Review: Dracula Prince of Darkness Blu Ray
|REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS|
Christopher Lee, Blu-ray and Dracula. Talk about a power trio...
A long time ago, in an obscure European country far, far away there existed creatures of the night who didn't sparkle, who didn't wander around with pained expressions on their faces, and who didn't look like they'd just stepped out of a My Chemical Romance video. The most famous, or should that be infamous, of them all was Dracula, the undisputed Lord of the Undead, and the subject of many, many movies over the years; but none of which captured the quintessential essence of a great vampire flick quite as well as Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966).
Described by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn, who appears in a new half hour retrospective of the flick in the extras, as perhaps the most representative of all the Hammer Dracula films due to the inclusion of several vital ingredients - including the brooding manservant, the remote European locale, the well-to-do English characters adrift abroad, and a dash of implied lesbianism - the movie's biggest asset is unquestionably Sir Christopher Lee. Despite competition from the likes of Frank Langella, Bela Lugosi, and more recently Gary Oldman, Lee is still considered to be the quintessential Dracula.
Though it took Hammer eight years to persuade Lee to don the cape and fangs once again after his debut turn as literature's most lauded vampire in Dracula (1958), the future scourge of Middle Earth did so with aplomb, managing to completely steal the show despite being absent from the first half of the movie, apart from a brief rerun of the previous film's closing minutes in which Van Helsing (Lee’s fellow Hammer stalwart and frequent co-star Peter Cushing) slays him with sunlight, and then doing so without uttering a single word.
This silent performance has been a matter of some contention over the years, as is covered in the aforementioned documentary Back To Black, with Lee maintaining that there was dialogue in the original script but that it was so awful that he told Hammer that if they thought he was going to speak the lines they were very much mistaken, and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster's (who also penned the first movie) reasoning that “vampires don't chat” meaning that he didn't actually write any dialogue, and that Lee was simply confusing Prince Of Darkness with one of the other six Hammer Dracula that he starred in.
This minor controversy aside, the film itself remains, nearly five decades later, a very effective and entertaining vampire flick, with Lee very ably supported by an accomplished cast that director Terence Fisher makes full use of. Hammer scream queens Barbara Shelley and Suzan Farmer, who both appeared in the same year's Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966) - shot back to back at Bray Studios with Prince Of Darkness - are suitably vampy in their roles as the Kent women, and their on screen husbands, Charles Tingwell and Francis Matthews, the very embodiment of well to do Englishmen.
Philip Latham, who appeared as Lord President Borusa in the twentieth anniversary Doctor Who, The Five Doctors (1983) story is suitably creepy as Dracula's brooding manservant Klove, and manages to bag the funniest line of the film. When asked by Charles Kent (Matthews) whether his master would be joining them for dinner, Klove replies “No, Sir, I'm afraid not.” “Is he indisposed?” Kent enquires, to which Klove deadpans “He's dead.”
The cast is rounded out by Andrew Kier, best remembered for his own personal favourite role as Professor Bernard Quatermass in Quatermass And The Pit (1967), brings a certain gravitas to the film as Father Sandor, an individual who first warns the English quartet to avoid the village of Carlsbad, and then assists them in killing (well, until the next time, anyway) Dracula by literally shooting the ice from under his feet and subjecting him to death by running water.
The picture quality of this Blu Ray transfer is stunning, with the colours leaping from the screen as vividly as when the original negatives were printed, and the extent of the restoration job is superbly illustrated by a short feature that shows the original footage compared to the restored film. Also included in the extras is another short feature highlighting some behind the scenes footage shot by actor Francis Matthew’s brother with a very warm and entertaining commentary by Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley.
This foursome also provide a commentary for the main movie which is as interesting and fascinating as any I’ve heard over the years, and is delivered with a genuine sense of warm and nostalgia as the Hammer veterans tell story after story like the seasoned raconteurs that they are.
The extras are rounded out by an entertaining World of Hammer episode about Christopher Lee narrated by another Hammer legend - the incomparable Oliver Reed - a pair of trailers and the isolated titles from both the UK and US releases of the film, the latter of which was used to reconstruct the former during the Blu Ray restoration process, as detailed in the Back To Black documentary.
Overall, this new release of Dracula Prince of Darkness is an essential addition to the collection of any serious classic horror buff, and is just the first of thirty movies that will be getting the same treatment in the coming year, some of which will be accompanied by previously unearthed footage (notably The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Mummy (1959) ) which means that the old school horror fans amongst us are in for a real treat this year.
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