all those things, it doesn't really resemble a Hammer Dracula film, and if it wasn't for the presence of Christopher Lee (as the Count) and Peter Cushing (as a descendant of Van Helsing, although still called Van Helsing so as not to confuse us) we'd have a hard time identifying it as such. Not that it's a bad move, because placing the two classic adversaries on a global scale means that there's more at stake (if you'll pardon the pun), despite the budget not really stretching to a genuine sense of the enormity of the villain's plans.
Considering that Lee has his name billed first in the opening credits, he's got a pretty comfortable job here as he only shows up for the grand finale, save a brief appearance halfway through to add another lady to his conquests. You'd never know it was the era of women's liberation judging by the behaviour here, all the women end up terrorised except the Count's Chinese agent (Barbara Yu Ling); to add a younger face to the cast Joanna Lumley is Jessica, Van Helsing's granddaughter who we are told is as knowledgeable about Van Helsing's studies as he is, but all she gets to do is scream and run around.
Van Helsing himself is more than capable of deducting the schemes on his own, and the secret government department seems to consist of three people, so it's no wonder Dracula gets as close as he does to his goal before the professor is called in. On the journey to the final confrontation, which in a sense it was due to it being the last Lee/Cushing Dracula, the incidents are packed in, so that it never slows down during its relatively short length. The cellar of the mansion is revealed to hold a whole bunch of vampire brides, including the kidnapped secretary of the top secret government men, who doesn't seem to have been interrogated at all.
One of the members of the opening ceremony, a Nobel Prize-winning expert in plagues and blood diseases (Freddie Jones), is tracked down by Van Helsing and the plot is realised just as one of those bikers arrives to graze the professor's forehead with a bullet and stage the expert's suicide. Drac wants to wipe out humanity, which doesn't make much sense as far as his appetite goes, but look at the additions to vampire lore we get: silver bullets kill them now (not only werewolves), also sprinkler systems and certain bushes. Some good scenes like the Count disguising his voice with a Transylvanian accent when posing as a head of a multinational corporation make up for the grimly presented muddle that is on offer, but the best you can say about it is that it wasn't the worst. Music by John Cacavas.