Saturday, October 5, 2013

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS - Get Behind Me Christopher Lee!

Terence Fisher is the guy who started it all. By directing Curse of Frankenstein and breathing new life into Dr. Frank’s monster in the form of a disfigured Chris Lee with copious non-Karloffian makeup, Fisher initiated the beginning of the new Universal monster boom. While Hammer themselves had to distance their new incarnations from the Universal form and function to avoid infringing on intellectual property, they would later work closely alongside Universal to provide worldwide distribution for Frankenstein. Hammer was eventually afforded the use of the cavalcade of copyrights of Universal’s monster movies after having assisted in the financing for Hammer’s first Dracula picture (I know it as Horror of Dracula living in the United States). Dracula, also directed by Fisher, spawned sequels not unlike Curse of Frankenstein. The next generation of the Dracula series would feature different combinations of the stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee from the original Dracula picture; sometimes Cushing played the hero and more often than not Chris Lee played Count Dracula. That’s the set up. Dracula: Prince of Darkness from 1966 is the third installment in the series following up a Lee-less, The Brides of Dracula some six years earlier. There are eight years between Lee’s representation of the Count. Eight years to create something new and horrifying out of an evil that was supposedly vanquished quite permanently from the land of good. Eight years to make an audience believe that Dracula didn’t turn to dust right before their very eyes.
When an unsuspecting group of vacationers takes a visit to Castle Dracula, a servant welcomes them as is the custom set forth by the castle’s former master. Little do they know the servant, Klove, has plans of his own involving the rebirth of the Prince of Darkness, not Satan, but Count Dracula himself. The legend continues as Dracula returns from death to destroy life and attempt to bring his reign of the undead over the world.
Prince of Darkness starts off slow. That’s the number one gripe of fans of the Hammer vamp pictures. You have to set up this story carefully in order to make the visit to the castle believable and the re-emergence of Drac feel organic to the story. Think of how many ways we watch Fred Krueger or Jason Voorhees come back to life; they always end up feeling moderately forced; the newer pictures seem unconcerned with the continuity of story or believability. Instead Prince of Darkness develops and eventually Chris Lee is standing before us after a spectacular blood baptism that brings him back to life complete with mega-gore unlike anything Hammer had done previously. This begins the Hammer shock cycle in that regard committing to the violent overtures made in some of their earlier monster movies especially alongside Revenge of Frankenstein. If it takes some time to get to the grueling re-birth, I can assure you it is worth it. Make sure you don’t have any Dracula guts in your bathtub before your morning shower.
Once Drac’s back you can expect a fairly typical vampire movie complete with the creation of new vampires, violence and some very dark chase sequences. While I do not wish to give the whole thing away, I will say that Prince of Darkness ends in perhaps the most unique way of any of the Dracula features made by Hammer or perhaps by any other company. Peter Cushing does not return for this feature after appearing sans Lee in The Brides of Dracula.
Yes, Christopher Lee plays Dracula nearly mute, but if you remember the original Dracula, Chris Lee wasn’t dishing out dialogue then either. He does don some blood red contact lenses which give this monster a completely terrifying look. Don’t worry, he doesn’t come off like your stoner friend who ate to many hash brownies. As a kid, I was utterly horrified by this presentation of Dracula, and it may be my favorite next to the traditional Bela Leguosi look.   

This is a Hammer picture first and foremost so expect a very Technicolor, pretty version of the film. The transfer is intensely beautiful. The disc itself contains a before and after restoration comparison that actually shows the lackluster original print and the contrasty, crisp and bright new version. This is the definitive edition; the one to collect. Alongisde the new look, Millenium Entertainment has given us plenty of extras in this Collector’s Edition packaging. The Back to Black documentary and Hammer Stars: Christopher Lee featurettes are made for fans who want the total immersion in both this picture and the body of work from which Lee and Fisher have drawn countless screams. 
Here’s a full list of Special Features:
  • · Audio commentary with Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Suzan Farmer and Francis Matthews
  • · Exclusive still gallery 
  • · Restored original trailer
  • · Dracula: Prince of Darkness restoration comparison
  • · Super 8MM behind-the-scenes footage
  • · Brand new documentary- "Back to Black"
  • · World of Hammer Episode: "Hammer Stars: Christopher Lee"
  • · Printed Memorabilia perfect for every classic Hammer fan out there
The printed memorabilia above come in the form of lobby card-esque post card size prints that look fantastic for display, come in a tidy envelope and make opening this edition a treat to hold in your hands as much as watching it on the television. 

You can pick up the Fisher/Lee partnership in this new deluxe edition now. Perfect for Halloween viewing. Perfect for the Hammer fan and great for fans of Lee’s other work who are looking for a fresh take on the new version of the monster he helped to resurrect.


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