TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)

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DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)

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Eight years after Horror of Dracula, Christopher Lee and The Count returned, as did writer Jimmy Sangster, from a story by Anthony Hinds, and director Terence Fisher. Sequel takes place ten years after the previous film’s events with the villages surrounding Dracula’s castle still fearful and superstitious, despite his demise. Two couples are journeying past and are warned not to go to nearby Karlsbad and certainly stay away from the castle. They do not listen and when their driver abandons them on the road, a mysterious carriage picks them up and brings them to the castle. A man named Klove (Philip Latham) claims to be the servant of the long dead Dracula and that his master bid the castle always be prepared to receive guests…I’ll bet! Klove sacrifices one of the guests and pours their blood over Dracula’s ashes and soon The Count (Christopher Lee) rises from the dead and is hungry for the surviving members of the ill-fated party. Will they survive his thirst even with the help of a vampire savvy monk (Andrew Keir)?

Sequel is fun but, is a bit of a letdown when compared to the first film. Fisher does give the film some atmosphere and it can be quite bloody, but, it takes half the running time for Dracula to finally rise and then he doesn’t have all that many scenes. That and he never speaks a world of dialogue, just glares or hisses when angered and robs us of Lee’s intimidating baritone voice and impeccable line delivery. Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor is a fine enough adversary but, he’s no Van Helsing and no Peter Cushing. It’s a mystery why Cushing’s vampire fighter wasn’t brought back till Dracula A.D. 1972. The sets and production design are still a gothic treat and there is some intense action but, it’s too bad the film waits 45 minutes to reintroduce The Count and then never really gives us time to re-establish his threat. The film is technically sound. There is another effective score by the returning James Bernard and Michael Reed matches the muted color scheme of Jack Asher’s cinematography from the first film. A lesser effort but, still has a lot of what we like in these movies.

The cast are all fine. Lee is still intimidating as Dracula despite being given no dialogue and only having maybe ten minutes, or so, of screen time. Andrew Keir is suitable enough as Father Sandor and he is a good character but, Cushing’s Van Helsing is sorely lacking. Renown British actress Barbara Shelley makes for a fine female lead and then vampiress, but, it is Suzan Farmer’s Diane who is the real heroine of the film, though pretty much just a damsel in distress. Francis Matthews is a fine hero as Diane’s husband Charles who confronts Dracula to save his wife. Rounding out, Charles Tingwell is the ill-fated Alan Kent and gives his character some life while he is onscreen and Thorley Walters gives an off-beat performances as the disturbed Ludwig, a Renfield-like character who has encountered Dracula before and may still be in his thrall.

The film may not equal Horror of Dracula but, is still full of charm and fairly entertaining. It does make a bit of a mistake taking so long for Dracula to finally show up and then giving him nothing to say, but, Lee makes him intimidating despite minimal screen time and being reduced to more of a simple monster. It’s not the worst of the series and a lot of these flaws would be fixed in the following entry, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

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HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

With the passing of screen legend Christopher Lee, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of his greatest horror roles starting with this classic, his first film as Count Dracula for Hammer Studios!

This 1958 flick is written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher, who both worked on a number of Hammer Studios horrors, and is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s book. This version has Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) being an associate of Dr. Van Helsing’s (Peter Cushing) and infiltrating Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) castle disguised as a librarian, with plans to vanquish the monster. Harker fails to kill Dracula and The Count decides to take revenge by going after Harker’s fiancé Lucy and then her sister Mina. The only thing in the vampire’s way is Dr. Van Helsing who has come to try to save the Holmwood women and put The Count down…for the count! Sangster’s script takes many liberties with Stoker’s story but, what Dracula film hasn’t? The story is quick and to the point and doesn’t waste too much time with melodrama, getting right to the bloody action. Fisher directs the film with a moderate pace and gives it plenty of atmosphere with a gothic visual style that serves this Euro-horror very well. Fisher gives the story a slight sexual element, too, that wasn’t there in previous tellings, with Dracula’s female victims being a bit less resistant to The Count’s unearthly charms than in the past. There is also some fairly generous bloodletting that was also rare in previous vampire films and it gives this a more intense feeling than the tellings that came before it. It’s tame by today’s standards, but, must have been quite shocking to audiences in 1958 seeing blood spurting out of a staked heart in the full color of Jack Asher’s cinematography. The film is also effectively bathed in an equally gothic score by James Bernard, who became Hammer Studios go-to guy for their horror film music. All the elements combine to make a satisfying and very entertaining vampire movie that still works today as does it’s American counterparts of the 30s and 40s.

Another effective part of the film’s success is Fisher’s cast. Cushing is top-billed in this one and his Van Helsing characterization is one of the things this versatile actor is most known for. His Van Helsing is much younger and far more a man of action than the doddering old professors that preceded him and is actually a lot closer to the man in Stoker’s tale who was more of an adventurer. Cushing was also a bit dashing and he has a great rivalry/chemistry with Lee that would rekindle in two more movies as literature and film’s greatest rivals. As for Lee, his first appearance as Dracula is obviously impressive, though, The Count doesn’t have that much screen time in this one, and to be honest, he really doesn’t in the book either. He is more of a presence. When he is on screen, Lee is an imposing figure at six foot four and is a dashing looking man, as well as, intimidating, with his intense stare and smoldering features. He also adds a little sex appeal in with his menace, as he does seem to take pleasure in his blood draining, where previous vampires were simply monsters. Lee would come to own the character over the course of the series and may indeed be the quintessential Dracula to this day. Depends on what one wants in the character, but, I certainly won’t argue that he is. Cast also includes future ‘Alfred’ Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood and he is perfect as the dapper English sceptic who slowly begins to believe that monsters walk the earth. Eyssen is fine as Harker but, is on screen briefly. Melissa Stribling and Carol Marsh are also charming in the roles of Mina and Lucy perspectively but, aren’t given too much to do other than be damsels in distress but, that is a sign of the times, as this was still the 50s. At least they get to be a bit sexier than the Lugosi film heroines were years earlier.

Obviously this is a classic and even close to sixty years later, is effective and a lot of fun. Real-life best friends Cushing and Lee were in top form and just beginning to create legendary characterizations of two world famous literary figures…performances that would immortalize them alone, despite versatile and expansive resumes. It is quaint and charming by today’s standards and maybe even a bit tame when compared to modern vampire tales, but, still effective a telling nonetheless. It was the first Dracula film to turn up the sexy and crank out the blood and made a legend out of Lee and Cushing, whose body of work as a team and separately is unsurpassed. A classic and rightfully so…and for so many reasons!

-MonsterZero NJ

4 fangs.

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