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This review appears direct to the web courtesy of THE CINEMA LASER.



Thank your lucky stars that Elite Entertainment Inc. exists! Had it not been for Elite, Hammer fans might have never seen a deluxe Letterboxed edition of DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS ($50) along with an audio commentary featuring Christopher Lee and fellow cast members. DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS sat in the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment library for years. Neither Fox nor Image Entertainment could have cared less about this wonderful Hammer title. I’m particularly thankful that the video rights to the Hammer-Seven Arts package reverted back to Hammer. It was at this point that William Lustig and Magnum Motion Pictures, Inc. acquired the video rights to DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS along with the other 13 titles in the package. The video rights were then sublicensed to Elite Entertainment Inc., whose outstanding reputation made them the perfect company to release the Hammer titles on Laserdisc.

DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS is the second film in Hammer’s Dracula series and opens with a flashback sequence featuring the closing moments of HORROR OF DRACULA. You don’t know what a thrill it is to see at least some portion of HORROR OF DRACULA presented Letterboxed. Hey Warner isn’t it about time you released a Letterboxed edition of HORROR OF DRACULA? Well, we can always hope the rights will revert back to Hammer, and Elite will get a crack at it. The plot of DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS finds us ten years after Dracula met his destruction at the hands of Professor Van Helsing. Two couples traveling together across the Carpathian Mountains find themselves abandoned by their coachman. With no other choice they make their way to the door to castle Dracula. One of Dracula’s faithful servants extends the hospitality of his long dead master, taking in the travelers, and using them to resurrect his undead master. One couple survives their ordeal, and they manage to find their way to a Monastery where the Abbot offers them protection.

Unfortunately, Dracula doesn’t take too kindly to his meals getting away from him and follows the couple to their sanctuary. There, Dracula seduces and abducts the wife, leaving the husband and the Abbot in hot pursuit. Director Terence Fisher understood that less is more, and he makes the most of the simple plot, evoking terror from every shadow. DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS has very little overt violence, except for one very important exception. The resurrection of Dracula is the film’s most famous sequence, with Dracula’s servant hanging one of the travelers upside down over the coffin and then slashing his throat. Blood pours from the victim’s body onto Dracula’s ashes, restoring the life force to the vampire Count. Christopher Lee makes this Dracula one of the screens best by utilizing purist form of acting- pantomime. Lee utters not a single word of dialogue, yet his terrifying visage is enough to captivate and shock audiences. Barbara Shelley turns in a standout performance as the prim and proper wife who displays wanton sexual abandon when she becomes a bride of Dracula. Andrew Keir does a fine turn as the Abbot whose knowledge and rationality lead to Dracula’s eventual undoing. Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer are the young couple who survives their ordeal with Dracula. Matthews and Farmer make the most of their underwritten roles. Thorley Walters turns in an amusing performance as Dracula’s human disciple who has a taste for flies, and Philip Latham is great as Dracula’s malevolent servant.

Elite Entertainment has done a fine job transcribing DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS to Laserdisc. The digital film to tape transfer was personally supervised by William Lustig of Magnum Motion Pictures and Elite Entertainment associate John Esposito. The Letterboxed transfer restores the film to its proper 2.35:1 Techniscope theatrical aspect ratio. Being able to see DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS in its proper aspect ratio is a revelation. This Letterboxed transfer really makes you aware of how awful the pan and scan transfers of DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (which still play on television) truly are. The transfer of DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS appears to be taken from a 20th Century Fox Deluxe interpositive. The image is detailed, yet it has the diffuse look of a Deluxe element. Colors also have the slightly muted appearance of a Deluxe element. The transfer does however clean up many of the problems inherent in Deluxe film elements from the sixties, rendering an image far superior to any American theatrical print of DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS. The theatrical trailer appears as if Technicolor in England could have printed it. The image is slightly sharper on the trailer than it is in the film proper. The colors on the trailer also appear more natural.

The digital monaural soundtrack is quite pleasing. Especially James Bernard’s music during the opening credits. The soundtrack is very clear sounding and Bernard’s music seems to have a great deal of depth. The Pioneer pressing had a few speckles.

Elite Entertainment Inc. has included an audio commentary with Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer as its chief supplement. 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 speak. The rest of the participants also seem to be having a good time reminiscing about the people involved in the production and providing other anecdotes. Other supplements include Francis Matthews’ on the set home movies, a theatrical trailer, and a combo trailer for DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES.

DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a great Hammer horror film, and is one of the most important horror Laserdiscs of the year. Congratulations to Vini Bancalari and Don May Jr. of Elite Entertainment Inc. for making the wishes of so many Hammer fans come true.


Laserdisc reviews are Copyright 1997 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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