Dracula: Prince of Darkness Blu-ray Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Blu-ray released by Millennium Entertainment
Directed by Terrence Fisher
Written by John Sansom
1965, Region A, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on September 17th, 2013
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula
Barbara Shelley as Helen Kent
Andrew Keir as Father Sandor
Francis Matthews as Charles Kent
Suzan Farmer as Diana Kent
Charles Tingwell as Alan Kent
Thorley Walters as Ludwig
Philip Latham as Klove
Four English tourists travelling the Transylvania countryside are enjoying some drinks and warmth in a small village tavern when a man of the cloth enters. It's clear that the regulars are weary of this boisterous giant, and even a little intimidated by him. Undeterred, Father Sandor – played marvelously by Andrew Keir – demands a drink from the barkeep and makes his way over to the fireplace where the visitors are seated.
After some introductions, Sandor learns the plans of the travellers and invites them to his monastery. However, it's a bit off the path of their plans, so they reluctantly decline. This doesn't bother the priest, but he does give them one stern warning in a fairly amusing exchange: don't go to the castle on the mountain. When one of the tourists mentions there's no castle on the map, the unfazed Sandor repeats the warning. Needless to say, after a series of events – both accidental and intentional – the group of city folk do indeed find themselves in the dwelling of the most famous Count in horror history.
There are two interesting things about Dracula: Prince of Darkness that stand out above all others. The first is the titular vampire – played by the fantastic Christopher Lee – doesn't make his first appearance until about 45 minutes into the film. The second is once the infamous vampire does show up, he never utters a line. There is a debate to this, as some say Lee hated the script so much that he refused to speak any of it, whereas screenwriter John Sansom claims there were never any lines for Lee to begin with.
With no sign of Dracula in the first half of the movie, that time is dedicated to getting to know the protagonists, and it's well spent. Father Sandor is my favorite as he's quickly established as a no-nonsense man of God who has zero tolerance for religious zealots that go around staking people willy-nilly (something we learn in the opening scenes of the film). The two married couples are also well developed, and the actors have a great synergy going on as they banter back and forth. Barbara Shelly does well with her role as Helen Kent, whose negativity and nagging is quite annoying at first, but she ends up being the one voice of reason with her insistence that entering the castle is a bad idea. Charles Tingwell is the yin to Shelly's yang as Helen's husband Alan. Clearly the man has grown accustomed to his wife's seeming inability to be happy with anything, and he doesn't seem to care much about her fears. Alan's brother Charles, on the other hand, seems to take a certain glee in bantering with Helen, and Francis Matthews' free spirit portrayal of the character is a bit infectious. Suzan Farmer takes the role of Charles' wife Diana, and it's clear that the character enjoys her husband's constant needling of her sister-in-law.
Christopher Lee is Christopher Lee of course, and even on a bad day he's a blast to watch. Yet, whatever the reason, his lack of dialog does hurt the film, even if director Terrence Fisher does a great job establishing both believable characters and a nice sense of unease with a wonderful, rich atmosphere from the moment the couples enter the castle. But it should be noted that regardless of lines, fine acting from the rest of the cast, or Fisher's skill at creating a rather nice build up to Dracula's reveal, Lee's involvement makes this film even more enjoyable than maybe it should be.
I should also mention Philip Latham and Thorley Walters as Klove and Ludwig respectively. Lathan's Klove is effectively creepy as Dracula's right hand man, in charge of securing the "guests" for the evening. While there are certainly a few of his lines that are unintentionally funny, I wouldn't want to be the guest of someone who has this guy as their houseboy.
Even though Christopher Lee is somewhat underutilized in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, there really is a lot to like about the film. Charles and Helen's back-and-forth banter and jabs (in particular Charles') makes for an enjoyable time passer until we get to who we paid to see, and every time scene-stealer Sandor shows up, you know it's going to be fun. Top that with Fisher's ability to deliver some great atmosphere well before we see Dracula and the rather novel final scene with the blood sucker and the protagonists and you have a yet another pretty damn good entry (or many) in the Hammer catalog.
Video and Audio:
Presented in 2.35:1, Dracula: Prince of Darkness looks the best I've seen. It has some flaws as the image appears soft at times as well as some instances where detail is lost, but overall it's a decent picture with vivid colors throughout.
The offered 2.0 Dolby stereo track is wonderful. Dialogue is crisp and clear with no distortion.
- Commentary Featuring Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley
- World of Hammer Episode "Hammer Stars: Christopher Lee"
- Documentary: Back to Black
- Restoration Comparison
- Restored Original Trailer
- Stills Gallery
While the commentary is jam packed with many of the actors from the film, it is Lee that does the majority of the talking (ironic considering his lack of dialog in the film). They not only discuss their experiences making the movie, but Lee also spends some time expressing his displeasure on how there hasn't been a movie that captures the essence of Bram Stoker's original novel.
The documentary Back to Black runs 30 minutes and explores the film's place in the Hammer catalog. The best parts of this piece are the interviews with Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley as they reminisce about their time on set.
"Hammer Stars: Christopher Lee" is about a half hour centering on the talented actor.
The restoration comparison is well worth the watch as you can see what a tremendous job that was put into the cleaning up of the film.
Wrapping it up is a restored trailer, a stills gallery consisting of posters and behind-the-scenes and promotional stills set to the score of the film, and a nice packet of collectable cards are included in the package. (Note, these may be limited, so get them while you can.)