Tuesday, October 11, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

One year ago: White Zombie (1932)
Although it is third in Hammer's Dracula film series, 1966's Dracula: Prince of Darkness is a direct follow-up to 1958's Horror of Dracula. (Dracula himself does not appear in 1960's Brides of Dracula, although Peter Cushing's Van Helsing does.) The prologue shows the final scenes of Horror, including Dracula's climactic showdown with Van Helsing, and his supposed demise.

From there, the film wastes little time in resurrecting the Count. Following the prologue, we meet Father Sandor(Andrew Keir), who foils the attempts of some superstitious villagers to desecrate a young woman's corpse, fearing she will return to plague them as a vampire. Later, at an inn, Sandor meets the Kents(Barbara Shelley,Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, and Charles Tingwell), a quartet of tourists from England. When Sandor learns of their plans to visit Carlsbad, he warns them that it should be avoided, but that they should keep away from the castle at all costs. Scoffing at local superstitions, the Kents head for Carlsbad anyway the following morning.

When their carriage breaks a wheel, the group falls several hours behind schedule. With night falling, the driver refuses to take them any further, and drops them off just outside Carlsbad, with the castle looming overhead. As they debate what to do, a carriage with no driver arrives. Although they are not all convinced it is the right course of action, they board the carriage, hoping to be able to drive it into Carlsbad. Heedless of their efforts, the horses pull the carriage straight to the castle. As soon as they disembark, the horses speed off.

Inside, they find that the table in the dining room has been set for the four of them, and their bags have been removed from the carriage and brought inside. A rather sinister man named Klove(Philip Latham) appears and proceeds to serve them dinner, remarking that his late master, the Count, left standing orders that his castle always be prepared to receive guests. Two of the Kents disappear during the night, and the remaining pair are at the mercy of the resurrected Count Dracula. As things escalate, Father Sandor is drawn in, seeking to destroy the vampire lord once more.

Notably, Christopher Lee's Dracula does not speak a single word in the entire film. The exact reason is unclear; Lee claims that he found the dialogue unsatisfactory and refused to speak it, while screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insists that he simply did not write any dialogue for the Count. Whatever the reason, Lee's silent Dracula nevertheless commands the rapt attention of the audience whenever he is onscreen. Even without the use of his resonant, iconic voice, Lee exudes a palpable sense of menace and raw, malevolent power. The entire cast does a good job, Keir's Father Sandor is particularly memorable, and makes enough of an impression that he is more than a mere stand-in for Van Helsing.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is easily one of the better Hammer horror films, despite the rather unsatisfactory denouement. With so many Dracula films in the Hammer series, they had to reach further and further to come up with ways to supposedly destroy the Count at the end of each film. This one definitely contains one of the odder ones. One wonders how Dracula managed to survive his first 500 years at all! Despite that, this is a fun, satisfying horror film that any fan of the Hammer films, or of a more classic model of the vampire, should enjoy.

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