This review originally appeared as an article on the Rogue Cinema site with this title: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966): 50 Years Later, Lee Lives On!
As all cinema and horror fans know, Christopher Lee, passed away in 2015, and it feels only fitting that the best way to start 2016, is by honoring this classic horror movie of his from 50-years ago, released on January 12, 1966 (USA). Dracula: Prince of Darkness, from director Terence Fisher, often overlooked in realm of horror greats, but this tale while dated to the modern romance and carnage filled Dracula and vampire movies, still generates a magnificence gothic work of art. This movie derives a bit of controversy in two areas, whether this actually is a sequel to the first film Horror of Dracula (1958) and more significant Lee’s non-speaking role. The second movie The Brides of Dracula, never feature an actual character of Dracula, rather more prominently on Van Helsing’s character hunting another vampire, follows in the Hammer Studios succession, then marking this movie as part 3. The translation for those horror fans either unaware or in question may refer to Halloween III: Season of the Witch, no Michael Myers, so is part 4, in the franchise not part 4, of course not, storylines do change and allow for variations. A variation that many horror fans would agree with Friday the 13th: Part V: A New Beginning, no actually Jason Voorhees, rather a killer uses the legend and mask for his killing spree, again falls into the sequence but not directly, and that is the same for this Hammer production Prince of Darkness, truly reigns in as part 3. Therefore, this movie picks the storyline back up from 10-years ago and gives a refreshing reminder of the ending from the first movie, and this time the mesmerizing Count Dracula returns as Christopher Lee.
The movie has a slow burn and takes the time to set the pieces into place with some character depth before unleashing the Dracula’s rebirth, by introducing Father Sandor, as the replacement for Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, regrettable, yet the late actor who passed in 1997, Andrew Keir gives a worthy performance in his place. His first appearance on the screen condemns the local cleric for false beliefs and unlawful acts against the body of a peasant girl, later as the audience more the cast, he slams townsfolk for garlic hanging, yet makes the contradiction on superstitions. His boisterous attitude with a touch posterior humor, meets a small group of travelers Alan, his wife Helen and Charles and Diana, portrayed respectively by (Charles Tingwell, Barbara Shelley, Franics Matthews and Suzan Farmer.) By informing them to avoid the infamous castle, at all costs, but refrains of even speaking of it, if by doing so invites evil. A bit of suggestive snobbery from well off English Middle Class travelers an air of elitism and entitled, yet ignorance of locals and their customs never bodes well in a horror movie. Soon enough transition of the early version of the broken down car, in this case, interrupted transportation, and opens the door to the invitation to the haunted house herein Dracula’s Castle. The entire plot and script dripping in gothic essence develops a well-designed storyline, and soon enough a servant of the count, Klove (Philip Latham) who gives a cunning and sophisticated stately manner of fact posturing. After enjoying their final meal and drinks, the couples retire for the night, and for some longer that too, hence the ritual occurs to resurrect the count in his glory with the blood red eyes an interesting new touch, all at the throat slitting and blood pouring onto the ashes thanks to Alan. Lee feeds upon the prudish Helen, transforming her into a sexual creature of lustful desires, taking to the screen approximately 40 plus into the movie. A discredit of a dragging the atmosphere a tad too far, as well as the pacing, nevertheless Lee’s presence rivals no one else, a commanding understanding of look and stature overwhelmingly win out for the fans. A generally misplaced and misused character overall, must lie at Ludwig (Thorley Walters) who takes place of Renfield the fly eating glutton, who works in the monastery and assists his Master, the count. For those who never saw the movie, which shockingly has happened, especially from the younger generations, who crave more of a carnage appetite, I will refrain with any spoilers except to state a frightening baptism occurs, especially for the stuntman Eddie Powell who nearly drown.
I earlier stated a controversy surrounds Lee’s lack of lines, the late actor claimed he requested the removal of all speaking lines, to return the count to using the powers of his evil cunning, the looks of seduction, a sexual beast, with hungers for blood. This always battle continues to this day, with reference points of this movie referring back to Bram Stoker’s novel and later cast in various mannerisms of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992). Since no words are ever spoken by him, the image of presence learn from stage to ability to capture the room and take command, came easily upon the actor, though his exception height and aided by the camera angles work to achieve wonderful terrifying moments. However, screenwriter powerhouse and legend Jimmy Sangster, claims he never wrote any dialog for Lee’s role, and needless, the production never missed a bit, with acting on par, with great costumers and richness to the set. Meanwhile a backlash brews from Fisher’s style of nestling religious undertones to elements of sexuality, however, in a vampire film, nearly impossible to separate the two elements, the damnation of the Lord creates the evil, and thriving through penetrating bare flesh desires the heighten eroticism association. Yet, the director served well for the first three movies of the Hammer Studios creation, the series continued for another six films, surrounding this great character and Lee’s performance.
All horror fans have chosen the vampires they identify from the classic F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1992) to those from Hammer and Universal Studios, and yet the some of the individual film one-offs developed have personal charms that many identifying. However no one, can overlook the contributions that Christopher Lee brought the genre overall, and especially the gothic and sinister statue to the role of Dracula, in fact, some state to think of the character Dracula without imagining Lee deems blasphemy.
Fans definitely have passion about the horror genre, especially when discussing the icons of the cinema and the influences of their characters transcending the passage time, for Lee, there is no difference, a member of the original ghoul pact, which featured Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Cushing. Nevertheless the count never truly dies, his fear image lives on, as well as his films, castings mesmerizing performance for the next 50-years!
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IMDb Rating: 6.8/10
Baron’s Rating: 7/10