Thursday, June 9, 2011
DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS
Terence Fisher, 1966
Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer
Technically the third film in the Hammer Dracula series, Prince of Darkness is actually the direct sequel to Horror of Dracula. It concerns two very English brothers and their wives on holiday in Europe. Even though they are warned by a local monk (the excellent and sometimes hilarious Andrew Keir), they accidentally arrive at Dracula’s castle. They find four table settings and two rooms prepared for their arrival, but only an eccentric butler who tells them his master is dead. Queue scary music. Of course, their host is Dracula and the faithful butler (where the hell did he come from?) resurrects him by cutting the throat of the more boring, less attractive brother and leading his wife (Barbara Shelley) right to Dracula’s embrace. The other couple, who are mysteriously safe during the night, escape with their lives, but unfortunately Diana (the beautiful Suzan Farmer) is Dracula’s new obsession. He follows them to the monastery where Diana’a husband and the monk must race time and the powers of darkness to save her immortal soul and nubile flesh.
Though this is another solid entry in the series, you can see it beginning to go downhill. Christopher Lee is always fantastic as Dracula, but only appears halfway through the film and gives a silent performance. Apparently his lines were so terrible that he refused to say any of them. The set and costumes are gorgeous, as usual, and the acting is tight, but there are obvious acts of desperation on the part of the writer (the great Jimmy Sangster, who wrote many Hammer films and directed a few). Where did the butler come from? Why is there a Renfield stand-in named Ludwig? And where, oh where, is the beloved Peter Cushing?
Getting this film on DVD is unfortunately tricky or would be without the cunning use of the internet. The US two-disc Anchor Bay version, which I am reviewing, is sadly out of print, as is the US Anchor Bay double DVD, which bafflingly comes with The Satanic Rites of Dracula. It is available in some Region two and four editions and in the UK and Japanese Hammer box sets. I highly recommend the Anchor Bay two-disc, which is double-sided and comes with a smattering of extras, including some trailers. Many Anchor Bay releases come with relevant episodes of the World of Hammer documentary series and this includes “Dracula and the Undead.” I was expecting a lot from this episode, but it only shows clips from various Dracula and vampire films with Oliver Reed narrating the transitions. The best extra is a behind the scenes home-video shot by the brother of actor Francis Matthews. It is only a five-minutes glimpse of a day on the set, but someone had the foresight to get commentary from a few of the actors. Christopher Lee’s booming voice dominates and he even gets out a few jokes.