Dracula: Prince of Darkness (UK - BD RB)
Marcus watches the resurrection of Dracula as he bites his way onto Blu-ray
Two English brothers and their partners find themselves in the mysterious village of Karlsbad and via a spooky horse and carriage ride end up at the mysterious castle where their arrival has seemingly been expected. Following the castle's mysterious butler into the basement, one of the brothers finds himself a sacrifice for the resurrection of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) and the legend is reborn.
After a brief catch up on the previous instalment with Van Helsing and Dracula duking it out, this sequel marks a new era of Hammer films with Christopher Lee's classic portrayl of Dracula leading the way. With that said this 'horror' (that's not all that horrific) takes a fair while to get going and the four British tourists in Karlsbad are probably the dumbest foursome ever to go up against Dracula.
Their British persistance and acceptence of a bad situation becomes quite ridiculous at times. Lost in the woods. Trapped on a run away horse and carriage. Stranded at a creepy castle. Anyone with a level head is going to turn and run away but our fearless Brits decide to pay their respects to the owner of the spooky castle in the politest of ways. Things obviously get weirder in the castle with its weird butler and weird table for four, prepared for our victims' arrival and our 'by jove dear boy' foursome decide that sitting down and having a gentlemany conversation about it all in a very English manner is the way to go.
Honestly, it's hard not wanting to see these buffoons get bit. This plays almost like a comedy with the zero sense of danger in this film, especially with the utter fear of Helen to highlight the brothers' oblivious decisions at every turn. Of course, this is pretty much the formula for most modern horrors, other than the fact it's mostly American teenagers who fall for this shit nowadays not well-to-do British gentlemen.
Silliness aside, what Prince of Darkness does have is proper vampires and let's face it, that's all we care about here. Despite the overacting (Christopher Lee doesn't even utter a word of dialogue here), and goofy capes these are vampires who feel right when compared to our modern creatures of the night in movies, sparkling and shooting guns and what not. This Dracula isn't integrated into society, or hiding in the shadows, he waits for you to come to him. He has fangs (and not popping in and out fangs either, these are constant fangs) and this makes for a better vamp to me. When Helen turns vamp, she is noticeably a vampire and it's not just the pale skin, clever lighting stuff (which is so damn cool), she is different. She becomes something else and both her and Dracula do not feel of the same era as the rest of these characters. They are vampires and their every mannerism feels a threat to their potential victims.
This classic vampire approach still works for me, despite the 40 plus year old imagary. Sure it's got its age to contend with and modern horror filmaking is a whole different sport to this but serve me up a slow moving, creepy Dracula luring you into his cape for a nibble above where vamps seem to be at the moment. Misunderstood, trying to be good or popped collar, slicked back hair cool are all vampire traits I'm getting bored with. Movies need to get back to classic vampire imagary like this again and make them scary. Dracula Prince of Darkness, while pretty silly as a movie has the king of all Transylvanian blood suckers doing everything right and this is a fine place to be reminded of just how great Dracula can be.
From the opening flashback this transfer feels instantly clean and fresh feeling. There's barely any grain and a minimal amount of dirt and some nice technicolor feeling colours (including the reddest blood ever) with lighting giving everything an almost comic book feel. Despite reports I read elsewhere I felt the detail here was quite favourable to my TV viewed memories of Hammer films. Textures in costumes show bobbles and weave. Sets are well lit with a real warmth to them and details in the set designs are all very noticable.
The forest scenes can often have foliage becoming a bit matte painting-esq with the softer backgrounds and there's a distinct wobble to the frame from time to time but even that isn't enough to detract from the generally good image of this 1966 Hammer horror.
Natural light sources are particularly impressive and an obvious example of this HD upgrade. Some of the exterior forest based scenes glow very nicely with the blue skies and rich green trees. It's not really until darker scenes where thing gets grubby. Even with the solid blacks, shadowing just looks a little bitty and colours look more garish as they reach out from the grain.
As for the DNR talk around the net, it's certainly here but I wouldnt say it was as overbearing as other titles out there have been (*cough* Don't Look Now *cough*). There's the odd waxy face and the odd detail that feels lacking due to an over scrub but with my limited knowledge of the intended look of this Hammer horror, this transfer seems to do the era of the film's production justice for the most part. Of course die hard fans might be more akin to how their collections have looked over the years and see the DNR scrub more than me, but for a Hammer fan who's never actually owned a Hammer DVD before and therefore has nothing to compare this to, this Blu-ray looks okay for the most part.
This mono track hasn't got a great deal going on but we are presented with crisp upbeat British accents that fill most of the mix with the classic sixties horror score either sneaking about to makes scenes creepy or it leaps up to an overbearing level to bring the scares to the classic all but dated imagery. Strings are particularly strong and screechy and some of the subtle drums add quite a nice bit of tension.
There's the odd gust of wind or airy atmospheric sound from time to time but mostly this mono track keeps a constant hold of the dialogue and score throughout with volume increases being the only dynamic move it pulls.
The commentary track by Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley has the group reminiscing over their film and it comes with lots of insider facts and admiration of their colleagues and friends. They discuss what worked and what didn't with the Dracula films as well as the moments they love. The whole track is warm and friendly and it's great to hear the thoughts from the cast regarding what they deem as scary or what made Hammer films so unique. This was a great way of watching the film again and that's always a strong sign of a great commentary track.
'Back to Black' (29:34 HD) is the making of. Marcus Hearn, Hammer Film's Historian, begins by saying Prince of Darkness isn't the best Hammer horror but it has the quintessential moments of a Hammer Horror and he explains what that means. It's a great overview of the film regarding the production of the film and the new era in Hammer's film projects (including four projects back to back). It's a great albeit quaint making of with plenty to learn about the film and the time it was made.
'World of Hammer' (24:48 SD) is an old TV special celebrating Christopher Lee's involvment in the Hammer films, narrated wonderfully by Oliver Reed. It's simply a clips show really but it's great to have all of these Christopher Lee performances in one place.
'Behind the Scenes' (04:39 SD) is an 8mm film shot on the set with comments from Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Suzan Farmer.
'The Restoration Comparison' (03:57 SD) seems a little unkind as the 'before' side of the screen looks uncommonly pale and lastly there's four original trailers and a DVD copy in the pack.
Dracula Prince of Darkness takes its time to get going but about 40 minutes in, when the Count turns up, this gets a whole lot more fun. This isn't a particularly good Dracula flick really but it's classic imagery and proper approach to vampires is a joy and for a movie that drags it feet to get to the good stuff, it flys by once it gets going. The disc is okay, treading the line between impressive and limited by the film's age but the extras here are great and should keep the Hammer fans happy.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 5th March 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Commentary, Making of, Trailers, 8MM Footage from the Set, World of Hammer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir
Length: 90 minutes
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