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Dracula - Prince of Darkness (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000147776
Added by: Stuart McLean
Added on: 11/3/2012 20:08
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    Review for Dracula - Prince of Darkness

    7 / 10

    Inline Image

    Because Hammer is something of a British institution, and because of my own experiences at Bray Studios, it's easy to start discussing a Hammer release by specifying the parts of which it is a sum, rather than simply as a film. So by way of saving me from myself I'll start by saying that, as films go, this is actually a very fine one. It's a compelling and creepy watch and though Christopher Lee utters not a single word, his screen presence as the Count is immense. Unlike many other Hammers from the era, it's actually pretty creepy too with some quite extreme (implied) violence and genuine thrills.

    Which simply leaves me to start deconstructing the parts that culminated in one of Hammer's most popular and, in my view, most exciting outings.

    Let's be clear. 'Dracula - Prince of Darkness' is the quintessential Hammer horror, ticking off each and every defining feature of what was to become a genre in its own right. A remote castle, frightened villagers, a vampiric Count, an Igor styled sidekick, visitors lost in woods having to stay overnight, plenty of blood-sucking eroticism, hints of lesbianism and on the list goes.

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    Interestingly, despite its seemingly high production value, it was one of four budget films produced almost simultaneously by Hammer, re-utilising locations and studio sets, costumes, actors and crew, to get the Hammer finances in good order.

    It's the second Dracula film from the studio and Lee's reappearance in the film doesn't happen for 40 minutes and when it does it's set up by the most gruesome of scenes where a suspended victim has their throat cut so that their blood runs into Dracula's grave to resurrect him. And what a resurrection!

    The script is a bit slight and centers on two couples who are exploring the region where Dracula's castle lies. But Barbara Shelley's excellent performance as a whittling worrier and Philp Latham's turn as the Count's faithful servant keep the film in good form until the Count arrives and the real fun begins.

    There's no Van Helsing here (Peter Cushing in the first film) though luckily there is a vampire -slaying monk to hand to bring the film to a satisfying close. Christopher Lee's blood-shot eyes and bloodied teeth are used to great effect throughout and to this day, the film provides most the iconic stills published of Lee's Dracula.

    Inline Image

    It's a nice transfer though occasionally lacking deep contrast which is surprising given the repair job undertaken. Surely some judicious grading could have improved this? Audio-wise it's a crisp mono soundtrack though there appeared to be occasional synch-issues. (I don't know whether these were from the transfer or the print but it was surprising that they weren't corrected whatever the case). Never enough to completely spoil enjoyment but noticeable nonetheless.

    The extra features are well worth a look. First up is a fun documentary that features Marcus Hearn and huge Hammer fan Mark Gatiss who clearly adores the film. Matthews and Shelley are also included and their recollections are really great to hear.

    A nice extra feature is a 'World of Hammer' episode focusing on Lee which is narrated by Oliver Reed and is a good reminder just how prolific an actor Lee was for Hammer in its heyday.

    There is some behind-the-scenes super-8 footage (shot by Matthews's brother); a restoration comparison, some trailers and some alternate titles.

    No Hammer fan will want to be without this edition of one of the studios most iconic films and frankly, the extras alone should convince most that this is well worth the purchase price.

    Your Opinions and Comments

    DPOD could have been an absolute nightmare to restore, because like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and the two Thunderbirds movies of the 1960s, it was shot using the 2-perf Techniscope system.  (For the uninitiated, each frame of the negative was half the usual height but the normal width.)  When The Good, The Bad and The Ugly  was being restored for DVD in 2004, there had only been one lab in LA capable of handling Techniscope - which requires specialist optical printing to produce a conventional print from the half-height negative.
    posted by Mark Oates on 27/10/2012 02:52
    Interesting. And odd. That would make it very wide indeed whilst using half the stock? Was this a money saving excercise - a bit like using 16mm? Neither Thunderbirds nor this look like that.
    posted by Stuart McLean on 29/10/2012 08:56
    Techniscope wasn't an anamorphic process.  It was shot with standard spherical lenses and then an anamorphic squeeze was introduced in producing an internegative for printing.  For Jim Cameron on Titanic (1997), Techniscope offered a double capacity while shooting the real Titanic from the confines of a submarine.  I believe Ipcress File was also shot 2-perf.  In some ways Techniscope was a forerunner of Super-35, offering the ability to shoot full widescreen (2.35:1) while using bog-standard 35mm lenses which gave better depth of field, focal lengths and light transmission to the limited range of 'Scope lenses.
    posted by Mark Oates on 29/10/2012 18:34
    Uh - thanks. I think! So they shot super-wde on standard 35mm stock (with standard 35mm spherical lenses) and then processed / transferred this way using anamorphic squeeze? OR shot using 35mm lenses on to special stock? I must investigate as this now has my head reeling!
    posted by Stuart McLean on 30/10/2012 08:11
    Ah! Wikepedia explains it and I think I was right. A way of getting twice as many 'wide' frames per roll. So a money saving excercise that affectively downgrades the stock to 16mm-ish. Yet neither movie you mention looks like it's suffering as a result.
    posted by Stuart McLean on 30/10/2012 08:14