This week’s Halloween Countdown Review features our seemingly obligatory Hammer picture, and perhaps the studio’s most memorable Dracula title. This 1966 film is the second sequel to Horror of Dracula/Dracula, and the first to resurrect the Count himself.1 It should not be confused with the similarly-named 2013 film, Dracula: The Dark Prince….
…or with Dracula, Prints of Darkness, in which the Count becomes infuriated when he learns that the pics he took with his old Nikon were exposed to light before development, and… Hey! Stop throwing plastic fangs at me!
Title: Dracula: Prince of Darkness
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Director: Terrence Fisher
Written by Jimmy Sangster from an idea by Anthony Hinds using characters created by Bram Stoker
Christopher Lee as Dracula
Barbara Shelley as Helen
Andrew Keir as Father Sandor
Francis Matthews as Charles
Suzan Farmer as Diana
Philip Latham as Klove
Charles “Bud” Tingwell as Alan
Thorley Walters as Ludwig
Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing
Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.
Available on Blu-Ray
Two couples touring Europe find themselves abandoned near an old castle where a sinister man guards a secret: the remains of his master, whom he hopes to resurrect.
Instead of Van Helsing (who appears briefly, in an archival flashback) we get Andrew Keir as Father Sandor, and he’s frankly more entertaining, a no-nonsense, vampire-slaying holy man.
Even for the era, the build-up takes a long time, longer than needed, with less atmospheric effect or tension than such a long build-up requires to justify itself, when it’s long.
Originality: 2/6 Except for the choice to have an unspeaking Dracula, this film isn’t especially original, and features nearly every expected Gothic vampire trope. In fact, if you were the sort who would play a “Gothic Vampire Trope Drinking Game,” this would be a pretty good movie to use.
Effects: 4/6 Low-budget horror from the 1960s: wisely, it avoids overt effects. Dracula’s resurrection features some nice touches.
Story: 4/6 The film runs ninety minutes; its story could be more effectively told in sixty.
Acting: 4/6 The acting tends towards the theatrical and histrionic, but it suits the genre, somewhat. Making amends are Keir as the entertaining, strong-willed vampire hunter and Lee as the hypnotic Prince of Darkness.
Conflicting statements have been made about Lee’s lack of dialogue. Some people connected to the production claim it was a deliberate choice, while others say it stemmed from Lee’s disappointment with the script. In the end, what matter is what appears onscreen. Some viewers won’t like this snarling, hissing vampire, but the concept works, and makes this Lee performance unique. He conveys a remarkable sense of menace and animal intellect without uttering a word.
Production: 5/6 Hammer worked with limited budgets. Black Park Lake once again stands in as the forests of Eastern Europe, while the castle set was used for both this production and Rasputin: The Mad Monk, shot the same year with some of the same cast. They get points for using their limited resources effectively.
Emotional Response: 4/6 You might be entertained by this film; you may even feel suspense. People who recoil at the sight of blood may do so when a throat gets slit. I doubt anyone over ten will be particularly frightened.
Overall: 4/6 In many ways, the comparative lack of originality is the appeal of the film now. It’s an entirely typical example of the mid-60s vampire film, before things got bloodier, sexier, and expressly occult-oriented (and, later still, sparklier, sexier, and expressly romance-oriented). If you want to see a Hammer vampire from the first half of the studio’s run, you should consider this film.
In total, Dracula: Prince of Darkness receives 27/42
Notes and Trivia
1. The film takes place ten years after Dracula’s death, and after The Brides of Dracula, during which the Count remains dead. The next three films would be set in the twentieth century, but it’s the early twentieth century. The final two Hammer Dracula films with Lee take place in the 1970s (John Forbes-Robertson plays Dracula in the series’ final film). Lee also plays the lead role in Count Dracula (1970), a non-Hammer production that tries (with limited success) to remain faithful to Stoker’s novel, and which we should probably review some October.
In the real world of 1966, we’re at the end of an era of William Castle-inspired horror movie gimmicks and, in some markets, audiences for this film received plastic fangs.
Halloween Countdown 2015
Oct 17: Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966)
Podcast: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1970)
Oct. 24: Crimson Peak (2015)
Podcast: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Babadook (2014)
Podcast: Event Horizon (1997)