Prince of Darkness was the first horror film (excluding
the likes of King Kong) that I ever saw –
a pivotal life experience that means that I would always have
a soft spot for this film. But I’ve long-since given up
watching films through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia
– so if I say that this film remains one of Hammer’s
greatest, you should believe me!
The first ‘proper’ sequel to 1958’s Dracula
(after the Dracula-free Brides
of Dracula), this 1965 movie is in many ways the
archetypal Hammer Dracula. It has a simple yet iconic story
(one so effective that a decade later, it was effectively rewritten
for Hammer’s spoken word Dracula LP),
with four English travellers – Charles Kent (Francis Matthews),
his wife Diana (Suzan Farmer), brother Alan (Charles Tingwell)
and sister-in-law Helen (Barbara Shelley) travelling across
the Carpathian woods and ignoring the advice of Father Sandor
(Andrew Keir) to avoid Carlsbad. Abandoned by a coachman in
the middle of nowhere as night falls, they are picked up by
a driverless coach and taken to a mysterious castle that no
one will acknowledge the existence of. There, they are greeted
by servant Klove, who informs them that his master, Count Dracula,
is dead, but has left instructions for entertaining any visitors.
All this seems too good to be true – especially to suspicious
and fearful Helen – and indeed it is, as Alan is quickly
killed off (in a still gruesome scene), his life-blood used
to resurrect Dracula (Christopher Lee). Helen is quickly seduced
and vampirised by the Count, and Charles and Diana only just
make their escape. Rescued by Sandor, they quickly realise that
they have to destroy Dracula – and Helen – before
they themselves are made victims.
the film again for the first time in several years, a number
of things struck me about Dracula Prince of Darkness.
It’s impressive just how handsomely mounted Hammer films
of the time were, and few more so that this – the sets
are epic in scale, far in excess of what you would expect from
a relatively low budget film. There are plenty of moments here
that would become standard Dracula tropes – the sinisterly
perverted slicing open of Dracula’s chest to allow a victim
to drink his blood being the most significant – and the
portrayal of the Count is impressively feral. In a world of
romanticised, emo vampires, Lee’s dialogue-free, hissing,
red-eyed monster is a timely reminder that vampires can be genuinely
dangerous, scary and inhuman.
As you would expect, the performances are all spot-on and straight-faced,
Terence Fisher’s direction is efficient without being
flashy, and the story builds nicely. Lee doesn’t even
appear in the first 48 minutes, but his presence is everywhere,
and the story has a steady progression until the action-packed
second half. It’s to the film’s credit that assorted
plot anomalies can be easily ignored, and the finale –
a potentially weak way to kill off Dracula that I won’t
mention – is dramatic and exciting.
There are faults – a couple of brief moments slip uncomfortably
into high camp – but they are minor, and certainly not
a problem for the film, which is a classic slice of Hammer gothic.
Studiocanal’s much anticipated restoration doesn’t
disappoint. Restored from the negative, the film looks incredible,
with vivid colours almost bleeding off the screen, and this
is the fully restored, uncut version – complete with original
British opening titles (the US variant is included as an extra).
As well as a new, entertaining 30 minute documentary, the disc
thankfully includes the extras from Anchor Bay’s edition,
previously missing from UK DVDs – a commentary track from
Lee, Farmer, Matthews and Shelley, Matthews’ 8mm home
movies of behind-the-scenes footage, trailers and a World
of Hammer episode. A suitably impressive selection
of supplements for an essential film.
IT NOW (UK)
Prince of Darkness gallery