Posts Tagged ‘Dracula Prince of Darkness’

Well, folks, good news and bad news to report. The good news is that Thunderball was on yesterday afternoon, and I have successfully resisted the urge to write a single word about it (except to say that… no. Resist), although some might say the Bond-related content on this blog is far too skewed towards Roger Moore and a dash of the Milkman is desperately needed. The bad news is that, for various financial reasons, I didn’t see the preview of Let Me In after all (I had a choice of going to that or the kick-off meeting of the Oxford NaNoWriMo group), so my thoughts on that are going to have to wait for a bit.
The NaNoWriMo meeting was fun and motivating, anyway, and it looks like there will be some wargaming this week should anybody still be interested in that. Did some browsing in Waterstones – they seem to be doing a special currently on the 1001 X You Must Y series. As the front coverof 1001 Movies You Must See was a still from Avatar, any faith I had in its authority vanished almost at once.

Probably not appearing in 1001 Movies You Must See is Dracula – Prince of Darkness, a 1966 movie which I’d like to write a bit about for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, it’s vaguely appropriate given today’s Halloween. Secondly, it’s a Hammer production from the studio’s golden age, and given the company’s sort-of resurrection is upon us it seems appropriate to refresh our memories of what it used to be about.

This was Hammer’s second proper Dracula movie (i.e. the big D’s actually in it) and opens with a recap of the first’s climax, wherein the Lord of the Undead (Christopher Lee, of course) is blasted into ashes by Dr van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Ten years later, the simple villagers of the Carpathians are still dwelling in the shadow of the vampire, despite the best efforts of local abbot Sandor (Andrew Keir) to persuade them it’s all over. Oblivious to all this are the Kents, two English tourists and their wives who are touring the district. Before you know it, they’re ignoring every piece of advice they’ve been given and are spending the night at Castle Dracula. This would be fine were it not for the fact that Dracula’s devoted butler Klove (a deadpan performance by Philip Latham) has spent the intervening time collecting together all the little ashy bits, and is only awaiting a good old splash of the red stuff to trigger his master’s resurrection.

Of course, all this takes quite a while, and it’s nearly halfway through before the title character puts in an appearance. Christopher Lee gets rather less screen time than most of his co-stars and remains mute throughout (the reasons for this are disputed). As such one can’t help but think that the movie isn’t making the best use of its greatest asset. He retains a massive presence whenever he appears, but it’s an unrefined and unfocussed presence: all power, no finesse.

And if you have Christopher Lee playing your bad guy, then there’s really only one man up to the task of playing your hero – and unfortunately he was off making Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 when this film was in production. Any Cushing-Lee movie, even one of the low budget foreign ones, has a special kind of magic to it that their solo outings always struggle to match, and this occasion is no exception.

Things aren’t really helped by a script which, while always strong on atmosphere, faffs around a lot even after Dracula’s resurrection. It picks up once the action leaves the castle and the surviving Kents take refuge within Sandor’s monastery, but we’re into the final act by this point. That’s not to say that this movie is bad by any means – Andrew Keir is the next best thing to Cushing any way you cut it, and can effortlessly carry the exposition in this kind of film. There’s also a rather good performance by Barbara Shelley, who goes from repressed and chilly housewife to lascivious predator as the film progresses. Thorley Walters plays the Hammer version of Renfield, and is memorable in a small part. (Keir aside, all the good guys in this film are a bit bland and forgettable. The bad guys are much more fun.)

Andrew Keir and Barbara Shelley prepare to get all Freudian.

I’ve said before that it sometimes feels as if I’ve been watching this movie on a loop ever since 1987. I certainly don’t feel that’s been any great loss, even if this is one of those weird instances of a film being a classic (and if Dracula – Prince of Darkness isn’t classic Hammer horror, I don’t know what is) without necessarily being especially accomplished. If nothing else, it’s better than every Dracula film Hammer made afterwards, even the ones with Peter Cushing in them, so it must be doing something right.

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