Charles 'Bud' Tingwell
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Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
28th Dec 06
The infamous bloodsucker is back and ready to suck on four English travellers – two brothers and their wives - that are frankly begging to be just another Dracula statistic.
Unfortunately for the viewer, help comes in the shape of the bulky and antagonistic Father Sandor and soon a race is on to prevent old pointy teeth from sinking into the tender neck of drippy Diana Kent, whose husband is spookily called Charles!
In a marketplace saturated by needless sequels and prequels it still comes as a shock to realize that this is not actually a recent phenomena and that in fact dismal sequels and quick cash-ins have always had a place in film production house’s hearts. Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness is one such early template finding a desperate means in which to resurrect the main man after being polished off by Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing many years before, and then have him play support to a lot of daft characters who run around and do things that frankly only people with the I.Q. of the average Big Brother contestant would ever consider a sound idea.
The first proper sequel to Hammer’s huge hit called, um, Dracula aka The Horror of Dracula (1958) is also the first to see Christopher Lee return after seven years away from the role he feared would end up typecasting him. In the meantime the franchise was left to disciples of Dracula running amok in 1960’s The Brides of Dracula and a masked ball to offer up victims in 1963’s Kiss of the Vampire. Unfortunately for Lee, Dracula Prince of Darkness was one of the biggest hits of that year and did indeed consolidate his position in a role he was damned always to be remembered for, despite sterling work in the likes of The Wicker Man and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Perhaps it didn’t help matters for him that he played Dracula in nine movies including this one.
Mr. Lee apparently considered the dialogue he was presented within the script so appalling that he refused to speak the lines. Interestingly the scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster maintains that he never wrote any dialogue for the Count but then Christopher Lee seems to have made quite a habit of remembering things differently and also being quite vocal about them. Ironically his decision paid dividends making the Count a more sinister figure for NOT talking.
Directed by Terence Fisher, who had previously put Mr. Lee through his caped adventures with 1958’s Dracula the movie bares all the hallmarks of a Hammer production. For a start it is cheap with probably most of the sparse budget being used to tempt Mr. Lee to the role. Limited in sets, which in turn makes the movie feel limited in scope, Prince of Darkness in-fact used many of the same sets from Hammer’s other 1966 production Rasputin: The Mad Monk as well as many of the same cast. Also much of the start is made up of footage from the original’s climax which may serve as a nice reminder to audiences as to how things played out but feels like unnecessary padding for anyone not stupid enough to have forgotten.
As with the likes of the more modern Friday the 13th movies this Dracula sequel is reliant on characters being REALLY stupid and doing things that has the more discerning viewer screaming in disbelief at the screen and pulling their hair out in frustration. For starters our four English travellers are warned in no uncertain terms that they should not venture anywhere near Karlsbad. They do not listen. They still do not listen when their coach driver who tells them that with night falling he will take them no further refusing to look or acknowledge a castle nearby, a castle that is not shown on their map! They also fail to find it strange that he is SO insistent that he discontinues the journey that he forces them off at knifepoint, flings their baggage at them and then buggers off.
When another horse and carriage approaches without a driver the foursome do not question why and just take it and are then surprised when the horses pulling seem to have a destination of their own in mind. Why the travellers don’t just unfasten the horses when they are taken away from the direction they intend to go? Ah well, then we wouldn’t have our victims and an excuse for some sort of plot to continue.
More silliness follows the best of which comes from when Dracula’s servant Klove (who reminds very much of Riff-Raff in the later The Rocky Horror Picture Show), scares the Hell out of the girls and STILL they stay at the castle that EVERYONE has warned them about.
If that wasn’t damage enough to inflict on a saner horror fan then there are also the goofs! Look out for a very noticeable goof as Alan Clark is dangled above Dracula’s coffin and his blood spilt upon the ashes inside to resurrect the main man. In a longer shot it appears that the blood has stopped flowing only for the edit to cut back to the inside of the coffin and reveal that in fact there is still major spillage.
That said the scene, even with such a continuity glitch, is a welcome sight in an otherwise blood-free and clichéd picture coming in after nearly half the running time has expired. There is also some delight to be had in watching Father Sandor stake Helen, played by Hammer regular Barbara Shelley, in a scene which apparently once caused a bit of a fuss due to alleged sexual overtones.
The climax is all rather quick as Father Sandor fires at the thick ice surrounding the Count and indeed the whole second half of the movie feels a little rushed once the Count has been resurrected. Christopher Lee is reduced to a cameo appearance, all bloody contact lenses and hisses, but nonetheless effective for it. And given how Father Sandor (a grisly Andrew Keir, another Hammer regular) at first seems like some brainiac on TV’s Mastermind with the Count as his specialized subject, he conveniently makes mistakes and oversights for the sake of a frankly flimsy plot when it comes to how fly-eating Ludwig, very like Renfield in the original Bram Stoker material, may actually prove a weakness in his plans to keep Dracula away from Diana Kent.
Dodgy, shoddy but still compulsively watchable in a daft sort of way Dracula Prince of Darkness is a nice way to spend ninety minutes or so one Sunday afternoon but expect to feel cheapened and a little dirtied by the experience later.
There is the odd little bit of background information regarding the movie on the accompanying documentary The Many Faces of Christopher Lee as well as other Hammer fare such as Rasputin The Mad Monk and The Devil Rides Out. Lee has worked in a considerable body of work however the feature tends to touch upon some odd choices such as 1983’s The Return of Captain Invincible instead of the more worthy cuts.
Lee himself makes for a staid commentator on his own career often ripping the humour out of his own jokes and making the most interesting anecdote feel lifeless and redundant.
Versions The UK cinema and video versions were cut by around 20 secs by the BBFC with edits made to blood flows in the resurrection and staking scenes plus a shortening of the seduction sequence between Dracula and Diana. The DVD release is fully uncut.
The DVD version reviewed was taken from the Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set. See our earlier news story for full details of the 21 films included in the set.