I can remember being outraged by DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS when I saw it as a kid.
There’s the title, there’s the fact that Christopher Lee’s name appears first in the credits in bigger font than everyone else’s, and then there’s the obvious disconnect that Dracula himself doesn’t appear until half way through and even then Sir Chris doesn’t utter any dialogue. If I watch a Dracula film, then I want to see that Dracula is actually in it doing Dracula stuff.
The creature in this movie could be any vampire. More than that, it wouldn’t require much rewriting to make this A.N. Other monster. It’s a stock monster, one without character or drama, and is an absolute waste of Christopher Lee in that cloak.
Actually, all that makes it sound like I’m getting angry over it all over again. But that’s not the case. As while I don’t think it’s a classic, DRACULA. PRINCE OF DARKNESS does have more going for it than my young eyes would have ever have allowed.
For starters, there’s no nonsense, rifle wielding kick-ass monk, Father Sandor.
This is a great character. This is the kind of character that spin-off media was invented for. Why aren’t there films and novels of him touring Europe and gritting his teeth as he takes on other monsters? The Karnsteins, Frankenstein and his latest creature, the Wolfman. There’s a series of films right there. I also greatly enjoyed the fact that his monastery keeps a vampire’s familiar prisoner. Although purely for plot reasons, they don’t keep him prisoner very well.
The other element worth noting, and this takes me back slightly to my TWINS OF EVIL review, is the paranoia that’s afoot after the fall of Dracula. Ten years after his demise at the hands/improvised cross of Van Helsing, we have a community so utterly traumatised that they’re willing to do all sorts of dreadful acts to stop a threat which doesn’t exist. I know THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL went down this path, but it was fertile ground for Hammer as well. Although fertile ground only tentatively explored.
Good ideas then, but let down by a bog-standard plot that sees two couples waylaid in Castle Dracula, and idiotic moments like: “Darling, I know my brother and sister-in-law have disappeared, but while I go and hunt for them, why don’t you wait here alone in these deserted woods?”
It’s not great, but it’s nowhere near as bad as my eleven year old self thought. And, in what’s becoming a recurring theme as I go back and look at these old Hammer movies again, there are some interesting things here, I just wish more was being done with them.