Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966 United Kingdom)

Dracula-Prince-Of-Darkness-036Every fan of retro/old school horror has seen this one, surely. If you haven’t seen it then shame on you! Just to wake any old fans up, I toyed with the idea of the above title reading Dracula: Ponce of Darkness. Enough silly banter, on with the show…

As is usual for director Terrence Fisher, his product is extremely atmospheric and creepy. Fisher doesn’t rely on quick cutting or sudden close-ups to frighten the audience. He is conservative with those kinds of techniques and the film is mostly built on long takes from distant angles, with the frame being menaced by hideous shadows and unsafe corridors. A large portion of the film takes place out of doors, and there are many wonderful scenes set in a shadowy wood with the sun about to fall. How can I describe the cinematography?

Top notch is one way of putting it. Dracula’s Castle itself is rather charming compared to most other films (this is also true in Horror Of Dracula). The interior’s are lushly decorated, colourful, bright and in good repair… but you still get a sense of something unhinged. A sense of wrongness about the castle. I think this is because the castle is so barren with only a single inhabitant (the zombie-like caretaker Klove). It’s somehow surreal for such a large empty place to be so cheery. It’s a more subtle way of making the castle frightening than filling it with cobwebs and rotting woodwork. The pacing is deliberate, giving the film a hypnotic quality. At times it can be too deliberate and that is one of the movie’s main flaws.

Dracula-Prince-Of-Darkness-009I liked the fact that Christopher Lee wasn’t allowed to speak in this motion picture. Not that Lee speaking is a bad thing, but the silent Dracula featured in this effort is somehow more ghostly and eerie than most depictions. You really get the sense of ‘undead’. He is quite the animal here – like a big cat about to burst out of his cage. Andrew Keir was also great as a practical, no-nonsense priest. His angry, grumpy charisma is always impressive. The rest of the acting is mostly effective, with Barbara Shelley being the stand out for me.

Charles Tingwell lets the team down a little with his bland performance (although his part is a small one). Compared to its 1958 predecessor, this story is darker in tone and a little more violent. Much less safe overall. Because it isn’t directly based on the novel, it’s un-predictable. On a first watch we don’t know how the saga will ultimately end up. The ending is a bit rushed, you’ve hardly digested the sight of Christopher Lee surfing on an ice board when the credits suddenly roll. Because of its atmospheric strength I think this could have been 15 minutes longer and few would have complained. Very involving in that old-fashioned Hammer way, this is a true classic must-have for any horror aficionado’s collection.

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