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Blu-ray Review: DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS

Scream Factory re-releases the classic Terrence Fisher vampire film on Blu-ray

There’s a vibrancy, urgency and sense of danger about the early Hammer Gothics, especially the ones helmed by the great Terrence Fisher. The studio laid out their stylistic, thematic mission statement with Fisher’s full-color, full-blooded revisits of the Universal monster warhorses – 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and 1958’s HORROR OF DRACULA, respectively – and kept that momentum up, offering more violent, sexually aware, sophisticated and lurid horror movies, a majority of them blasted onto screens in astonishing color. The look and feel of these films (and naturally, the chord they struck with audiences) birthed the later Roger Corman Poe Gothics and the early Italian Gothics of the 1960s, but there’s really nothing quite like those startling, bouncy, signature Hammer romps…

By the time HORROR OF DRACULA’s Christopher Lee returned to the cape with Fisher at the helm in 1966’s DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the worm was already turning with both Hammer and the world of horror cinema in general and thus the picture has perpetually felt a bit late-from-the-gate, a bit trapped between worlds. Fisher had already proved he could make a Dracula picture without Lee (and without Dracula for that matter) with 1960’s thundering BRIDES OF DRACULA (still this writer’s fave of the Hammer Dracula cycle) but revisiting the franchise with the actor, who by now was an international horror movie superstar, was enough of an event that DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS was a huge hit for the studio and kept Lee in costume for the next 7 years. And while DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS pales in comparison to HORROR (and suffers from the lack of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing save for an opening flashback of HORROR’s spastic ending), it’s still an atmospheric, stylish affair and sees Fisher directing with vigor. And Lee, despite playing the part totally mute (according to him because he hated the dialogue, though others have insisted the part was written as such), reminds us why he’s the screen’s definitive Count Dracula.

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