Dracula - Prince Of Darkness (1966)
Like many other people, I thought that Hammer made a lot more Dracula films than they actually did, and was genuinely surprised when I realised what a huge gap there was between the first and the second.
What is even more surprising is the way Hammer have taken the original source material, and turned in something even better than the first film. What's more, there's no Van Helsing, no relocation to England - in fact, very little of the Dracula cliches you might associate with Hammer (to be honest, only a couple of their films go down the "Burgermeister! Your buxom wenches are dropping like flies - get together a deputation from the village, hoist those flaming torches aloft and let's go to the castle!" route).
Instead of Van Helsing, those clever chaps at Hammer invented Father Shandor, a monk with a mission (and a big gun). Andrew Kier excels in this role as a big, bearded bully, shouting at backward peasants for their superstitions, before going right ahead and staking vampires left, right and centre. It's still the same tale of sceptical Northern Europeans failing to take heed of the warnings plainly spelled out to them about Castle Dracula, but this time the deaths come thick and fast, Dracula's lifestyle sticks very closely to that detailed by Stoker, and the whole thing is a class act from beginning to end.
The only small niggle I'd have is that in giving him another "Achilles heel" in pure running water, the script writers did rather pave the way for the future "anything goes" methods of dispatching vampires, which reached a nadir in the otherwise superb Satanic Rites, when not only do hawthorn branches cause the Count no end of problems, but a bunch of water sprinklers despatch a whole army of semi clad toothy totty.
Having watched all the Draculas recently for this website, I have to say that none of them are as bad as I once thought - and each has its own merits. Dracula - Prince Of Darkness has to rank as one of the best, though. Barbara Shelley is gorgeous (as usual), some of the deaths are extremely unpleasant, and Shandor is a great character. What a shame he never had a sequel of his own.
Last updated: February 25, 2010
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