Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

 Opinion & writing by Tony Frame. 

FILM ⭐⭐ DVD TRANSFER ⭐⭐⭐

This is one of the few Dracula films that I do not have any recollection of at all, which is unusual for me as I thought I had seen all of Christopher Lee’s outings as Dracula. Suffice to say, this probably made it more of a treat for me to watch, being that I was seeing it for the first time.

From the outset we are given a flashback sequence of Dracula (1958), showing the Count’s demise, as Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) keeps him at bay by holding two candlestick holders to form a cross. Sunlight beams in from the dining hall window and subsequently burns the Prince of darkness into a crispy pile of ash.

IMAGES COURTESY OF IMDB

Now, ten years later, we are back in the Carpathian mountains with a wise and hard-headed priest who encounters some English tourists, whom he forebodes to stay away from the seemingly abandoned castle Dracula nearby.

The priest is played by none other than veteran actor Andrew Keir, who is probably more well known for his role as Bernard Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit.

IMAGES COURTESY OF IMDB

Of course, as is the case in classic horror films, logic and reason goes out the window and the tourists end up staying the night in castle Dracula, which is run by one of late Count’s sinister looking servants.

The film takes a while to get started and when it does you can’t help but feel that each scene is telegraphing the next scene before it happens. It fails to live up to the pace and atmosphere of the previous film, despite good support from the cast which includes Hammer regular Barbara Shelley.

The film also suffers from unconvincing day-for-night shots which ruins the Gothic setting that was dominant in the first film.

Whilst it’s easy to point this problem out, shooting on film at night — with a tight budget back in 1966 — is no mean feat and certainly the film-makers may not have had the budget to afford the adequate lenses or lights to do such a task.

IMAGES COURTESY OF IMDB

Lee’s screen-time is also lacking in the film and one could argue that his role is a cameo at best. Keir’s presence certainly fills the gap that was left from Peter Cushing being absent this time around, but ultimately it is the writing that lets the film down. It’s not so much the dialogue but the character motivations and plot which ruin its potential.

Despite all these misgivings, Hammer Horror fans will still probably enjoy the film, I know I certainly did. There are a couple of good moments to take from it as well: there is a particularly gruesome death scene with one of the characters having their body hung upside down before their throat is slit, and the blood spills into Dracula’s tomb which resurrects the Prince of darkness once again.

The DVD transfer and restoration is excellent and certainly adds to the viewing pleasure showcasing the detailed sets and costumes which have always been one of Hammer’s strong points.

It is certainly not director Terence Fisher’s strongest film, nor is it Hammer’s best Dracula movie by a long shot, but it does fill the gap for fans of the original film who were waiting for a sequel back then.

And what a time it would have been to have seen it in London, in 1966, when it was released as a double-bill with Hammer’s other feature Plague of the Zombies.

Director: Terence Fisher
Writers: Jimmy Sangster (screenplay) (as John Sansom), Anthony Hinds (from an idea by) (as John Elder) | 1 more credit »
Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir | See full cast & crew »

Authors note: Bear in mind the above review, and the negative aspects I highlight, is not relative to the film when it was first released. I am a horror-film-viewing veteran of the 21st century reviewing a film that is 53 years old.

Audiences weren’t as seasoned then as they are now. So its originality and violence (which is still brutal by today’s standards) would have been highly regarded for its time.

Whilst the plot and scares may seem telegraphed nowadays, back in 1966 they would have been less predictable.

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