The Film (5/5)
1966's Dracula: Prince of Darkness could be seen as Hammer's first proper sequel to it's 1958 instant classic Horror of Dracula. During the 8 years it took to get this Christopher Lee starring sequel off the ground only one film from the famed British Studio would bare the Dracula name, and that would be the Peter Cushing featuring, Christopher Lee-less Brides of Dracula from 1960. The wait for a follow was certainly worth it, as Dracula: Prince of Darkness would become one of the finest entries in Hammer's Dracula series, which would eventually number 10 (If you cound Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, and the Bathory tale Countess Dracula as part of the series).
The film involves a group of tourists planning to visit Karlsbad, near the site of Dracula’s infamous castle. One night early in their journey they find themselves in the same inn with a priest who just prevented the staking of a local woman. This priest warns them not to venture to Karlsbad, and especially not anywhere in the vicinity of Dracula’s former abode.
They take his words in stride and press on. However they find themselves dumped off 2 miles from the location of Dracula's castle by their drivers who refuse to travel any closer to the notorious destination. With no other options at their disposal they make their way to the castle, unknowing of it's bloody reputation. They are taken in by the Castle's current caretaker, and the late Count's former butler Klove. They are wined and dined and although some of them are slightly uncomfortable are treated to what is believed to be a comfortable evening. Later in the evening a member of the party, Alan, goes to "investigate a mysterious noise" (does anyone ever learn?), and ends up sacrificed by Klove in order to resurrect the dead Count. Alan’s wife is also quickly dispatched leaving the remaining members of the party to find a way to do away with the newly resurrected Prince of Darkness.
OK, so the Beatles Vs. Stones debate applies here Lee Vs. Lugosi, and for me Lee always wins hands down. It doesn't matter if Sir Christopher is acting for Terrence Fisher and Hammer or Jess Franco the man could play Dracula better than anyone who has ever donned the cape (Klaus Kinski came DAMN close in Herzog's Nosferatu: The Vampyre). Even the sillier entries in the Dracula franchise were vastly improved by Lee's intimidating, overwhelming screen presence. The rest of the cast as is fairly common in Hammer Films of the era perform admirably as well.
The film manages to capture that gorgeous Hammer look, and gothic ambiance that the best of their horror films are known for. The direction in the film courtesy of the legendary Terrance Fisher goes on to prove why he is considered one of the greatest director's in the long storied history of British genre films. He gives the film an excellent look with gorgeous colors, and a pacing that never allows the film to turn into a bore, yet allows the film and it's plot points room to breathe and allow the haunted atmosphere to truly come through.
Blasphemous as it may be Dracula: Prince of Darkness maybe my favorite film of the Hammer Dracula franchise. The first film does a wonderful job of telling the vampire's origins in a way that is familiar enough to be a Dracula story, but different enough to allow Hammer to do there own thing. Dracula: Prince of Darkness, with that origin out of the way is the first film in the franchise not bound by Stoker’s word, and is the first entirely Hammer sourced entry in the Lee-lead franchise, and unfettered by the source material and with a mix of wonderful direction, atmosphere, on-screen violence Dracula: Prince of Darkness became a true horror classic in it’s own regard.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is a film I was terribly worried about getting on Blu-ray. I had not seen the British edition, but was told that there was heavy DNR application that took away detail, grain, and took away the glorious film look of the proceedings. The Millennium Media transfer, which I thought would be a simple port of the British Studio Canal edition looks quite good. The detail is vastly improved from the DVD and VHS editions I have seen in the past, as are the colors and black levels. There is some natural film grain present, and although I did detect some minor digital noise reduction in certain sequences, it's use appears to be altogether minor.
The audio is presented in a 2.0 English audio track that sounds completely admirable. The dialogue comes through loud and clear, as does music and sound effects. I did not detect any audio issues such as pops, cracks, or hissing.
Millennium Media have put together a nice solid package together for their release of Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The disc kicks off with a commentary track featuring members of the cast including Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Barbara Shelley, and Francis Matthews. We then get a World of Hammer episode that runs about 25 minutes and goes into depth about Christopher Lee's formidable career for the studio. Need to be sold more on this one? It's narrated by Curse of the Werewolf star the late, great OLIVER REED! We get another documentary this one specific to the film and unlike the last this one in HD called Back to Black which goes into depth about the making of the film. The disc is rounded off by a Restoration Comparison, the films theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and a series of physical collectible cards in the package.
One of if not the greatest of Hammer's Dracula series, and one of Hammer's greatest overall. Dracula: Prince of Darkness gets quite an excellent restoration from Millennium Media with a nice slate of extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED