Posts Tagged ‘Dracula’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 13th 2004:

Hello again, everyone – and here we are once more at the start of blockbuster season, a part of the cinemagoing calendar with pleasures and pains all is own. First off the blocks this year is popcorn auteur Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing – but then again you probably knew that already, given the saturation-level publicity it’s been given (the theatrical trailer alone seems to have been on nearly as often as the ‘Hurt me Gunter! Make me bleed!’ one).

Very much in the tradition of Sommers’ mega-grossing Mummy movies, Van Helsing kicks off with a loving pastiche of the Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s, depicting the terrible success of the unholy experiments of Dr Frankenstein (Sam West doing a pretty fair Colin Clive impersonation), and the sacking of his castle by the traditional mob of revolting peasants. But hang on! Who’s this lurking unexpectedly on the scene? Blow me if it isn’t Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, in a hairstyle and costume that unaccountably reminded me of Ricky Gervais in his New Romantic incarnation). Having backed Frankenstein’s experiments for reasons of his own, the Count now wants the Monster (Shuler Hensley)…

Fast forward one year and we get to meet our eponymous hero, played (rather well) by Hugh Jackman of X-Men fame. He’s a sort of extreme-prejudice exorcist for the Vatican, tracking down creatures of the night and giving them a good slap, armed only with crossbow, stakes, circular-saw-thingy, shampoo and curling tongs. For his latest mission he and his comedy sidekick Karl (The Lord of the Rings‘ David Wenham, doing exactly what the part calls for) are packed off to Transylvania to aid tight-trousered Gypsy princess Kate Beckinsale in her struggle against Dracula and his evil female minions (no, not the Cheeky Girls). But just what is Dracula up to? And how is it connected with Van Helsing’s own mysterious past?

Naturally, this milieu and these characters come with a considerable history of which Sommers seems reasonably aware. It’s quite well known that after the death of Bram Stoker (creator of Dracula and Van Helsing), his widow successfully sued the makers of the 1922 film Nosferatu for plagiarism and got nearly every print destroyed, on the grounds that it was an unlicensed rip-off with Stoker going uncredited. Well, Stoker isn’t credited on this movie either (certainly not prominently – and neither are Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson or Curt Siodmak, for that matter), but the studio needn’t worry as their film bears roughly zero resemblence to the original novel.

Obviously not keen on contending with fond memories of Lugosi, Karloff, Cushing, and so on, Sommers has crafted this tale as a camp, tongue-in-cheek, steampunk swashbuckler, which puts simply being outrageously entertaining ahead of making too much sense. The prologue aside, it doesn’t resemble the horror films of Universal or Hammer very much – although in some ways it is very similar indeed to Roman Polanski’s marvellous Dance of the Vampires, even down to stealing a few visual flourishes.

It’s also operating in narrative territory perilously close to last year’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, sharing several characters, the same actor in the villain’s role, and a virtually identical action sequence. (I suppose it also has quite a lot in common with Beckinsale’s last big movie, Underworld, too.) But this is by far a better treatment of this sort of material – winningly played, energetic enough to cover the holes in the plot, and very inventive – Sommers even crowbars in a Bond spoof without utterly destroying the credibility of the movie.

Admittedly, after an irresistible first half hour or so, the pace flags, and the way the film lunges from one headbangingly overblown CGI set piece to another gets a bit wearying before the end. (The special effects range from the impressive to the rather ropy.) It’s too long, and the final scene will doubtless be too appallingly schmaltzy by far for many tastes. But it’s wittily played by Beckinsale and the Australians (coincidence though it doubtless is, the fact that we can now have a blockbuster where 75% of the leads are Aussies shows just how much muscle the Antipodes now wields in the movie business), and skilfully put together by Sommers. It’s not deep. It’s not thoughtful. It has no aspirations towards seriousness or genuine art. But it’s a lot better than it looks on paper: I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. A good omen for the summer.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published December 16th 2004:

Sometimes it seems you can’t keep a dead man down. David Goyer’s Blade: Trinity is the second film this year to feature Dracula as its main villain (the other, of course, was the rather overwrought CGI-fest Van Helsing). This time around he’s played by Eric Cantona lookee-likee Dominic Purcell – people seem terribly keen to bring the Count back, only to completely reimagine his image and demeanour. Very strange…

Rather cutely, in Goyer’s film Drac has been hiding out in Iraq, from whence he is extracted by a posse of vampires led by Parker Posey (who seems less keen on drinking blood than chewing up the scenery), as part of their scheme to bring about the ultimate vampiric domination of the world. The exact details of this scheme are a bit vague, but less so is their plan to sort out their dhampiric nemesis Blade (Wesley Snipes) by framing him for a series of murders he… well, he actually has been committing in the course of the previous two movies. Sure enough Blade is apprehended by the FBI and seems destined for a long spell in a rubber cell.

But help is at hand in the form of younger and chattier vampire-slayers Abigail (Jessica Biel), who’s the Buffy-clone daughter of Blade’s mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds). They also have a scheme: theirs is to rid the world of vampires forever, and it’s a bit less vague than the bad guys’. And so the stage is set for the ultimate undead rumble: Blade vs Dracula!

Okay, this may sound a rather goofy premise given the Blade series’ gritty track record but in a strange way it does go back to Blade’s earliest roots, as a supporting character in the Marvel comic Tomb of Dracula. (Sadly, Snipes does not sport the bubble-afro hairdo Blade was fond of back in the early 70s.) And one of the distinctive things about Blade: Trinity is that it is rather more comic-bookish in tone than the first two films – partly this is down to the presence of comic-book characters like King, but it’s also there in the tone of the plot and many of the action sequences.

This is hardly surprising given that, in addition to being one of Hollywood’s preferred writers of superhero movies, David Goyer writes very good comic books himself. But what is a bit unexpected is the way he falls victim to a syndrome quite common to graphic writers writing film scripts: this movie is packed with interesting ideas, but none of them are really properly developed before being abandoned in favour of something new. And he commits the basic error of focussing on new characters rather than the established stars: Snipes’ rumoured gripes about lack of screen time are arguably justified – Abigail and King get a lot of attention and most of the best lines.

But having said that, there are a lot of nice scenes and memorable moments – my favourite being the point where Dracula goes into a specialist horror store and, understandably aghast at seeing all the crappy merchandise with his name on it, slaughters everyone inside. And Snipes gives arguably his best and most rounded performance as Blade to date, making it even more of a pity he doesn’t get more to do. In the end the film resolves itself through FX-laced martial arts sequences, as usual, which Goyer handles well enough.

Compared to the first movie this is a worthy enough piece of work, but it fails to approach the quality of Guillermo del Toro’s Blade 2 in any way. Blade: Trinity will probably entertain existing fans of the franchise, but newcomers may well be left wondering exactly what the fuss is all about.

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When the respected British film director Roy Ward Baker died late last year, his career received the usual reappraisal: many kind things were said, usually focussing on his classic take on the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember. I was pleased to see a few of the more perceptive commentators making reference to his work on the brilliant horror-SF movie Quatermass and the Pit. However, no-one at all made the slightest reference to his work on the unique 1974 movie The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The fact that the DVD packaging accurately describes this film as ‘…fist meets fang in Dracula’s kung fu showdown!’ may have something to do with this.

Well, it was 1974, and Hammer were yet again looking around for a new direction. This time around they hooked up with Hong Kong-based film-makers the Shaw Brothers to make a movie in which the stuff they did really well – Gothic vampire horror with lashings of fake blood – collided head-on with the Shaws’ areas of special interest: lengthy kung fu action sequences.

Alas, this was a wacky new angle too far for Christopher Lee, who point-blank refused to be involved. (Legend has it he was basically blackmailed into doing his last few Dracula movies anyway, on the grounds it would be churlish of him to put the rest of the actors and crew out of work by not participating.) And so this is the only Hammer Dracula where someone else plays the part: John Forbes-Robertson, who’s clearly been cast for his resemblance to Lee, but who rather blows it by overdoing his lipstick.

Anyway, in a striking prologue, a Chinese monk makes the strenuous journey to Transylvania. He’s there representing the vampire lords of Szechuan Province (yep, where the chickens come from). The Chinese vampires are having a tough time of it and would quite like the help of the Prince of Darkness. Initially scornful, Dracula rapidly realises his castle is actually a bit of a dump and takes up the offer of helping out this foreign enterprise (a bit like Kevin Spacey becoming creative director at the National Theatre), but not before he possesses the monk (presumably this is to cut down the amount of time that this non-Lee Dracula is on screen).

Some time later, who should pitch up at Chungking University but Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), intent on investigating Chinese vampire legends. Van Helsing runs into Hsi Ching (David Chiang), whose large family of kung fu experts hails from a village in Szechuan which has been terrorised by the seven golden vampires of the title since time immemorial.  A deal is soon struck where together they will deal with the vampire problem, as long as Cushing is excused kung fu duties, Chiang doesn’t have to say Transylvania too often, and they can find an appropriately striking blonde to provide the obligatory Hammer glamour (Julie Ege steps up as a wealthy Danish widow who finances their expedition).

I’m making the plot sound rather more complex than it actually is – most of the foregoing is back-story, handled very directly. What happens on screen is actually extraordinarily straightforward: the vampire hunters set off on their expedition (Cushing wears a pith helmet). Some gangsters try to stop them and there’s a lengthy kung fu battle. Then, they stop for the night in a cave, where the vampires attack them. There’s a lengthy kung fu battle. Finally, they arrive at the cursed village where the vampires attack them again. There’s a – oh, you guessed. The plot is totally linear (though not wholly without surprises – not everyone you may be expecting to survive to the closing credits actually does so).

The ‘village plagued by bad guys calls in expert fighters’ scenario inevitably recalls Seven Samurai and its legion of pasticheurs, but things seem to have got a bit mangled: in this movie the ‘seven’ of the title are the bad guys. Nevertheless, Cushing is backed up by seven of his own guys, though any thoughts you may be having that this is a fair fight are mistaken, as the vampires are supported by a legion of charmingly duff-looking zombies (to be fair, all the makeup in this movie is fairly lousy).

On paper this movie looks like one of the greatest pieces of junk ever committed to celluloid, an aberration committed solely in the name of market-chasing. Neither the script or the production values are up to Hammer’s usual standard, and the film doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. The graphics department don’t seem to have read the script, as a caption establishes Dracula heads for China in 1804, a century before the rest of the story happens. This in itself is enough to put the film in its own continuity, separate from the ‘classic’ Hammer Draculas (1958-1970) and the ‘contemporary’ films featuring the character (1972-3). However, the script makes it quite clear that Dracula and Van Helsing have met before, which is impossible given what we’re shown on-screen. Does it really matter, given that this is, after all, a Hammer horror-kung fu movie fusion? Probably not. Is it, nevertheless, annoying as hell? You bet.

Legend remains stubbornly watchable, mainly due to another incredible Peter Cushing performance – the man’s dedication and commitment to his craft remain truly astounding, to say nothing of his sheer ability to sell dodgy scripts to an audience – and Baker’s contribution as director. He’s not the most naturally gifted director of martial arts sequences, but then the fights in this movie are a little atypical anyway, generally featuring at least half a dozen performers on each side. Where he does deliver is in terms of atmosphere: the wordless build-up to the final conflict, as each side steels itself for battle, is genuinely rather thrilling. He’s helped by James Bernard’s strident if slightly repetitive score, even if it does recycle bits of his classic Horror of Dracula score in a rather uninspired fashion.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is what you get when a fairly silly idea gets written up as a so-so script (Don Houghton was once again responsible), which then has rather too much talent and energy and not enough money thrown at it. You can’t really imagine Christopher Lee actually doing a movie as weird as this one, because it is weird – bordering on the actually demented. But if nothing else, that gives it definite novelty value. This is ultimately quite a bad film. But it manages to be bad in a uniquely interesting and enjoyable way.

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It’s usually the case in cinema that the success of a good film results in the appearance of a host of imitators, most of which are horrible. However, every once in a while a bad film does good business, which can occasionally lead to the production of knock-offs better than the original. I’d certainly argue that while the Heisei Godzilla movies made by Toho in the 90s are by no means bad, they can’t hold a radioactive candle to the Gamera trilogy released by Daiei in the wake of their success. (Still can’t make my mind up about the original versions of Rollerball and Death Race 2000.)

Well, anyway, in 1970 a movie called Count Yorga, Vampire, did very good business. This movie is a loose updating of the original Dracula, in which the undead gentleman of the title buys property in a modern city (in this case, Los Angeles) and starts about his business in the usual fashion. It is also a lousy piece of schlock (possibly because it started off as a soft-core porno-horror). But, anyway, it did do good business, which prompted Warner Brothers to get on the phone to Hammer and suggest they do something in the way of vampires-in-the-present-day themselves, too.

Hammer’s trademark Gothic mittel-European fairy tales were starting to look a little bit tired by this point, so they jumped on the idea and the result was Alan Gibson’s Dracula AD 1972. This movie kicks off with a distinct set of mixed signals. On the one hand, it opens with a gruelling and protracted death-struggle between Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), and as always the presence of the two stars together is a guarantee the movie will at least stay watchable.

On the other hand, this sequence does a good job of looking like a reprise of the climax to the previous movie (as had previously been done at the opening of Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Taste the Blood of Dracula), which it isn’t: this is the end of a previously untold tale of the two characters (and one which looks like being a lot more interesting than the actual preceding film, Scars of Dracula). And it jettisons the continuity of the previous six movies in this series entirely, which is understandable, but still a shame.

Anyway, Dracula and the Professor are duking it out in Hyde Park in 1872, when they’re involved in a coach smash. Van Helsing is killed and Dracula gets a spoke through the heart. But as he crumbles, a mysterious man appears on the scene, takes his ring and starts collecting up the debris. This is never a good sign in a Dracula movie.

The story leaps forward a century and we find ourselves in the company of a gang of rather polite hippies, notable for their ridiculous dialogue (you don’t need a biographical dictionary to work out that screenwriter Don Houghton was in his forties) and glittering future prospects (group members include Michael Kitchen, fantasy icon Caroline Munro, Stephanie Beacham and Christopher Neame). Their freak-outs and grooves are getting, like, totally dullsville, man, and one of their number (Neame) suggests something a little more extreme: a Black Mass in a deconsecrated church!

This is obviously inadvisable, but just to drive the fact home, Neame was also playing the guy collecting up Dracula’s ashes at the start, and his character’s name is Johnny Alucard (it’s a little unclear if Houghton’s inclusion of this weary old anagram is a wink to the audience or just the sign of someone unfamiliar with previous Dracula movies). Beacham’s character has slight misgivings about the Black Mass, but then her family has a tradition of occult study. This is because she is the great-great-grand-daughter of the Van Helsing who died back in 1872. Her grandfather (Cushing again) tries to warn her off but to no avail.

Soon enough the hippies are enjoying a new kind of freak-out, as Neame chews the scenery, large quantities of blood splash engagingly across Caroline Munro’s heaving bosom, and Dracula himself materialises out of a cloud of smoke. He has vengeance against the Van Helsing dynasty on his mind, starting with the grand-daughter…

The contemporary setting aside, the first act of Dracula AD 1972 bears a startling resemblance to that of Taste the Blood of Dracula: there’s a coach accident, Dracula’s apparent demise, jaded-thrillseekers led astray by a disciple of evil, and Dracula’s return following a dark ritual in a ruined church. Having said all that, the present-day setting does work, up to a point, breathing new life into the series. (One of the regrettable consequences of this, however, is that Gibson opts for a funky-groovy contemporary score rather than one of James Bernard’s wonderfully atmospheric compositions.) 

It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t explore this angle more fully. We never get to see Dracula hitting the nightclubs or even walking contemporary streets; all he does is hide in the church waiting for victims to be brought to him. This may have been due to Christopher Lee’s distaste for the film – certainly he has very little screen-time, considering he’s playing the title character: less than fifteen minutes, I’m sure. This is a shame, as Houghton writes him some half-decent dialogue when he does show up. 

‘Bow ties are cool.’

With Lee absent for much of the movie it falls to Peter Cushing to pick up the slack. I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘a bad Peter Cushing performance’ but here he’s simply exceptional, completely selling a rather dubious story. He’s not winking or even suggesting camp or archness – he’s playing it as straight as a laser beam and it somehow works.

Elsewhere in the cast, Michael Coles is rather effective as a police detective baffled by a string of murders, while Christopher Neame has fun as Dracula’s proxy. There’s a sequence in which he learns that the old rule about vampires being vulnerable to running water even extends to his shower, which is unintentionally funny, but that’s not his fault. (We don’t get to see the moment when Lee bites Neame, presumably as it might generate entirely the wrong kind of erotic charge – impalements, Black Masses, and slaughter are all very well, but one man appearing to kiss another? Clearly there were limits to what an audience would stand for.) We do get to see Lee get his teeth into Caroline Munro, of course: but she’s in the film less than you might expect.  

‘Hey! My neck’s up here!’

There are gaping holes in the plot and the climax leaves a little to be desired, but this is still a much classier film than you’d expect and a distinct improvement on the previous Hammer Dracula (not to mention Count Yorga, Vampire). It doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the premise, but Cushing and Lee (when he shows up) redeem whatever flaws it has. The next film in the series would go on to do new and interesting things with the idea of a present-day Dracula, but that’ll have to wait for another time. Dracula AD 1972 is not nearly as bad as you might think it would be – which sounds like the faintest of praise. It’s not intended to be. Daft, but fun.

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By the time a film series reaches its fourth instalment your expectations generally start dropping, particularly if we’re talking about a horror franchise: the ground rules have been established in detail, all the obvious ideas have been done to death, and it’s becoming something of an exercise in going through the motions. Usually.

Something of a happy exception to this is Peter Sasdy’s memorably-titled Taste the Blood of Dracula, a 1970 movie produced by (you guessed it) Hammer, and starring (you don’t even need to guess) Christopher Lee. The last film in the initial Hammer Dracula continuity (there are two, along with a couple of standalone movies), Taste… opens with an atmospheric sequence where an English wheeler-dealer (Roy Kinnear) finds himself lost in a forest in Transylvania one night. Unsettled by inhuman screams echoing about the place, he loses his bearings and eventually stumbles upon – well, it’s Dracula, in agony, impaled on a crucifix and weeping tears of blood. (This is how the previous movie concluded.)

Dracula crumbles into dust leaving only his cloak and his family seal behind. The scene shifts to late-Victorian England where the slightly annoyingly chirpy children of three respectable gentlemen (Geoffrey Keen, John Carson and Peter Sallis) are trying to do their best to enjoy themselves despite the strict rules of their parents. Alice (Linda Hayden) in particular is suffering as her father disapproves of her boyfriend Paul (Anthony Higgins), possibly because of his incredible bouffant hair. However, it soon becomes clear that the three gents are massive hypocrites, as when they’re not preaching decorum and proprietry to their wives and children they’re off secretly touring the whorehouses and other fleshpots of London.

However, they’re becoming a bit jaded with this, and a chance encounter with Courtley, a legendary debaucher and pursuer of forbidden pleasures (a great performance from Ralph Bates) leads the men to contemplate the ultimate in sin. A deal is struck where the gents purchase Kinnear’s Dracula relics for Courtley, in return for which he will lead them in a Black Mass. When it comes down to it, they find they can’t bring themselves to, ah, taste the blood of Dracula, one thing leads to another and Courtley is killed (whether by Dracula’s poisonous vitae or the three men is ambiguous). But after they have fled the scene, Courtley’s body undergoes a remarkable transformation, and very soon Dracula himself walks the earth once more…

The perennial problem for the writers of Hammer Dracula sequels is finding new things for Christopher Lee to do. Dracula, all things being equal, is only interested in chowing down on the throats of young starlets, and by this point he’d done that rather a lot. Taste… succeeds because it gives him a wider agenda – revenge on the three men who killed Courtley. ‘They have destroyed my servant. They will be destroyed,’ intones Lee, memorably. (What’s that, you say? It was the death of Dracula’s disciple that enabled his resurrection in the first place? Well, er, shush. Don’t be awkward.)

Just to keep things interesting, Dracula doesn’t go after them directly but chooses to use their own children against them, turning some of them into vampires and using hypnotism on the others. Memorable scenes result (a spade to the head, a stake through the heart and a stabbing) but it also means that for much of the film Dracula isn’t much more than a manipulator lurking in the shadows.

Nevertheless, the film remains very watchable throughout, with a terrific cast full of well-known faces, lashings of atmosphere and great production values. The inimitable James Bernard provides another marvellous score, too. The holes in the plot remain numerous and sizeable but I for one found them very easy to forgive: the presentation of Dracula as an avenging angel of darkness is winning, and the generational-conflict angle is interesting, too (in that respect this is very much a film of its time). The climax is a little perfunctory (Dracula appears to be offed solely due to divine intervention), but having already had him blasted into ash by sunlight, drowned in running water, and impaled on a crucifix, it’s slightly understandable that they’re running out of ideas (subsequent demises would be even less satisfactory).

Returning to Taste the Blood of Dracula after a number of years, I was very pleasantly surprised by what a classy and solid production it is, especially compared to other Hammer movies from around this time. In terms of Christopher Lee’s involvement it may be a case of less is more, but on this evidence the blood of Dracula is definitely very more-ish.

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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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