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Right then - time for my next Dracula sequels review. I may seem to be watching them in a completely random order, but in fact it is determined by a complex algorithm which takes into account a precisely-balanced combination of how long ago it is since I last saw each one, and how much I remember liking it. On that basis, Prince of Darkness is up next. I watched it only three years ago with ms_siobhan, so won't repeat what I said last time about the awesomeness of Klove, vampire!Helen (Barbara Shelley)'s lesbitious dialogue, or the canny use of bits of Stoker's novel which they hadn't bothered with in the first film. But there are plenty of other things to talk about, don't worry! (As if anyone was.)

Firstly, having watched Risen from the Grave very recently, I can consider the issue of why Risen beats Prince hands down any day for me - without even breaking a sweat. It was fair to say in my previous review of Prince that it does have some good characters. Klove, vampire!Helen, Father Sandor (the Van Helsing substitute figure, played by the wonderful Andrew Keir) and Ludwig are all great. But it takes forty minutes before Dracula is even resurrected (though in fairness the resurrection scene is very cool when it happens), and most of that forty minutes is taken up with the business of four pretty dull English travellers getting lost in the Carpathian mountains and complaining about lumpy beds. That's just too long, when surely what we have all paid to see is Dracula getting down to some proper evil-doing.

By contrast, although I didn't notice exactly how long it takes for Dracula to be resurrected in Risen, that is half the point - I wasn't getting bored and looking at the clock. Risen gets straight on with some proper vampirism in the very first scenes, and then follows up with arguments amongst the local villagers and dramatic stormy happenings up the mountain which are all very enjoyable to watch. Meanwhile, I think Dracula himself is back in action by between 20 and 30 minutes in, which is probably about the right balance between building up the tension and not having your audience start to wander off. Besides, once he turns up he gets plenty of evil business - you know, enslaving priests, luring young girls to their doom, hatching malicious revenge plans, that sort of thing - and some great lines ("Who has done this thing?" "You have failed me - you must be punished"). In Prince, he only really has one plan - Get The Girl - and also famously doesn't speak at all. OK, so that allows him to be feral and predatory, hissing and hurling people about, but in my view the Dracula character works best if he hits three key notes, all more or less equally: icily aristocratic, darkly sexual and violently monsterish. In Prince, the lack of dialogue means we just don't get much chance to see the icy aristocrat, and the whole film is the poorer for it.

Still, Prince is by no means awful. It's just not as good a 'straight' sequel as Risen, is all. It does have some great content - like for example an early 'teaser' scene when we see Klove's shadow approaching through a doorway, and are clearly supposed to think for a moment that it is Dracula, only to find that it's not! But the guy it is is still scary! It's almost like they are teasing us by not giving us Dracula himself, especially as Klove then proceeds to get all the same sort of ostensibly-polite but actually very creepy dialogue while he is serving soup to the travellers as Dracula got in his scenes with Harker in the first film. There is a reprise of this 'is it Dracula?' moment later in the film, too, when Charles and Diana (yes, really) are thrown from their carriage and Charles looks up to see a figure in a dark floor-length cloak - but it turns out to be Father Sandor rather than Dracula. Props are also in order for Dracula's death-scene, in which he ends up falling through a sheet of icy to a watery doom, and which Christopher Lee plays with just the right balance of confusion, betrayal and agony.

Prince is also notable for inverting the sexual morality of the original novel, which is in turn sort-of preserved in the first film (though not very clearly if you haven't read the novel as well). In the book, Lucy has multiple suitors, and tells Mina that she doesn't want to have to decide between them. In other words, by Victorian standards, she is a wanton hussy. But Mina has eyes only for Jonathan Harker, and indeed marries him part-way through the story. So the fact that Lucy falls victim to Dracula whereas Mina, though attacked, resists and is ultimately saved reflects a distinct moral judgement on female sexuality - flirty flibbertigibbets will be punished, but faithful married women will be saved. In the first film, none of this is spelt out - perhaps already it seemed a lot less important in 1958 than in 1897 to include that aspect of the story. But all the same it is the unmarried (and therefore both unprotected and uncommitted) Lucy who dies, while the married Mina survives.

In Prince, the characterisation of the two couples before they are attacked includes clear direction as to their sexuality (and by extension their general openness to experience). Helen is uptight and inflexible - as one character says at one point, two miles out of London and nothing is ever good enough for her. Her husband, Alan, condones this and is generally rather dull and unadventurous himself. By contrast, the other couple, Charles and Diana, are both quite excited by the prospect of getting lost in the Carpathians, and we also learn once they are alone in their bedroom in Dracula's castle that Diana has a former flame by the name of Horace Peabody. In other words, if Stoker had been writing the script, Diana would clearly have been at the top of Dracula's menu, whereas Helen might have stood a chance.

As it is, though, it is precisely Helen's excessive anxiety which prompts her to send Alan off in the middle of the night to investigate strange noises, leading directly to his death and then her transformation into a vampire. In 1966, an entirely different set of moral standards now prevail, and your best protection against Dracula is not traditional morality and a bolster down the middle of the bed, but a sense of adventure and a little life experience. All of that is, of course, entirely inverted again in the next sequel, Risen, where the sexually-experienced bar-maid dies first and the virginal Monsignor's daughter survives. But if there's one rule that absolutely always applies with utter rigidity throughout these films, it's that the brunettes will die while the blondes survive. That's me scuppered, then.

I also noticed a little bit of back-story which I don't think I'd ever fully picked up on before. We are told at least twice by Father Sandor that Dracula was destroyed (by Van Helsing) ten years before the events of this story begin. But when we meet Ludwig, the Renfield-figure living harmlessly in Father Sandor's monastery, Sandor explains that he found him outside Dracula's castle twelve years earlier, having evidently seen something which unhinged his mind (and, as we learn later on, having fallen under Dracula's thrall). I'd never really thought it through before, but that means whatever happened to Ludwig at the castle happened before the events of the first film. And I mention this particularly in connection with my musings about whether or not Dracula really wants the services of a librarian in the first film, because in this sequel, Ludwig is a bookbinder. We don't know exactly why he went to the castle in the first place, of course, or how he ended up mad and enthralled on the road outside it, but there's enough there to confirm my previous impression that the Dracula of the first film is genuinely interested in the care and maintenance of his book collection. First a book-binder, then a librarian. That's one bookish vampire.

Finally, I was thrilled and delighted yet again to discover that the DVD edition of this film includes another commentary track with Sir Christopher Lee, this time in conversation with fellow-stars Barbara Shelley (Helen), Suzan Farmer (Diana) and Francis Matthews (Charles). It's much the same as the one on Scars, really, in that no-one except Christopher Lee gets much chance to talk (especially Suzan Farmer, who barely says anything), and we mainly get him rambling on at length about his memories of promoting the first film, working on this one, and whether everyone he's ever met is now alive or dead. But Barbara Shelley does get a few anecdotes in, such as one about accidentally swallowing a fang during her staking scene (and drinking salt water afterwards in order to bring it back up), and she also very rightly points out how effective the lighting is for adding depth, atmosphere and realism to the sets (in stark contrast to Scars). And it's nice to hear Christopher Lee, too, clearly remembering the film quite fondly and having nice things to say about some of the plot details and the effects. These commentary tracks are definitely a good reason to replace my old VHS copies, as if I didn't have enough motivation from the picture quality and aspect ratio issues alone.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 2nd, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
Not all the blondes survive - Ingrid Pitt meets quite a sharp end at the hands of the delectable Mr Cushing in The Vampire Lovers, I think I'm going to have to rewatch them all in chronological order....
Dec. 2nd, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC)
Hmm, having looked that one up on Wikipedia, it sounds like Our Ingrid starts the film already as a vampire, so maybe the rules are different in that situation? Anyway, any excuse for a rewatch is always to the good! I know I've seen at least one of the Carmilla-based Hammer vampire films, but always have trouble remembering which, as they are all so similar.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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