Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

dracula prince of darkness blackbox 13
Bloodthirsty vampire lives again! Film at eleven…

“DEAD for Ten Years DRACULA, Prince of Darkness, LIVES AGAIN!”

Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Andrew Keir and Barbara Shelley

Dracula was dead, to begin with…

After a brief recap of the end of the Hammer interpretation of Dracula (1958) we see a traditional Transylvanian funeral, but the attempt to stake the deceased is interrupted by Father Sandor, Battle Abbot! (Andrew Keir playing a monk, on a horse, with a rifle, fuck yeah!)

Fresh from that triumph, Father Sandor runs into four nice English tourists in the pub and talks a lot about his arse (seriously; man loves warming his backside by the fire and he don’t care who knows it.) He warns the four Kents – bon vivant Charles and his stolid brother Alan, and their wives (who might also be sisters) the plucky Diana and very proper Helen – not to go to Karlsbad. They ignore him, because the guidebook disagrees with him – and if you can’t trust Beidecker, who can you trust? – and wind up in a castle, and in some cases exsanguinated.

Alan is killed to resurrect Dracula, who chomps on Helen and then comes after Diana. Charles and Diana flee to the monastery, Diana is grabbed and Charles and Father Sandor give chase, eventually trapping Dracula on the moat of his castle and dropping him through the frozen surface into running water, ending his evil once and for all*.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a Hammer horror film, and in many ways the ur-Hammer vampire film. It has a tavern full of West Country yokels, a quartet of dim English tourists, and plenty of Kensington gore.

Christopher Lee is as menacing as always, but criminally underused, having not a single line in the entire movie. According to Lee, this is because he refused to speak the lines that were written, while the writer, Jimmy Sangster (Inside Hammer, 2001), insists that he never wrote any, because ‘vampires don’t chat.’

There is very little new in the film, despite it being a very early entry in the Hammer series, being essentially a retread of the Dracula story but without even getting as far as London. The four tourists are almost criminally dim, especially Alan Kent, whose death seems almost earned.

What’s right with it?

Andrew Keir as Father Sandor and Philip Latham as Dracula’s butler, Klove, are awesome. Keir makes a great battle priest (who loves wamr butts and he cannot lie), and Latham is wonderfully cadaverous (he brought the same sepulchral quality to Lord President Barusa in The Five Doctors).

As an early film, it is at least fairly decorous; the cleavage is under control and the neck nibbling is very discreet. The makers also cared enough to have some proper ritual for the resurrection, rather than just someone getting a paper cut near to his ashes.

The film is actually pretty good for tension in the middle sections, and the FX excellent for 1966.

How bad is it really?

Dracula: Prince of Darkness really isn’t all that bad.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Serving dinner to the hapless travelers, Klove explains that there is no current Count Dracula:

“My master died without issue… in the accepted sense of the term.”

What’s up with…?

  • The least secret passage in the history of passage secretion? Everyone notices the hanging waving in the breeze. Of course, that could be a deliberate trap.
  • The bride scorning? Why does Dracula only want the girls he can’t have?
  • All the monks being called ‘father’? Are they all ordained priests?

Ratings

Production values – Not bad for the time. The Technicolor blood is as always oddly opaque, but it’s a minor quibble. The make-up effects, especially on cadaverousDracula are splendid. 3
Dialogue and performances –  The film suffers somewhat from the start of Hammer’s convention of casting professional rustics as Transylvanian peasants, compete with stage yokel accents. The leads are solid enough, but the dialogue is rarely more than workmanlike. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is fine, as it goes, but suffers from being similar in most of its essentials to the original Dracula (the novel even more than the film). 10
Randomness – The film throws in running water as a new – and eventually terminal – weakness, but otherwise plays it straight down the line. 5
Waste of potential – Along with Dracula and the fairly different Brides of Dracula, this is one of the classics of Hammer’s series. 4

Overall 34%

* Evil can rise as well as fall.

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