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Dracula: Prince of Darkness

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Warner Bros.
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Directed by: 
Terrence Fisher
Christopher Lee
Barbara Shelly
Andrew Keir
Francis Matthews
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A decade after Count Dracula was destroyed in his castle by vampire hunter Van Helsing, the superstitious residents of the nearby village of Calsted still live in fear of his evil legacy -- much to the dismay of Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) of the neighbouring monastery, and the bewilderment of a small group of tourists who stop off at the local inn for refreshment, only to be met with hostility from its taciturn inhabitants. After being abandoned by a scared coachman (who refuses to travel after dark) the confused tourist party (two brothers, Charles and Alan Kent, and their respective brides Diana and Helen) look like they will be forced to spend the night in the small, deserted cabin they stumble upon in the woods; when a driver-less coach and horses appears, as if from nowhere, the party is too relived to ask too many awkward questions, and they all gratefully pile on board ... only to find that they have no means of controlling their steeds -- who relentlessly carry them ever onward toward castle Dracula!

Upon arrival, Helen (Barbara Shelly) has a strange sensation of foreboding telling her they should leave immediately; but, hungry and tired, the rest of the group ignore her and decide to stay the night at the castle. They find that a table has been laid for four and a meal is ready and waiting for them, courtesy of the castle's keeper, Clove (Philip Latham) -- servant to Count Dracula! Clove tells the party that his master has requested that while he is "away", the castle be kept in a permanent state of readiness for any passing travelers. The real reason for this becomes apparent later that night when Alan Kent (Charles Tingwell) is murdered by Clove and his body strung up over the ashes of Count Dracula. In a scene that was considered rather gory for 1966, Clove slits open Kent's body and his blood mixes with Dracula's ashes, leading to the evil one's reconstitution. Helen provides the Count with his first meal and quickly becomes one of his most alluring undead disciples!

The next morning Charles (Francis Matthews) and Diana (Suzan Farmer) hunt for their two companions and hang around long enough to have several run-ins with the Count and his new female servant. They escape to the monastery where father Sandor informs them of the legacy of Dracula, assuring them that they are perfectly safe while they remain there, since a vampire cannot cross a threshold unless invited to do so by someone on the inside. But Dracula is determined to make Diana his next victim, and proves to have several cards up his sleeve that Sandor had not anticipated...

Although Hammer productions followed up "The Horror Of Dracula" (1958) with several successful vampire-based sequels ("Brides Of Dracula" [1960], "Kiss Of The Vampire" [1964]), neither featured the character of Dracula and neither starred Christopher Lee. Therefore, "Dracula: Prince Of Darkness" felt like the first true sequel to the original 1958 film, since it saw Christopher Lee finally return to the title role with Terence Fisher directing one again. James Bernard's original theme is reworked as part of the score, providing a clear link with the previous film. Once again, Jimmy Sangster and Anthony Hinds' script takes elements from Bram Stoker's novel and works them into a more simplified story, but, this time, the method doesn't work quite as successfully as it did in the previous film; already, Hammer were struggling to find decent motivation for the Dracula character, with Lee only appearing in a few short set-pieces dotted throughout the film's eighty-six minutes. He doesn't even get to speak any dialogue (apparently because the lines that were written for him were so bad that Lee refused to speak them) and, after taking an age to introduce Dracula into the film, the screenplay seems at a loss to know what to do with him: the story reduces to having him pursue Suzan Farmer's character after she eludes him on their first encounter.

Despite the drawbacks, the film largely succeeds on the strength of some fine performances: particularly, of course, from Lee, who makes the most of his limited screen time to give a performance that highlights the character's hypnotic animal sexuality to the utmost. Barbara Shelly is also a delight -- her transformation from the frigid Helen Kent to Dracula's voluptuous vampire slave is one of the most memorable things about the movie. Significantly, Fisher's direction always seems to spark into life whenever Lee and Shelly are on screen, lapsing almost into a workmanlike groove much of the rest of the time. The standout scenes are: Charles' and Diana's first encounter with Dracula and an undead Helen; Helen's gruesome "staking" at the hands of Charles and Sandor; and Dracula's sexualised hypnotising of Diana. Anthony Keir makes quite a good stand-in for Van Helsing and has enough presence to make us stop regretting the absence of Peter Cushing, while Suzan Farmer is the quintessential virginal innocent, whom the dark lord just can't wait to corrupt.

This out of print Warner UK disc of "Dracula: Prince Of Darkness" is a rather lacklustre affair, with no extras provided and an adequate, but unspectacular non-anamorphic transfer. The film itself is still a great offering from the Hammer team but the cracks in the formula were beginning to show. Thankfully, the combined talent of those involved means it still stands up fairly well over forty years later.


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