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DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS ($30) stands as one of the most intriguing entries in Hammer Studio's DRACULA series for three distinct reasons. One, it was the second film to feature Christopher Lee as the Dracula. Two, the film takes place in the proper era. Three, Hammer's finest director, Terence Fisher, was at the helm of this project. Some have criticized DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS for its violent content, but I feel you can't make a vampire movie without staking a few hearts.

The plot of DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS takes place ten years after the end of HORROR OF DRACULA (hey Warner, DVD fans are still waiting for a wide screen edition of this classic) and concerns two English couples touring the Carpathian Mountains. While spending an evening at a local inn, the four travelers encounter Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) who warns them to avoid a certain castle that does not appear on any map. While they do try to heed the priest’s warning, fate forces the four travelers to the steps of Castle Dracula. Inside the castle, they encounter Klove (Philip Latham), a faithful servant who offers them the hospitality of his long dead master.

The foursome make the unfortunate decision to stay overnight in the castle which proves fatal for one of the couples. Klove resurrects his undead master by slaughtering Alan (Charles 'Bud' Tingwell), while saving Alan’s wife Helen (Barbara Shelley) for Dracula's first meal. When morning arrives, Charles (Francis Matthews) and his wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) awaken to find their companions missing. Charles and Diana flee the castle and take refuge at the monastery where Father Sandor is the Abbot. However, Dracula doesn't take to kindly to his dinner guest walking out before the meal and goes after the couple. The Count is able to persuade Diana to return to the castle, with Charles and Father Sandor in hot pursuit. DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS stands out from the later entries in Hammer’s DRACULA series, thanks to the top-notch performances of its actors. Christopher Lee utters not a single word of dialogue, yet his presence is so commanding, one cannot take their eyes off him. Barbara Shelley was seldom better than the prim and proper English woman brought to full sexuality thanks to the vampire's kiss. Andrew Keir admirably fills the role of Van Helsing surrogate, creating one of the strongest characters of any Hammer horror film.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has released DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS on DVD utilizing the same transfer that was issued on Laserdisc by Elite Entertainment. If you have ever suffered through a pan and scan screening of DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the unenhanced Letterboxed presentation will come as a revelation. The Letterboxed transfer restores the full Techniscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio and appears to have come from an American Deluxe print, which offers somewhat muted tones. Still, the image is quite sharp and detailed looking. Digital compression artifacts were seldom noticeable.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack was clean and offered reasonable fidelity. James Bernard’s score sounded pretty good, which makes the track worth amplifying. Just like the majority of Anchor Bay titles, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS is missing the time code feature.

The interactive menus are rather simple, yet they do contain a bit of full motion video. Through the menus one can access a running audio commentary featuring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer. The commentary is entertaining, but doesn’t provide too much insight into the making of the film. Still it’s fun to hear Christopher Lee talk about a film in which he didn’t have any dialogue. Flipping the DVD will give one access to Francis Matthews’ on the set home movies, plus a theatrical trailer, and a combo trailer for DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. The DVD also includes a World of Hammer episode entitled DRACULA AND THE UNDEAD.

DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS is one of Hammer’s best vampire outings. Hammer fans are going to want to add this DVD to their collections. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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