• Dracula: Prince Of Darkness



    Released by: Millennium Entertainment
    Released on: September 17th, 2013.
    Director: Terence Fisher
    Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer
    Year: 1966
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    The Movie:

    Terence Fisher’s 1966 film, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, picks up where 1958’s Horror Of Dracula leaves off. A quick flashback of sorts shows us how Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) got rid of him but as we all know, Dracula never stays down for long. From here we meet two brothers Alan (Charles Tingwell) and Charles (Francis Matthews) Kent who are travelling with their wives Helen (Barbara Shelley) and Diana (Suzan Farmer) to the town of Karlsbad. What should have been an easy voyage soon turns problematic when a monk named Father Sandor (Andrew Kier) warns them to stay far away and their coachman, spooked by the stories revolving around the place, leaves them high and dry.

    They look to be pretty much stranded until, completely out of nowhere, a carriage without a horseman arrives and after they opt to hope in and see where it goes, they wind up at a creepy old castle up in the mountains. Shortly after their arrival, they’re greeted by a butler named Klove (Philip Latham) who informs them that his master, Count Dracula (Christopher Lee in a silent role), insisted that his home always be ready to receive visitors, and hence his unusual hospitality. They’re fed and decide to spend the night, during which Alan decides to explore the place on his own. This type of thing never ends well and before you know it poor Alan has been strung up over a coffin in the basement with his throat slit. His blood pours into the coffin and so begins Dracula’s resurrection. Now fully formed and ready for more, Dracula puts the bite on lovely Helen and things look bad, but soon that mysterious monk shows up to help…

    The lack of Peter Cushing is felt in this second film in the Hammer Dracula series (he appears only in the opening flashback and is basically replaced by Kier in a role very much like Van Helsing’s part in the first picture) but otherwise this one holds up well. Lee is great in the role, he’s menacing and slick and scary all at the same time while the rest of the cast also do fine work here. Barbara Shelly looks beautiful and the camera loves Suzan Farmer just as much. Kier, Tingwell and Matthews are also fine here and the cinematography and score are also both impressive. The production values in general are pretty decent, really, even if the castle is obviously a matte painting and the ice that we see used in the big finish is obviously not really ice at all. The interiors of the castle look good as do the scenes that play out in the woods before the action relocates.

    The film isn’t the fastest paced entry in the line. It takes a while to really get moving and this might put off some looking for a more action oriented picture but once Dracula us back and Lee is doing what Lee does best, there’s a lot to appreciate about this movie. It’s got enough gore and heaving bosoms to satisfy most fans and on top of that it’s got quite a bit of legitimate atmosphere to go along with it. You could argue that for a Dracula movie, the film doesn’t really have enough Dracula in it, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that, but if you can look past that and appreciate what the rest of the cast are able to bring to the story and take in Fisher’s fine direction, this one works very well indeed.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Dracula: Prince Of Darkness arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen presented in full 1080p high definition. Detail in the movie looks unusually soft at times, you’ll notice a lack of facial detail in close up shots and it would appear some noise reduction has been applied. Colors looks quite good if sometimes just a little green, while black levels are decent throughout though sometimes shadow detail is less than perfect. The image is certainly very clean though some compression artifacts can be spotted throughout the movie. The Studio Canal logo that plays before the movie starts is probably a pretty good indicator that Millennium’s source is the same as that used by Studio Canal for the UK release but here the transfer has been put onto a BD25 whereas that UK disc used a BD50 – which would explain some of the visible artifacts. This definitely improves over the Anchor Bay DVD release from years back, however, and in motion this looks pretty good.

    For a comparison between the original Studio Canal Blu-ray release, the corrected Studio Canal Blu-ray and this here Millennium Entertainment Blu-ray, click here!

    The only audio option for the feature is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix in the film’s native English language. There’s no lossless audio option offered here, unfortunately. The Dolby Digital track sounds fine for the most part, it’s a little flat in spots but the score sounds decent enough as does the dialogue and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The UK disc’s lossless mix has a bit more depth to it, however. Optional English closed captioning is also offered.

    The extras are carried over from the UK disc starting with a commentary track by cast members Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer. This track originally appeared on the old Anchor Bay DVD release so it’s been around the block but for those who haven’t had the chance to listen to it, this is a good discussion. The cast are fairly active here and go into a fair bit of detail about their characters, what it was like working with Fisher, some of the issues that came up during the production and more.

    From there we get a World Of Hammer episode entitled Hammer Stars: Christopher Lee which runs about twenty-five minutes and is narrated by Oliver Reed. Originally created in 1994 it’s an interesting look at the work that Lee did for the studio and a nice overview of a very important part of his career. We also get a proper documentary on the feature entitled Back to Black that clocks in at just over a half an hour in length. Put together by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, it features interviews with stars Shelley and Matthews as well as input from Jon Mann who helped out with the restoration of the movie. Complimenting this is a four minute long split screen Restoration Example piece that shows us side by side comparisons of before and after footage.

    Rounding out the extras is an original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter stops. Inside the Blu-ray case is a selection of collector's card replicas that were not included in any previous release of the movie. The UK release included some alternate credits sequences and five minutes of behind the scenes footage that has not been carried over to this release.

    The Final Word:

    For those who can’t or don’t want to import, this domestic release of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness is the next best thing to the Studio Canal version. As to the movie itself, it’s a great slice of vintage Hammer horror with a fantastic performance from Lee and good supporting work by everyone else. It’s got style, suspense, shocks and sex appeal – everything you’d want from a prime Hammer picture.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!