Special Report: Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966)

Image courtesy of Graham Humphries

By Mike Richardson

After a trip to the blood donors, the kindly nurses and doctors generally suggest taking it easy and drinking plenty of liquids, yet last Friday my post-donation time was spent in a disused crypt in the bowels of London Waterloo instead; in the company of Hammer Horror (and ham horror) fans to witness Dracula Prince of Darkness.

Hammer films have resurrected their 1966 classic Dracula Prince of Darkness for the Blu-ray generations (to be honest ol’ Nosferatu has never looked better) and had consorted with those ghoulish cinephiles of Flicker Club to provide a screening in the most apt of locations. For those who don’t know it, Flicker Club is a boutique cinema club which screens classics in unusual sites to help you rediscover cinematic treasures and their source novels.  You can find out more at their website http://theflickerclub.com/

Dracula’s audience was very unstereotypical, Goths and weekend blood suckers were at a minimum, with practically no kohl on show and a suspicious lack of the graveyard tans that you might have expected to flock to such a screening. Similarly in the screening room wine, beer and popcorn were served, but the organisers had decided to act as grown-ups and there were no buxom serving wenches with flagons of ale and heaving-bosomed nightie-clad Brides of Dracula serving “fresh virgins’ blood” from Threshers wine bottles. Flicker Club may be fans of horror but sing-along a Rocky Horror this certainly wasn’t.

Before the film we were treated to an infectiously enthusiastic talk by Flicker Club’s Clive Perrott about the location, where we found out the slightly morbid and mortuary history of the room we were in and the route of Waterloo’s Necropolis train (google it if you’re interested). Then a scene setting (and entertainingly informal) lecture from film historian and Hammer geek Marcus Hearn, before Stephen Tompkinson, be-suited all in black, gave a suitably chilling reading from Bram Stoker’s original novel.

When the lights went down and the titles rolled, a chill filled the cavernous crypt and a rumble like thunder rolled over the speakers. That rumble was, of course, one of the frequently timetabled trains adding to the film’s sound effects but they did manage to add to the atmosphere on more than one occasion.

This classic Hammer film was a sequel to their 1958 Dracula and picked up on Vlad after he’d been vanquished by Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing (covered in a tidy flashback at the start). All the usual Hammer staples were proudly present and correct, with the innocent stiff upper lipped English abroad, the buxom serving-wenches, the ignorant and suspicious villagers rhubarbing in the background. We had a sinister castle, a Lurch-a-like butler and things going bump in the night, before a horrific (by 1965 standards) murder with buckets of Deluxe red blood sloshed around and from a tomb of billowing dry ice, Lord Dracula, Prince of Darkness was resurrected.

The Count was played by the Sinatra of Draculas, Christopher Lee (showing why he is an automatic villain for the Peter Jackson and George Lucas generation) in a snarling hissing, creeping, wordless, nasty incarnation of the bloodsucker. It was deeply refreshing after the years of Anne Rice’s tortured new romantic vampires, the war on terror era bloodsuckers of True Blood and the abstinence-heavy “nice” twee and tween vamps of Stephanie Myers to see a proper old school Dracula, camping, hamming, rasping and baring fangs for all he was worth.

The script may have received more laughs of a Scooby Doo parody variety, “Let’s just spend the night in that spooky castle, I’m sure everything will be fine”, but there were still a couple of decent gasps from the crowd and at least one worthy shock jolt.

After donating a pint of type O, a trip to see Dracula was just the thing to get the blood racing and the heart pounding: a screening in such a deathly location only added to the fun.

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