Sunday, April 5, 2015

Neck in line for the throne

It took Hammer eight years to persuade Christopher Lee to don the cape again for Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Once again Terence Fisher directed, sadly no Peter Cushing this time, so Andrew Keir fills in as Father Sandor.

Four British tourists find that there is no such thing as a free lunch when they stumble upon Dracula's castle and the supposed hospitality of his loyal servant Klove. Before long one of them is hanging upside down bleeding over Dracula's coffin leading to a lovely special effects sequence as the Count's body rebuilds itself. The rest is mostly familiar stuff with the usual Vampire conventions. Keir provides a reassuring presence as the new Vampire hunter, and Francis Matthews makes a good lead. And of course there is a marvellous turn by cult horror legend Barbara Shelley who gets to utter the great line "There will be no morning for us" before her husband provides the liquid component for Dracula's regeneration and she joins the ranks of the undead.

In usual Hammer fashion it rattles along in a tight 90 minutes leading to a splendid chase and the finale as Dracula is trapped on thin ice with Sandor firing bullets to crack it and send him plunging to a watery doom. Quite why Dracula allows running water around his castle is perplexing but best not dwelt on. The other strange thing is the decision to have Dracula remain mute throughout the film. Depending on who you you believe this was either due to Lee refusing to say the lines, or the writer Jimmy Sangster not writing any for him. Either way it does detract from Dracula's established urbane menace which is a shame.

It's a four star film mainly for the performances of Lee, Keir, Matthews and Shelley. This is my first film from a Dutch box set of Hammer classics which also includes the Quatermass movies which kickstarted the Hammer story. Next up may well be some British zombies.

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