Continuing on our recent Hammer-themed reviews we go back and look at the release by Studio Canal of the second Dracula film Christopher Lee starred in for the studio, Dracula Prince of Darkness.
It was in 1958 that the first Hammer Dracula film, called Horror of Dracula in the USA, was released with big box office returns and putting Hammer firmly on the map. There was a second vampire film Brides of Dracula which was made in 1960 but did not star Christopher Lee as the count but did have Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. In Prince of Darkness Christopher Lee returns as the title character but sadly Peter Cushing does not which does hamper the film in some ways. This is the official sequel as you have a brief recap of the finale of the first film at the start of this one, with a narration.
Four English tourists are holidaying in the Carpathians when they meet the unconventional Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) at an inn. He warns them to avoid the local castle if they value their lives, but the next day the quartet find themselves stranded in the mountains after their driver abandons them. When a driverless carriage arrives they board it, intending to travel to the nearest village. However, the carriage instead takes them to the very castle which Sandor warned them against, where they are welcomed by Klove (Philip Latham), the sinister manservant of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee).
While Cushing is missing Andrew Keir is excellent as Father Sandor, who belittles the local villagers for being stupid and superstitious but is still aware that there is an evil presence at the castle. Francis Matthews is one of the travellers (known to many as the voice of Captain Scarlet!) who along with Barabara Shelley, Suzan Farmer and Bud Tingwell happen to end up at the castle after a driver refuses to take them to the town of Karlsbad. After entering the seemingly empty castle they are greeted by a creepy manservant called Klove who is not all he seems.
Klove is in the most shocking scene in the film where someone is knocked out, hung upside down and has his throat slit so the blood can pour on Dracula’s ashes to revive him (the special effects in this scene are very good and still hold up to this day). While the film has some good tense moments it never quite lives up to what had happened before. The climax is a bit of a letdown and while all the cast does well, it is not a patch on the original classic. Christopher Lee was so appalled at the script that he refused to say any of the lines written for him and remains silent throughout the film (apart from hissing at his prey!). This has been disputed by the writer Jimmy Sangster who said no dialogue was written for Dracula in the first place, which may make sense as in the first film he says very little. Director Terence Fisher keeps things moving along briskly and the gothic locations look fabulous. The sexual overtones of the vampire attack are also taken a step further here with the scene in which the Count bares his chest, opens a vein and tries to get the hypnotised Diana towards him to drink his blood. It is still a good and very entertaining film and should be seen as a solid entry into the Hammer canon.
The Blu-ray released by Studio Canal in the UK has a good, warm and solid 1080p transfer, the detail is good and the image is very clean. Audio gives you a great PCM mono 2.0 track which is clear and precise. Extras are very good, you get a fantastic audio commentary with lead actors Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley. They really have some fun going into details about the production, the cast and so much more. You also get some 8mm behind-the-scenes footage shot by Francis Matthews brother, a newly shot retrospective documentary featuring film historians Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, actor, writer and genre devotee Mark Gatiss and others, a World of Hammer episode featuring Christopher Lee, A comparison piece about the restoration of the film as well as trailers. With this release, you also get a DVD copy of the film.
While not the best Hammer Dracula film it is still very enjoyable and the extras also make this disc a worthy purchase.
FILM – 7.5 PICTURE – 8 AUDIO – 8 EXTRAS – 8.5