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Dracula - Prince of Darkness Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 October 1998

Dracula: Prince Of Darkness

Anchor Bay Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer
release year: 1966
film rating: Three and a half stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

This exciting horror thriller was the second to star Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, the vampire king (he played a vampire in the Italian comedy Uncle Was a Vampire, but he wasn't Dracula). Excellent photography and a convincing cast, plus an exciting climax are offset somewhat by a script so peculiarly structured that Dracula doesn't even appear until 48 minutes into the movie.

English brothers Charles (Francis Matthews) and Alan Kent (Charles Tingwell) are touring Transylvania with their wives, Diana (Suzan Farmer) and Helen (Barbara Shelley). They encounter blunt but friendly monk, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who warns them to stay away from Carlsbad, especially from the castle near there.

Despite this and the consternation of strait-laced Helen, they head toward Carlsbad anyway, and through a series of circumstances, end up at that castle.
o their surprise, they're greeted by gaunt, soft-spoken Klove (Philip Latham), who says that though his master, Count Dracula, has been dead for ten years, he had ordered Klove to provide hospitality to any travelers who needed it. However, that night, they learn Klove has other plans -- plans that climax in his bringing Dracula back to life....

Even though we don't see Dracula for so long, the opening now seems classic, almost mythic. There have been many horror movies about travelers forced to spend the night in a sinister old dark house/mansion/castle; Hammer used the plot themselves repeatedly over the years. Even in 1966, it was obvious from the moment we meet our four bland travelers that they're going to be vampire fodder before the movie is over.

Once Dracula is spectacularly restored to life, in a gleefully ghoulish sequence with still-impressive special effects by Les Bowie, the movie barrels straight ahead, with only a few peculiarities or sidebars, such as Charles escaping from the castle with Diana -- and then immediately insisting upon returning alone.

The script by "John Sansom" doesn't create much conflict between the human characters -- after Dracula's arrival, they're too busy -- but does suggest that the vampires are having some kind of social problems. Dracula has to pull the vampirized Helen off her intended prey of Diana more than once. Diana a couple of times. This makes for a sensational, hissing entrance for Dracula at one point, but does lead one to wonder just how Dracula planned to keep Helen in line in the first place.

As in Hammer's predecessor, Horror of Dracula, Lee is very lively and dynamic as Dracula, leaping down a flight of stairs, violently struggling with Francis Matthews more than once, and meeting a strange, icy demise. He has no dialog -- there's some uncertainty as to why -- which makes him rather remote, but unlike Horror of Dracula, we know he's a supernatural menace from his first spooky shot. And dialog wouldn't enhance his scenes very much.

Actually, the only one in the movie with interesting dialog at all is Andrew Keir's shrewd Father Sandor (so say the credits -- he's called "Shandor" in the movie), a rifle-carrying outdoorsman of a monk. Keir is outstanding, brusque, efficient, intelligent; although all those traits apply equally well to his title role in Quatermass and the Pit, his other Hammer movie, Keir totally differentiates between the characters, and Sandor emerges as the hero of the piece.

If Dracula, Prince of Darkness isn't one of Hammer's very best films, it's at least among the top of the second rank. There's no wonder why this film helped revitalize Hammer, and why it led to even more Dracula sequels with Christopher Lee. For those who think the height of horror is, say, Child's Play 3, Dracula, Prince of Darkness may seem anemic, but there's room on the horror shelf for a wide variety of movies.

Hammer's Horror of Dracula was a major hit in 1958, but Lee evidently balked at playing the character again. So when 1966 came and Dracula, Prince of Darkness, starring Christopher Lee as the vampire Count, was released, fans the world over were tense with excitement -- could the film equal Horror of Dracula?

The answer was no. This disappointment caused the film to be undervalued for many years; only recently, with the revival of interest in Hammer Films, has Dracula, Prince of Darkness come to be seen as the well-made, exciting horror film it is.

The script, credited to John Sansom, was written by Jimmy Sangster (as "The Revenge of Dracula") in the late 1950s, but didn't get made until Hammer formed a partnership with Seven Arts Pictures for four movies. Just as Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile were made back to back, so were Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Rasputin, the Mad Monk. The script was altered somewhat by Anthony Hinds (who used the pseudonym "John Elder" on his Hammer scripts), so a combined, one-time-only alias was employed.

Terence Fisher returned as director, working in Techniscope, an anamorphic process. He and cinematographer Michael Reed turned out some of the most handsome work in Hammer's history, demonstrating a sure grasp of wide-screen photography.

The Anchor Bay DVD also includes some supplementary materials of varying interest. Audio Track 3 features running commentary by Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Suzan Farmer and Francis Matthews. It's clear the actors are very fond of one another (and that the last three tend to defer to Lee); while their chatter is very relaxed and warm (so much so you can actually hear them drinking their tea), it sometimes tends to be a little garbled.

However, it's also full of the kind of information that thrills fans, such as that whenever Barbara Shelley screams, it's Suzan Farmer we hear. Lee tends to ramble on, but to his credit he knows it, and audibly keeps trying to shut himself up, which will only endear him further to his millions of fans (and irritate the handful who don't like him).

The other side of the disc includes the usual theatrical trailers, and an unhelpful, thin episode of a British TV series about Hammer vampire movies. It's narrated by a bored-sounding Oliver Reed, skips over some of the Hammer vampires (like their later Karnstein series), and says very little about the clips they do show.

But also on side two are some home movies shot by Paul Shelley, Francis Matthews' brother, and this, too, has a commentary track by Lee, Shelley, Farmer and Matthews -- the latter being the only one to have seen this material before. The other three are clearly delighted, seeing long-ago friends and co-workers young and alive again. It's always been said that Hammer Studios had a very family-like atmosphere; this brief but quite wonderful footage is visible proof.

Well-made on a medium budget, Dracula, Prince of Darkness is an effective thriller; though slightly dated, anyone who enjoys horror films from the past is likely to have fun with this one.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
special features: some supplemental material
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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