Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
I must start out this review by saying that it was a true pleasure to review this film. I am a clinically insane Hammer buff and have not seen this movie for quite a few full moons. Therefore, in order to give it a proper review, I had to view it again. I was even more thrilled with the film after the second passing.
The plot is fairly standard for most Dracula films. Travelers end up at Dracula’s castle. They decide to stay the night. Bedlam ensues. It’s a fairly simple formula, but it still continues to work. It is no secret that this movie is one of the “good “ horror Hammer films, as it has the unbeatable combination of Christopher Lee in front of the camera and Terence Fisher behind. Though the plot is somewhat slow moving, this movie blows you away with atmosphere. With Chris Lee not even appearing until the last half hour of the movie, the powers-that-be decided to go with a “psychological terror” effect to bide the audience’s time. This worked as well as a bad luck charm on a voodoo doll (and yes, that is a good thing). The scene where the oh-so-creepy butler is dragging the coffin quietly down the hallway actually gave me chills the very first viewing.
I must admit, that is the first time I had chills in ANY Dracula movie (much less a Hammer film). Being the emotionless member of the undead that I am, that is really saying a lot about the atmosphere that this film creates.
To say that Chris Lee was outstanding as Dracula is redundant and obvious. The other characters gave satisfactory performances. Classic horror films in general are notorious for “overacting”, but, that is part of the appeal of horror films. Hammer films especially has a very sophisticated form of overacting that is required (especially for the female characters), which only adds (not subtracts) from the “horror soap-operaish” feel that Hammer is known for. As far as acting is concerned, this is one of the better ones in the Hammer Collection. This would only matter to film purists as the rest of us realize that Hammer Films was never an Academy Award contender in the “Best Actor/Actress” category.
The film itself looks “dated”, but this is a very good thing. As I’ve said before, a “timeless” feel is not always an attribute. This movie works because the viewer knows it was made during a certain time period, therefore his/her expectations are altered. The movie screams “Britain in the 60’s” and it works very, very well. In fact, this tends to be the main difference between a “good” Hammer film and a “poor” one. The good Hammer films tend to play on the “dated quality” that we’ve come to expect from British horror during that time period, while the other films try to give a “timeless” look using the same old British horror techniques. This only ends up looking horribly tired. If the rumor of Hammer Films re-opening ever comes to pass, it would be imperative that they look at the “Hammer classics” to find out what made them classics to begin with. Dracula, Prince of Darkness would be a good place to start.
Mesmerizing and haunting, this film delivers the goods. This film is definitely recommended to all classic horror fans or those who want to learn a little more about Hammer’s film style. This is cut and dry Hammer at its best with Chris Lee being the “surprise” at the bottom of this proverbial Cracker Jack box. “Boys, get your free Dracula teeth! Girls, get your free zombie eyes! Then, watch this flick!” (Yes, Hammer films really gave out zombie eyes to the girls and Dracula fangs to the boys upon entering the theater of this movie). Better yet, purchase the DVD. It has loads of great extras on it and an interesting commentary with Chris Lee. Well worth the money spent!
Released in the UK on January 9th, 1966, part of a double-bill with Plague of the Zombies.