#11. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Nature of Shame:
It’s been so long since I watched through the Hammer Dracula films that I can’t distinguish this one from any other. That sounds pretty shameful, but there’s so much out there I need to watch for the first time…
Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Year Ends with ‘6’
“There must always be some Hammer” is a motto fit for everyone’s Halloween viewing regimen. I re-watched Dracula last year so let’s pick up the Hammer vampire series rolling with the next appearance of Christopher Lee as the titular Count. I skipped a rewatch of the second movie in the series, The Brides of Dracula, because it didn’t feature Christopher Lee, but — who am I kidding? — I’ll probably just watch that one, too.
‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ Elevator Pitch
Set ten years after the death of Count Dracula at the hands of Van Helsing in Dracula, four English tourists (the Kents) arrive at a castle formerly belonging to the Count. The caretaker informs them that Dracula had requested that the castle remain open for passing travelers. The Kents think this sounds positively idyllic and settle in for some rest and relaxation.
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition Dracula to Return From the Grave
Some genres and some narratives can feel so routine that they’re more akin to slapping an abrasive alarm clock and falling out of bed to blearily brush one’s teeth. I’m not equating watching Dracula: Prince of Darkness to the drudgery of routine hygiene, but there’s a certain amount of standard exposition required to propel a Dracula story forward. Since we last saw Dracula fall to Van Helsing in 1958, director Terrence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster must brush their fangs before distinguishing Prince of Darkness from any other Dracula yarn.
I’m not prepared to the write the essay that connects Dracula films to 1980 slasher movies, but the genre boasts striking similarities to the routine stupidity that sets the table for Jason to slaughter a camp full of horny teens. Instead of naughty teenage girls and boys, Hammer trades in the demise of haughty aristocrats. The casual tempting of fate by ignoring the warnings of locals and indeed visiting that forbidden castle. I could call it The Bloody Ignorance of Wealth and Youth — if I were indeed writing it, but I’m not. This is all you’ll get from me.
Even once Dracula predictably returns, Dracula: Prince of Darkness takes on the role of Hammer Horror comfort food. As much as any of the other Hammer vampire movies it unfolds at a predictable pace backed by a precise gothic charm. In order to get a better sense of whether we’ve collectively become jaded over the last 53 years or if this alway felt routine, I consulted the contemporaneous critics.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called it just “another repetition of the standard tale of the vampire … There is nothing new or imaginative about it.” Since Bosley is a notorious crank, I dug a little deeper, but kept reading analysis that hops back and forth across the same fence. It’s either boring because of its similarities or its comfortable predictability makes for palatable viewing.
Also, how can it be routine and boring when Barbara Shelley’s all over your screen?
Though the story feels routine, Christopher Lee’s performance warrants return engagements. He’s the perfect embodiment of menace and red-blooded sexuality. Other less successful Draculas manage the menace but fail to smolder. In a role that requires a certain amount of carnality, Lee’s every move suggests a man (and monster) that gets precisely what he desires and his victims in turn desire him. Without the believability of that animal attraction, Dracula’s just a stiff with pointy teeth.
Final ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ Thoughts
Hammer films often reside in this realm of comfort cinema. They look great and feature wonderful on-screen personalities and talent performing in films likely beneath their abilities. They’re predictably entertaining and even the lessers, provide a solid 80 minutes of distraction. The Christopher Lee vampire films blend together because they often hover around the same placid familiarity. While I applaud the series’ later efforts to break the mold, I’m good right here — with Christopher Lee wooing and enslaving aristocratic maidens.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is currently available on a Scream! Factory Blu-ray
2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress
#1. Shocker (1989) // #2. Etoile (1989) // #3. The Phantom of the Opera (1989) // #4. Blacula (1972) // #5. Scream Blacula Scream (1973) // #6. Jaws: The Revenge (1987) // #7. Blood Bath (1966) // #8. Friday the 13th Part V (1985) // #9. Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) / #10. Friday the 13th Part VII (1988) / #11. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)