Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Dracula Prince of Darkness

Despite the success of Dracula in 1958, Hammer's first direct sequel arrived belatedly in 1966. The studio had plans to make the sequel much sooner - Jimmy Sangster's screenplay, The Revenge of Dracula was drafted in 1958 but it proved unsatisfactory and the proposed film was put on hold. Following The Brides of Dracula, Sangster defected to Hammer's thriller division penning screenplays for A Taste of Fear, Paranoiac and The Nanny before returning to the Gothic fold under the pen name John Sansom with Dracula Prince of Darkness


Some 10 years have passed since Dracula's demise at the hands of Van Helsing. Two English couples holidaying in Germany are lured to Castle Dracula, now empty except for Ludwig, the sinister servant of the Count, who offers the unwitting couples the use of the castle. Later that night, Ludwig slits the throat of one of the men, mixing his blood with the ashes of Dracula, bringing his master back to life once again... So good was the original Dracula that any sequel would have its work cut out, and for the most part Prince of Darkness is a worthy follow up, despite some nagging flaws. A tall and regal Christopher Lee dons the cape once again and receives top billing but this time is afforded no lines whatsoever, supposedly because Lee found the dialogue so unutterable that he refused to speak it. Not so, as Sangster was firm in his belief that the Count was not one for chit-chat and the character remained silent. Terence Fisher was once again calling the shots (this his last Dracula picture), and for the first 40min or so the pace is leisurely, as preparations are made for Dracula's second coming. However once Dracula makes his entrance, Fisher returns to the furious pace of the original film for the exciting third act where the Count preys upon a monastery, headed up by Andrew Keir's wonderful cantankerous vampire-slaying abbot.


By 1965 Hammer had significantly stepped up production and there was a definite stretching of time and resources. Hammer was shooting films back to back, reusing sets and actors, and occasionally the studio's thrifty budgeting is evident in Prince of Darkness. Visually, the film has a certain drabness, the garish look of the original film is very much dampened down here, but in it's favor Fisher shot the film in 'scope1, the widescreen compositions giving the film a sense of space and breadth beyond it's budget. Undoubtedly the highlight of the film is Dracula's resurrection scene and the shot of actor Charles Tingwell hanging upside and bled like livestock, is still a powerful moment of Hammer sadism. One can imagine a young Clive Barker filing this regeneration sequence away for Hellraiser 20 years years later. The screenplay includes two ideas taken from the novel - a scene where Dracula makes an incision on his chest to allow Barbara Shelley to drink from, as well as a fly-eating Renfield stand-in who comes under the spell of the Count. Sangster's writing is good but it's a shame that Dracula, a creature whose reach can extend beyond the grave is so easily cornered and finished off in the climax.


Optimum's DVD of Dracula Prince of Darkness is one of the best discs in the boxset, featuring a solid 2.35 anamorphic transfer which sports good colors and a sharp detailed image which is a little grainy in places. The print is mostly in fine shape except for a very small bit of debris seen in the upper part of the image, which lasts about a minute. The mono soundtrack is good if unremarkable. Sadly, the superb extras from the US Anchor Bay disc - a commentary track, some 8mm footage shot on set and the 30 min World of Hammer episode, Dracula and the Undead have not been ported over but in its place is the most substantial extra included in the Optimum boxset, the 57-min 1996 documentary The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, in which the actor takes an affectionate stroll some of his most famous roles.

------------
Notes
------------
1. That the film was shot in widescreen posed a problem for the studio when the climax of Dracula was reprised at the beginning of Prince of Darkness. Because the original film was shot in a much tighter ratio, Hammer framed the sequence with a dreamy aura, filling in the edges of the screen with what looks like swirling Guinness. Pure genius.

6 comments:

  1. Great review Wes, I'd go a little further than the first half being leisurely, I find it dull, it does however pick up significantly in the second, at least until the underwhelming ending. Really enjoying this series.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for that Mart...as with the Video Nasties series, as soon as I kicked off the Hammer series I was worried it was a bad idea and no one would be interested. I guess we'll see how it goes !

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice series of Hammer write ups, Wes! I felt the same way you did, but it seems people never tire of reading opinions of Hammer Films. The 20 Best Hammer Horror Films post I did in August of 2009 has never left the top ten and only a few times has it strayed a few steps down from the #1 spot! I'm honestly tired of looking at it up there all this time, lol, and wish something would come along and topple it!:D

    This DVD for PRINCE OF DARKNESS has at least one major edge over the US Anchor Bay DVD and that is the UK disc is anamorphic. I had actually flirted with purchasing this box, but I have so many of the movies already.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Many thanks for the kind word Brian. I was just looking thru your Top 20 and it's fantastic, beautifully written, and a brilliant primer for anyone looking to get into Hammer. Readers should head over to Brian's excellent blog and check out his list of favourite Hammer films...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you as well, Wes, for the considerate remarks. I just did manage to get it knocked out of the top spot and now you're going to possibly put it back up there, lol!:D

    There's also an 11 worst Hammer's list, too, if you're interested. I still haven't gotten round to watching TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, which I suspect would find a home on a 'worst of' list from what I've seen although Lee seems to be right evil in it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I first saw this one on late night TV here when the CBS network aired it on their Late Show one night. I was very young - the movie would certainly have been not more than 7 years old - and I drifted through sleep during parts but vividly remember seeing the ending. I have of course managed to see the movie a couple of times since - and it is in the video vault on that Anchor Bay disc. I like the movie - I like Lee in the role, even if he doesn't speak! I have to get around to listening to that commentary one of these days!

    ReplyDelete