Dracula: Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Jimmy Sangster (as John Sansom)
1966, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released on December 18th, 2018
Christopher Lee as Dracula
Barbara Shelley as Helen Kent
Francis Matthews as Charles Kent
Suzan Farmer as Diana Kent
Charles Tingwell as Alan Kent
Andrew Keir as Father Sandor
Philip Latham as Klove
Thorley Walters as Ludwig
Four English tourists are vacationing in Eastern Europe, heading into the Carpathian Mountains. Brothers Charles and Alan Kent are joined by their wives Diana and Helen for the trip. They stop in a pub outside Karlsbad to get warm and share a drink when they cross paths with the imposing Father Sandor. They share their travel plans with the monk, who in turn discourages them from going anywhere near the castle on the mountain. Fate has other plans for the couples and soon they are greeted in the forbidden lair by Klove, a mysterious servant without a master. Our heroes have little choice but to stay the night. Dinner is served and rooms provided and everyone is having a fine time, except for Helen, who is frightened by the whole experience and wants to leave. Later that night her fears are realized when Count Dracula returns to the castle and begins a new reign of terror.
Hammer films got into the Dracula business with Horror of Dracula (1958), directed by Terence Fisher. Christopher Lee starred as the legendary vampire with Peter Cushing as his nemesis Dr. Van Helsing. Eight years later came the sequel Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), with Fisher and Lee returning to their respective roles on opposite sides of the camera. The new film begins with a prologue that recaps the finale of the original, with Dracula being dispelled by sunlight. From there we are introduced to new characters starting with Father Sandor, a no-nonsense monk with little patience for religious zealots. His entrance is strong and sets up that he will be Dracula’s foil this time around, although I am not sure why Van Helsing didn’t return. From there we meet our young protagonists touring Europe and spend quite a bit of time with them before they run into any danger.
Christopher Lee has such a powerful presence that he leaves a lasting impression on this film despite limited screen time and no spoken dialogue. Indeed it is just past the forty-five minute mark before Dracula makes an appearance in his own movie. Once he arrives, however, he commands every second he is in front of the camera. There is some dispute as to why Dracula never speaks, with Lee claiming that he hated the dialogue and Jimmy Sangster, the screenwriter, saying there never were any lines for the character to begin with. Regardless of the limitation, Lee is a striking figure who was born to don a cape. His body count is low in this adventure, but he manages to cause a lot of trouble for our heroes.
Sangster’s script is filled with nice banter among the four leads, particularly between Charles and Helen, who enjoy getting a rise out of each other. There are two dedicated servants to Dracula, including Klove, who manages the castle and is instrumental in bringing the Count back from the dead. The other follower is Ludwig, a man filling the role of the Renfield character who eats flies and does his master’s bidding. Both of these characters are vital to the story and propel things forward every time they appear on screen. Andrew Keir (Father Sandor) is no Peter Cushing, but he does his best to maintain order in the matters at hand and proves up to the challenge of fighting vampires.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is a fun ride that has several memorable scenes with Dracula showing off his scary red eyes and fangs. Lee went on to play the Count five more times in this franchise and kept coming back with the same level of dedication and grace that made him a giant in the genre. Dracula’s bride is sufficiently creepy and Klove carries all sorts of menace as part of the evil entourage, making for a strong supporting cast. The sets are beautiful, particularly the castle and James Bernard’s score is engaging. This was the first and only film in the series to be shot in the Cinemascope widescreen format and cinematographer Michael Reed composes some beautiful shots. Terence Fisher fills the picture with an atmosphere of dread and keeps things moving at a steady pace, building to an exciting finale. This is one of the better sequels and I can easily recommend adding it to your collection.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and given a 4K restoration of the original film elements, the results are rather satisfying. Colors are striking especially the blood reds and rich blacks. There is a lot of small-object detail and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track preserves the original mono recording, keeping dialogue levels clean and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
This title was originally released on Blu-ray in 2013 and came loaded with extras. This new Collector’s Edition ports over most of those goodies and offers even more material, including two cuts of the film.
There are three audio commentaries, starting with a vintage track featuring cast members Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley. Lee does most of the talking; ironic given his lack of dialogue in the film itself and he has a lot to say about the character and this production.
A pair of newly recorded commentary tracks provides a detailed study of the making of the picture. The first is with author Troy Howarth, who provides a context for the material and shares biographical information on the key participants. The second joins filmmaker Constantine Nasr and writer/ producer Steve Haberman for a broad overview of Hammer films in general as well as this film in particular detail. Both discussions are entertaining and briskly paced with little room for down time.
The World of Hammer episode “Dracula and the Undead” (25 minutes) is a clip show made up of scenes from a handful of Hammer films, narrated by Oliver Reed. The previous Blu-ray featured a different episode of the series that focused on Lee specifically, so you may want to hang on to that disc.
The making-of featurette Back to Black (31 minutes) includes interviews with authors and historians as well as cast members Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews. In addition to production anecdotes, the segment focuses on the film’s score and legacy.
A nice addition here is a bit of behind-the-scenes Super 8mm footage (5 minutes) narrated by Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews (recorded in 1997).
Two theatrical trailers are included; one is a double-feature billing with Plague of the Zombies.
A still gallery plays as a silent slideshow (7 minutes) and features a collection of promotional images used to market the picture.
A poster gallery slideshow (5 minutes) takes a look at the film’s international ad campaign.