Monday, October 18, 2010

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18 - Movie 2

Horror of Dracula was such a big hit, both for Hammer and Universal, its American distributor that sequels were made right away. The first of these, Brides of Dracula (1960), despite its title doesn't feature Dracula at all, though Peter Cushing does reprise his role as Van Helsing. It's, in my opinion, not only Hammer's best movie, but one of the best horror movies of all time. The next sequel was The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) which featured neither Dracula, nor Van Helsing. Dracula finally returned in Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) though without Van Helsing as an opponent (except in footage recapping the climax of Horror of Dracula).

Four tourists wind up at Castle Dracula where they spend the night. One of them winds up being slaughtered, his blood used to resurrect Dracula from the ashes. Another winds up as Dracula's first victim and converted vampire. The other two barely escape and find refuge in a monastery whose monks are well prepared for dispatching vampires. Here Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) stands in for Peter Cushing's Van Helsing as the vampire expert and protector of the innocent. The tables are turned on Dracula as Father Sandor and the two remaining tourists turn the tables on Dracula and hunt him down.

As far as sequels go, this is a superior one. I've actually always preferred this movie to Horror of DraculaDracula: Prince of Darkness is filled with eerie atmosphere, and James Bernard's score is perfectly suited to amping up the dread.  Like other Hammer horror films, this one wastes no time getting  to the horror, and doesn't stop.

Dracula seems to have more screen time here than in Horror, but no dialogue at all. Dracula is presented as a completely feral creature, strangling, shoving, and leaping all over the place. It's easy to see why Christopher Lee had grown tired of this role, though I still find his portrayal of Dracula to be very effective, however different it might be to the character presented in Bram Stoker's novel. The rest of the cast is quite good. Andrew Keir's Father Sandor is a worthy substitute for Van Helsing, but he lacks Cushing's charm and presence. The real standout is lovely Barbara Shelley as Helen, the uptight, anxious killjoy in the tourist party who is transformed by Dracula's bite into a hungry, sensual and wild feral woman.

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