165 years at 15 Marino Crescent in Clontarf, a coastal suburb on the north side of Dublin, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley gave birth to the third of her seven children. You have probably never heard of her of her six other children, but you may now the third, Abraham “Bram” Stoker. In 1897 at the age of fifty, he published his fifth and most famous novel Dracula. Over 200 actors have played Dracula in around 300 films and TV episodes. My favourite of these has always been Christopher Lee. The English Knight played the Transylvanian Count numerous times mainly in Hammer movies. Is it because he is the best or just the first actor I saw play the part, probably a bit of both! When I was about ten years old I was introduced to Christopher Lee, I had no idea who he was. A few months later Channel 4 started showing a series of old Hammer Horror movies starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Not only was this my introduction to Dracula, but to horror movies in general, for that reason, I can think of no better way to celebrate Stokers birthday that to talk about one of my favourite Hammer Horror movies.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
“There’ll be no morning for us”
The movie starts with a prologue made up of the closing scenes of the previous film (the first Hammer Dracula) complete with a voiceover explaining the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee). We cut to a group of English tourists including Charles Kent (Francis Matthews, a sort of low rent Cary Grant type) who are stranded by a superstitious coach driver whist on their way to Carlsbad. After a coach and horses turns up out of nowhere, they find themselves rescued and accepting the “hospitality” of a dead count in his mysterious castle. I won’t give the plot away but I think you can guess that the castle belongs to Dracula and it is no accident that they have found their way to his castle.
An interesting movie, the story is original but holds many similarities with the original, this is evident in the characters. The traditional Van Helsing character (played by an un-credited Peter Cushing in the prologue) is replaced by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir who went of to play Prof. Quatermass in the Hammer movie Quatermass and the Pit). Charles and Diana Kent (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer) are a good stand in for Jonathan and Wilhelmina Harker. Ludwig (Thorley Walters) fills the Renfield part. The movie did two things for the genre: it set the template for the Hammer Dracula movies and also opened the floodgates for Dracula (and vampire movies in general) to move away from the original Bram Stoker novel. Directed by Hammers greatest director Terence Fisher the film has a perfect blend of carefully manipulated tension and just enough gore and horror to make this a great atmospheric movie that only Hammer could have made. There has been some contention as to why Christopher Lee’s Dracula is mute, whatever the reason it just makes it more sinister. A Must for all classic horror fans. The significance for this movie for me goes beyond the film itself, had I not seen it, I would not have become interested in Hammer Horror and certainly would never have read Bram Stokers original novel.