Ironically as Hammer's Dracula series progressed the need for Dracula as a main character seemed to be continually dwindling. Due to the box office success of the prior film (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) Hammer's desire was to produce a Dracula picture every year as long as the demand for the series was high. The largest goal was to attempt to bring something new to a series that had seemingly begun to exhaust all variations of Dracula revenge themes. Unfortunately in doing so the writer ended up throwing Dracula into a story which didn't require much of his presence at all.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is a direct sequel to Dracula Has Risen from the Grave picking up at the moment of Dracula's demise by the impalement of a large cross. It so happened that an antiques dealer happened to be in the area, witnessed his death and then procured from the remains Dracula's ring, cloak and a vial of his blood (which had turned to powder). The story then turns to a group of three seemingly Puritan men who under the guise of a carefully planned lie to their families make a monthly visit to the local brothel. But the excitement of their secret lusts is beginning to wane thin, and as the men look to find something else to amuse them they meet Lord Courtley.
Lord Courtley has been banished from his family for practicing of the dark arts, and the mystery of this intrigues the men. Lord Courtley promises that his practices can lead to the ultimate pleasure but he requires some financial assistance in obtaining certain materials needed, the men eventually agree and thus purchase the remains of the famed Count Dracula from the dealer who originally acquired them. But when Courtley mixes Dracula's blood and insists they each drink it the men finally realize they've gotten way over their heads.
Thus Courtley drinks the blood which appears to have an ill affect and in a fit of panic the three men beat him while he pleads for help and run off once he's dead. The remains of Lord Courtley, now stained with the blood of the Dracula, begin to transform into the Count. Risen once again, Dracula vows to obtain vengence against those who destroyed one of his servants. To do this Dracula uses one of the men's daughter's, Alice, to one by one give each of the three men there just reward.
For me, Taste the Blood of Dracula is simply the continual decline in originality of the Dracula series. Once again we're feed another Dracula revenge story with even less Dracula whose only role in the film is as a hypnotist controlling Alice to do his dirty work. Once again Christopher Lee's protest in doing another Dracula film rings out through the pages of Hammer literature. Lee had discovered just how successful these films were becoming in the states and how well known he was becoming and demanded that Hammer share a percentage of the film's grossings if they didn't have the money to provide him his asking price. Hammer wasn't to keen on that idea and thus decided to replace Lee with a much younger up incoming actor by the name of Ralph Bates. Bates had never been in a film before but the Hammer executives were quite impressed with some of his television work, he was therefore cast to play Lord Courtley who at the time was to be the film's main villain. This would be his first of five Hammer projects and would lead him to become regarded as one of Hammer's young and talented replacements for the company's star's (Lee and Cushing). Unfortunately for him that never became much of a reality as Hammer ended up being in the final years of it's production life.
But once word got back to the states that Christopher Lee was out Warner Bros (who was co-financing the film) reminded Hammer that their agreement was based on Lee being in the role of Dracula. Producer Aida Young was then sent to try and negotiate Lee's return, which eventually he did agree do, although stating he hoped it would be his last film for Hammer. But after the film's completion Lee seemed to have a change of heart stating the cast was the best of any of the Dracula films Hammer has produced.
For many Hammer fans Taste the Blood of Dracula is oddly regarded as one of the finest Dracula sequels of the entire series. Personally I don't understand that. Having originally watched this film a few months ago I found myself rather unimpressed with the overall product, and now struggle to remember anything truly memorable about the film at all. To me the Dracula series appears to be going absolutely nowhere without much care for the character in which films the series is based on, and with Taste the Blood of Dracula, the Count is purely a guest star in his own film.