Skip to content

Dracula Prince Of Darkness (1966,UK)


Director: Terence Fisher                       Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Kier, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Philip Latham

When Hammer recently announced an extensive restoration project intended to bring some of their finest works to high definition in the shape of fully remastered blu ray releases I was somewhat excited. I’ve had an enduring love for the output of that British institution since childhood and the prospect of experiencing those classic horror movies in shiny new editions is exciting enough that I made something of an epic (and expensive) journey to catch the restored The Plague Of The Zombies during the Glasgow Film Festival well in advance of its scheduled blu ray release (and very nice it was too). Dracula Prince Of Darkness is the first of the restorations to be released on disc so the question is, does it fulfill the promise of twenty first century digital restoration techniques?

A group of well to do English travellers, brothers Charles (Matthews) and Alan (Charles Tingwell) Kent and their respective wives Diana (Farmer) and Helen (Shelley), are off on a sightseeing/mountaneering escapade in the Carpathian mountains. It’s been ten years since the destruction of Count Dracula (Lee) at the hands of Van Helsing but the area is still gripped with fear and superstition. Against advice, the Kents find themselves at the mysterious castle of the Count where they become unwitting pawns in a plot by the Count’s loyal servant Klove (Latham) to resurrect his master and bring darkness to the Carpathians once more.

As a film it proves an interesting extension to the familiar Dracula story. The first half of the action doesn’t involve the legendary Count at all (him being dead and that), instead building the tension by introducing us to the “think they know better” arrogant Brits abroad, the Kents and setting them up for a spectacular fall at the hands of the dryly laconic Klove. When the Count does show ghastly face he is far from the suave, verbose aristocrat and instead is a snarling, demonic figure, all animalistic hissing and evil red eyes. I guess resurrection takes it out of you. Speaking of which, the scene in which Klove makes a blood sacrifice to regenerate his master from the dust that remains is a gruesome display worthy of contemporary horror standards. Hammer may have a reputation (with hindsight) of being a bit garish and camp but it’s important to remember that in its heyday, the studio shocked censors and audiences alike with its unprecedented deployment of graphic gore. Here, the human sacrifice required to raise Dracula from the dead is carried out with a detached calm that is genuinely chilling. Even the technicolour red of the blood foaming in the Count’s tomb can’t do much to detract from the impact of the scene, one of the more enduring moments in British horror cinema.

Once the Count is reborn the proceedings take on a more conventional turn, returning to more familiar ground as Dracula stalks his intended prey with a little help from his servants of darkness. Andrew Kier’s Father Sandor makes for an interesting Van Helsing substitute, a pragmatic monk determined to help the Kents (and indeed the world) be rid of the curse of Dracula once and for all and Jimmy Sangster’s script, whilst despatching of the Count’s servants in conventional manner, manages to find a little used mode of destruction for the big finish which may not be spectacular but certainly makes a change. All in all, as far as the genre and indeed Hammer go, it’s a slightly above average film with some really great, memorable moments. But what of it’s 2012 blu ray incarnation?

Much like the previously mentioned The Plague Of The Zombies the most striking difference between this and any previous version I’ve seen is the colour. Hammer’s incredibly vivid pallette is really at its best on the hi-def format, especially the searing red of the blood. The greenish tint that seems to plague the DVD editions of their films has, thankfully, gone completely and the overall look is excellent. It’s all looking pretty sharp too, all pretty pleasing given its low budget origins. Unfortunately there’s a “but”. In a couple of scenes there is a really obtrusive line in the picture, the presence of which I really can’t fathom. Presumably it’s a hangover from some technical issue during the original filming but surely the tehnology and expertise exist these days to fix these sorts of problems? It seems odd to me to spend time and money slavishly restoring a film to leave such a blatant and unsightly (albeit extremely brief) blemish in the film and as churlish as it seems to place so much emphasis on such a trifling issue (it’s on screen for a matter of seconds and really impacts not at all on the film as a story) when you are setting out on a remastering job like this you have to expect to be held to a higher standard. I really can’t understand why anyone would have signed off on this restoration without taking steps to remedy this obvious flaw. Perhaps it was a budgetary concern or maybe my expectations are far too high and nothing could be done about the glitch, but either way it’s a disappointing fly in the ointment that takes the shine off an otherwise lovely restoration.

Mystery line in the picture aside, it is a nice reissue of a part of British film history. A little sparse in the extras department perhaps and not quite matching up to similar restorations from the likes of Arrow Video or Eureka! it may well be but it is an undeniable improvement on any previous release of the film and is certainly full of promise for what is to come. Let’s face it, anything that keeps the Hammer classics alive and kicking can only be a good thing.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: