Spoiler Alert! I’ll try not to give away the dramatic conclusion, but I am pretty much going to tell you what happens in this picture.
I have to confess that I am not as fond of the horror movies made after 1960. Could it be the color film which is so much less atmospheric? Could it be the increasingly graphic quality of the violence (don’t even get me started on the body count slasher flicks of the ’70s)? In any case, it was in some trepidation that I sat down to watch Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
I noted that it was a Seven Arts/Hammer Production. Hammer, I learned recently, was a British company that became somewhat renowned for its horror movies in the ’60s. On consulting one of his movie books, Steven informed me that this movie was the sequel to Horror of Dracula. I imagined we would be able to follow the plot in spite of having missed the first installment. I was right.
The movie opens on a life and death struggle between a vampire and some guy. We never find out who the guy is, but he triumphs and the vampire eventually crumbles to dust in a not bad special effect for the time. My guess is that this is how the first movie ended, which I certainly like better than the whole movie being a flashback telling us how we got to this point.
So call that the prologue. The real movie starts with an old woman chasing down some sort of funeral procession starring a beautiful young blond girl. I thought she looked a little like a young Cybil Shepherd. That reminded me of her eponymous sitcom where her character was a actress who would have been grateful to get a dead body part.
The anchor guy in the procession carries a wooden stake, and the procession leads to a pile of sticks. Apparently they are going to stake the young woman and burn her JUST IN CASE she is a vampire. And that is the first “Waaait a minute” moment in the film. If she was a vampire, wouldn’t she be crumbling into dust from the daylight? No matter, these guys are taking no chances, despite the old woman’s protests that her daughter deserves a proper Christian burial.
Enter a monk on a horse with a shotgun, who stops the whole thing, insists the girl be buried, but does not stick around to see it carried out. We don’t see it carried out either, but I think it was done. Anyways, that was just more background: the vampire is dead but people still fear him.
Next we’re in a tavern where an upper class guy is doing what looks like a fraternity party chug-a-lug with the lower classes. His sister-in-law disapproves but his wife thinks he’s cute and, besides, “We can afford it.”
When the monk (I can’t capitalize it or you’ll think I’m talking about the Tony Shaloub show on USA) shows up, hollering at the crowd for being such superstitious louts, he meets the upper class foursome: two brothers and their wives on vacation to improve their minds.
The monk, refreshing himself with mulled cordial and hiking his robes up to warm his backside at the fire, invites them to come stay at his monastery. At any rate, they mustn’t go to Carlsbad, where they originally intended, and if they do they must stay away from the castle.
Hmmm…. Where do you suppose they’re going to end up?
How they get to the castle is less “Waaait a minute!” than “Oh, PLEASE!” Nobody but Disapproving Sister-in-Law is the least bit disconcerted that they find themselves dropped off at the castle by runaway horses, their luggage mysteriously brought upstairs, and dinner ready to be served by a singularly creepy servant who appears to be the castle’s only inhabitant.
You know, I’m all for mysterious things happening in horror movies. And I’m even OK with going with the flow and having an adventure. I KNOW that if these people would have sensibly gone to stay at the monk’s house it would have been a dull movie. But I think these people took things entirely too far.
In a rather gruesome scene, one of the four gets sliced open in order to bring the vampire’s ashes back to life. Apparently the creepy servant carefully preserved them in a funereal-looking box.
And you know, I think they missed a bet. Have you ever tried to sweep up ashes? Heck, even sweeping ordinary household dirt you don’t get it all. You know how it is: you sweep, sweep, sweep it into the dustpan, then you scatter around the last little bit that you just can’t get. And then some of it stays on the broom or in the dustpan. There’s no way that entire vampire would have been there!
Actually, come to think of it, he wasn’t. As Dracula, Christopher Lee has no lines. Was this so the producers wouldn’t have to pay him as much, or were Dracula’s vocal chords still stuck in the cracks between the flagstones where he met his end? Points to ponder.
Be that as it may, the movie continues with another member of the party lured to her doom. Of course she becomes a vampire, which improves her personality as well as her hair-do. Eventually the other two are fleeing for their lives.
They meet up with the monk again, who tells them how to kill a vampire. Did you know you could drown a vampire in running water? I didn’t. I thought it was sunlight or stake through the heart, although you can temporarily chase them off with garlic or a crucifix.
I was a little disappointed in the movie. For one thing, it didn’t really seem like Count Dracula. He just seemed like any common or garden vampire, and he didn’t even have that big a part. He was scary enough when he was onscreen, although as with many movie monsters, he moved too slowly. Perhaps I should cut him a break on that one, though. After all, he was only ashes just that morning.
But he was not onscreen enough. It took forever to get him brought back from ashes and even then he didn’t spend nearly enough time chasing his victims to suit me.
But perhaps I ask too much. At any rate, I have another Christopher Lee Dracula movie on my DVR, probably a sequel to this one. I’ll watch it and report on whether he gets a little more personality or at least the use of his vocal chords.