I was invited to right about the fantastic Christopher Lee by Barry and Gill and I was very happy to do so.
A Hammer Horror with the iconic Christopher Lee back as the eponymous being, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is atmospheric and has a lot going for it.
A group of proper English tourists; brothers Charles(Francis Matthews) and Alan(Charles Tingwell), plus their wives Helen( Barbara Shelley) and Diana( Suzan Farmer) are visiting near the Carpathian Mountains. They are warned about not going to a certain region by Father Sandor( Andrew Keir) . Sandor isn’t your average man of the cloth as he speaks his mind and seems always on the lookout for danger in a similar way to a hunter. The group don’t pay much attention and attempt to reach a castle that doesn’t show up on a map. The worried Helen doesn’t think this is a good idea, but she is overruled by her husband and the brash Charles . After a carriage appears from nowhere following , they decide to get into it. It suddenly springs to life and transports them to the infamous castle. Not wanting to be outside as darkness approaches, much to the annoyance of Helen, the group enters the castle . There they find the castle in reasonably good condition, considering that it’s been abandoned for years . We learn that the reason for this is that it’s been taken care of by the creepy servant Klove( Philip Latham) . His dead employer told him to always make the castle welcome to those travelling through. But Klove has a more menacing plan for the guests. That night he murders Alan and strings him up over a tomb. This fresh blood resurrects the evil and powerful vampire Dracula(Christopher Lee) who then goes on to turn the strait laced Helen into a sensual creature of the night like himself. Realising the danger they are in, Charles and Diana run from the castle before finding Father Sandor in his church. The couple now team up Sandor with in a battle against the nocturnal bloodsucker.
Terence Fisher, who was always one of the most reliable directors for Hammer Horror, is in his element here. His confident and nicely unobtrusive direction helps flow smoothly and with a genuine feeling of dark tension. The less is more approach works well in many areas here, leaving much to the imagination while not shoving it in your face.The eeriness builds before being fully unleashed in the last half when the stakes are raised and a desperate plan to slay Dracula comes into play. From the get go, you just know it’s going to be very creepy. It doesn’t just start with everything being rosy and ideal for everyone; we hear of darkness from right at the start of the film as well as a prologue of Dracula’s history(which is a flashback from the very first outing for Lee as the bloodsucking count.)That is the through line of and moves the plot along nicely with an exquisite slow burn before unleashing. Also of note is how some of the characters don’t fall victim to some of the dumb horror cliches out there. For example, Charles and Diana once sensing that something is wrong flee the castle instead of sitting and waiting to be picked off, along with other smart traits. Yes they do eventually have to go back to the castle for the climactic battle(which makes sense in the big scheme of things), it’s just nice to see characters who aren’t complete morons and at least boast some substance . Its a little thing but one I do appreciate it .Prince of Darkness has enough of a difference in terms of folklore to single it out among vampire movies, particularly the eventual way that the remaining characters try to use in order to kill Dracula. Dracula: Prince of Darkness also feels even by today’s standards rather erotic in a Gothic way. Dracula’s ability to hold people in thrall is a great example of this as is Helen’s flip from staid worrier to untamed vixen. Granted age has diminished some effects and it can come off dated in stages, the creeping aura is still there in a way only Hammer can provide . On the visual front, Prince of Darkness is gloriously done with a lot of the colour red mixing with a dark and unusual feeling of impending dread. Hammer Horror always has that special something in terms of how they look and is no exception. A swelling and rather grand score suits the movie as the action and atmosphere is cranked up to high levels as darkness falls.
Christopher Lee is what really makes this movie, returning after a number years following his first outing, to play the role of the indelible villain that is Dracula. Despite not speaking a single word, his imposing presence and intense, bulging eyes are all that’s needed to give us the audience and the potential victims the creeps. Lee plays the wicked but seductive Dracula with a sense of movement and hypnotising skill; brilliantly luring in the unsuspecting prey he has his designs on. He’s obviously enjoying himself and the menace he provides as the bloodsucker is second to none. Simply stated, the film wouldn’t be the same without the iconic Lee playing it. Francis Matthews is appropriately down to Earth and charming as the free living young Charles, who has to rise up and face Dracula. Barbara Shelley is wonderful playing essentially two different parts: sheltered, fearful killjoy Helen and her enticing, seductive vampiric form that is chilling and daring . Both sides are finely judged by her and stand out for how different they are and it’s down to the excellent of Shelley . Bombastic energy and portents of doom come courtesy of Andrew Keir as the unorthodox but forceful Father who isn’t going down without a fight. A convincingly insidious sliminess provided by Philip Latham as the ever loyal servant intent on raising his evil master from the great beyond is another effective tool used to elicit genuine uneasiness and terror to sublime effect. Suzan Farmer and Charles Tingwell have smaller roles but are nonetheless very good as the rest of the quartet happening upon terror. The cast is pretty stellar, but it’s the presence of Christopher Lee that truly lingers in the mind thanks to the talents of the legendary star.
A stylish and atmospheric horror from the iconic Hammer Homer, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is an impressively movie with an eerie and memorable Christopher Lee at the centre of it all.