Release Date(s)1966 (December 18, 2018)
Studio(s)Hammer Films/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
After going Lee-less with the follow-up Dracula escapade The Brides of Dracula, Hammer Films decided to bring him back for another bite at the jugular for Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Although Peter Cushing’s iconic Dr. Van Helsing character was absent for this entry, it still managed to set the standard for many gothic horror films to come, including the now tried but true formula of dropping a group of strangers off in the middle of nowhere, watching them take refuge in a nearby castle, and walk into the waiting arms of the bloodcurdling Count himself.
Four English sightseers (Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley, Suzan Farmer, and Charles Tingwell) are touring the countryside when they are warned by a local priest (Andrew Keir) not to set foot in Karlsbad, nor to go to the adjacent castle. They recklessly proceed there anyway and enter its ancient stone walls. Inside a dark and faithful servant named Klove (Philip Latham) is waiting and ready to sacrifice them in order to resurrect Count Dracula. It isn’t long before they find themselves in his clutches and it’s up to the priest to come to their aid.
To be honest, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is one I’ve had to warm up to over the years as I didn’t care that much for it initially. There were several reasons for this, such as the fact that Dracula doesn’t make an appearance for nearly 50 minutes (not counting the Horror of Dracula ending recap at the beginning), but also the severe lack of Peter Cushing. However, as time goes on, it seems like a befitting sequel that perhaps only stumbles slightly.
It still manages to soak in gorgeous location and set-based cinematography, giving it a much-needed atmosphere, but the performances from the four leads (or potential victims, depending on how you look at it) are a bit stuffy and uptight. However, Andrew Keir as the priest is quite excellent. Always the stern voice of reason in an otherwise ignorant area of the world, he brings gravitas to his character and it’s a shame that he couldn’t have been utilized in future entries.
The film also features much of Christopher Lee’s Dracula iconography, including a dialogue-less performance, which only makes him all the more menacing. The shot of Lee on the second level of the castle above a staircase with red light literally bleeding all over the background behind him as his blood-soaked fangs protrude from his gaping maw is one of the greatest shots of the character ever filmed.
As the sequels would continue, newer elements were continually introduced, such as in this film, Dracula’s fear of running water, which would ultimately lead to his demise – or cauterizing the bite of a vampire in order to keep the victim from turning into one themselves. Even Bram Stoker’s original work isn’t completely ignored as the Renfield-like character of Ludwig is incorporated, complete with insect munching and a nutty devotion to his malevolent master.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release contains both the U.S. and U.K. versions of the film. For the U.S. version, a new 4K scan from an interpositive element, courtesy of 20th Century Fox (with their vintage logo at the front), has been utilized. According to the Special Thanks video in the extras, the original camera negative was too damaged to use. While it does have a solid organic appearance, the generation of this IP seems to be even further away from the original negative than most. It’s fairly dark with crushed blacks, and inherent softness, speckling, and unstable frames. The color palette also leans more towards blue, giving everything a more modern-looking color palette.
The U.K. version is taken from a much older, uneven transfer, which was sourced from a restoration done in 2007 of the original camera negative. It’s most definitely a different beast altogether. The color palette is a little less natural, leaning more towards greens and yellows, which makes skin tones appear orange. There’s also more detail, aside from a few random shots which still appear pretty dark, but is less organic in appearance due to some prevalent DNR. It’s also a bit too clean, lacking an overt grain structure. Blacks are not as crushed and sometimes shadow details are good, but at other times, particularly during darker scenes, they’re lacking.
The bottom line is that neither version is definitive, but it’s nice to have options at the very least. Since the content is the same outside of the opening and closing credits, I’d suggest flipping back and forth between the two versions to get an idea of which one is more preferable.
The audio selection is much simpler. It’s a straightforward English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s clean clear with no dropouts, good separation of the various elements, nice dialogue reproduction, and an ample amount of support for sound effects and score. Not much more to it than that.
The supplemental material is fairly bountiful, including a new (and always welcome) audio commentary from author and film historian Troy Howarth; another audio commentary with filmmaker Constantine Nasr and writer/producer Steve Haberman; a vintage audio commentary with actors Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, and Barbara Shelley (carried over from the original Anchor Bay DVD release); Back to Black – The Making of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, a great 31-minute documentary about the film, including interviews with some of the cast members; the 25-minute Dracula & The Undead episode of The World of Hammer, narrated by Oliver Reed; 5 minutes of Super 8 behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Lee, Farmer, Matthews, and Shelley; the U.K. theatrical trailer; the U.S. theatrical trailer (paired with The Plague of the Zombies); the U.K. theatrical re-release trailer (paired with Frankenstein Created Woman); an animated still gallery containing 105 images of on-set and behind-the-scenes photos; an animated poster gallery containing 64 theatrical posters and lobby cards; and the aforementioned but brief Special Thanks video.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness probably isn’t the best entry point for those who’ve never seen any of these films before, but it’s a damn fine follow-up that all but guaranteed more sequels, some better than others. While the extras package for this release is quite excellent, the A/V quality leaves a little to be desired. I can all but guarantee that it won’t be the last time we’ll be visiting the film on home video, but if a higher quality presentation can be retrieved in the future, I’m more than willing to pony up the money for one. For now though, this is still the nicest package you’re going to find for now, especially for the commentaries. It’s definitely worth your time, especially if you’re a Hammer Films fan.
– Tim Salmons