DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Terence Fisher, 1966, UK)
Four travelers spurn the advice of locals and seek refuge in the nameless castle, it’s corridors haunted by a mysterious ronin. Director Terrance Fisher relies on cliché and trite characterizations utilizing typical genre gestures without aplomb. Unfortunately, Dracula descends towards hilarity instead of horror.
The two couples are ignorant bourgeoisie on a vacation from England, their personalities abrasive and condescending creating no emotional fission to power the narrative. Andrew Keir as Father Sandoval is the only interesting character, a mad monk who derides the villagers for their crass heresy but jumps at the chance of staking his holy claim. Keir infuses the priest with a Shakespearean megalomania, teetering on the brink of camp and cantankerousness. Christopher Lee as the undead Prince remains silent in his unholy role, his bloodshot eyes and Cheshire grin full of malice. He stalks each character with a dramatic intensity, his visage often hidden behind his caped appendage. Thorley Walters as Ludwig, the Renfield-like assistant, offers a crazed performance more comedic than tragic but is colorful nonetheless.
The plot is full of more holes than the protagonist’s necks, and the editing choppy and confusing. The couples act so stupidly that they deserve their fate, and when they sit down to a strange dinner served by a gruesome servant it is funny when he plaintively states that he still serve his master Dracula. The castle sports the worst secret door ever, “hidden” behind a hanging tapestry that flaps easily in the breeze. There is a neat murder scene where a man’s blood is used to raise the demon Prince, his throat slashed and drained into a Christopher Lee-sized mold. But the awful SPFX makes the congealing vampire look like a ball of silly putty.
The final act is a morass, employing a static chase across the fields of Transylvania that is supposed to push the heroes towards exhaustion but only takes a few minutes of screen time. They arrive at the castle’s moat and corner the Count (I suppose daylight doesn’t bother him?) and here the ending really skates upon thin ice. Final Grade: (D)