Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), the first Hammer classic to be rereleased by StudioCanal in its restored and remastered Blu-ray collection, is quite simply one of the finest examples of horror cinema ever made. Even the most cynical viewer would be hard put to find complaint with Terence Fisher’s masterly direction of vampiric nastiness amidst the Carpathians, starring Christopher Lee as the eponymous Dracula and Francis Matthews, Charles Tingwell, Suzan Farmer and Barbara Shelley as the unfortunate travellers who become ensnared in his web of evil.
Two English couples, Charles Kent and his brother Alan (Matthews and Tingwell) and their respective wives Diana and Helen (Farmer and Shelley), are on holiday touring a remote region of Eastern Europe. Late one night whilst staying in a local inn they are befriended by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) a priest from a nearby monastery, who warns them against staying too long in the area particularly in the vicinity of the town of Karlsbad and its infamous castle. Ignoring Sandor’s advice the Kents find themselves guests at the castle the following night, and soon discover why it is that local inhabitants refuse to acknowledge the existence of the castle and its mysterious owner, Count Dracula.
An unofficial sequel to Hammer’s original Horror of Dracula (1958), right down to its reuse of that said film’s deadly denouement between Lee’s Count and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing for its pre-credit opening sequence, Dracula: Prince of Darkness was, and still is, the perfect embodiment of everything which made them not only Britain’s premiere film studio during the 1960s, but the main purveyors of classic, Gothic horror worldwide.
Involving a host of Hammer stalwarts including Lee and Shelley in front of the camera with director Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster behind the scenes, the production had all the qualities audiences had come to expect from the studio, sumptuous and atmospheric settings, sharp dialogue and a cast who approached the proceedings, no matter how preposterous, which the utmost seriousness.
One can only sit back and wallow in the sheer nostalgia of this superior frightfest (released with a host of extras including Super 8 behind the scenes footage and audio commentary from surviving cast members), until the eagerly awaited arrival later in the year of further goodies such as Plague of the Zombies (1966).