Yeah I already know that I’m not going to have a whole lot to say about this one. The Hammer monster movies are an area of horror I’ve always meant to dive into further. I believe I saw one of their Frankenstein movies (can’t recall which one now) a few years back and thought it was pretty decent so I’m surprised I didn’t keep going. Anyway I picked this movie up on bluray earlier this year based solely on reading how amazing it was that this film was actually getting a solid bluray release.
I’m not sure I get why people were so excited for this one.
The plot of Dracula: Prince of Darkness is quite simple. Four tourists go up to Dracula’s castle even though they’re told not to. Dracula happens. That about sums it up. I was a little concerned going into this since it isn’t the first Hammer Dracula movie in the series so I assumed I would be a little lost but thanks to a brief sequence at the start of this movie which shows the ending of the last one it was easy to catch up. There was Dracula, then he was killed, so there was no more Dracula. But now Dracula is happening again! Kind of. It turns out there is actually very little Dracula to be had in this movie. ….Dracula.
Yeah so Dracula doesn’t actually show up until about the 50 minute mark which wasn’t really upsetting but certainly surprising. On top of that, even once he shows up he seems to have a minimal presence. Oh and he has absolutely no dialogue. Not a single spoken line outside of some hisses, which works because Christopher Lee is clearly a master hisser. The reason for this seemingly depends on whoever you ask. Lee claims that originally there was dialogue written but it was so terrible he refused to speak any of it. The writer however claims that the script did not contain any dialogue for Dracula from the very beginning. Who knows which one of them is correct but the lack of lines doesn’t hurt the movie/role. It just makes Dracula feel like more of a monster this way, which I am ok with.
Much of the early part of the movie, which definitely has a slow build, is enjoyable because of the characters and performances, not to mention some smartly written dialogue. I particularly enjoyed a quick interaction after one of the women wakes up after hearing some noises. In so many words, the husband tells her straight up “No you didn’t. Shut up. Go back to sleep. Shut up.” There are actually several moments where the dialogue snaps like this and it makes the proceedings enjoyable even when the centric monster is not kicking around.
The look of the movie certainly helps as well as they are able to wrangle a decent amount of effective atmosphere out of their elaborate castle set. It’s not hard to see why the Hammer monster movies have become renowned for their gothic scenery as it’s largely on display here. Though I did feel that a lot of the movie felt a tad…bright I guess would be the word I’m after. For what is meant to be a gothic castle it does often feel quite well lit and chipper. It does take away some of the suspense in a few sequences I found. At no point was the movie all that scary, though in all fairness that’s a pretty common problem with a lot of older films of this genre as it’s very hard not to have become a little hardened over the years.
It’s a bit of a strange thing to call out but I want to mention how much I love the blood in these Hammer movies as I remember it looking the same in the Frankenstein movie I watched as well. It’s so bright and strange looking that I almost prefer it to the blood looking hyper realistic. I can’t even explain why, it just fits the overall tone of these movies and I love it. That being said there isn’t a whole lot of this strange looking blood shed in this movie, outside of the Dracula resurrection scene which proves to still be quite effective and gruesome even today.
While I definitely enjoyed individual moments in the movie and certainly didn’t dislike it as a whole, it did feel strangely uneventful, at least until near the end. The majority of the first act is watching our four leads roam around a vacant castle and then once Dracula does appear, things do pick up but not quite as much as I would have hoped. Lee’s wide eyed, hissy performance is effective and there are some creepy moments but I was never all that invested in what largely amounts to typical vampire behavior. “Hey I cut open my chest, you should get in on some of this kick ass chest blood. Seduction!” You know, it probably doesn’t help that in general I don’t find vampires all that interesting. Huh. This was a weird pick for me to watch….
Let’s get in some spoiler territory for a moment here so be warned. Perhaps I missed the completely rational explanation but…was Dracula really afraid of running water? I mean I know he was because it played a huge part in his demise at the end but…why in the hell was he afraid of running water? Don’t vampires already have an insane list of things they need to be terrified of? Crosses, garlic, the sun, stakes, sometimes silver, holy water and now just regular ass water as well? These guys have it rough. It’s a lame death man, fucking water…
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is ok. Good cast, good dialogue, good hissing, good castle set, but it all didn’t add up to make for a terrific movie in my eyes. I liked it just enough to seek out more from the Hammer series but I’ve often read this is amongst the top of the pile so that doesn’t instill me with a lot of hope that these movies are for me. Huh, that review turned out way longer than I was expecting it to. Good for me!