Wednesday, December 19, 2018

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review with Screenshot Comparison)

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965)

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Kier, Francis Mathews, Suzan Farmer, Charles Tingwell, Thorley Walters


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

Terrence Fisher's Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) starts of quite effectively by recapping the final moments of Hammer's Horror of Dracula (1958) featuring the legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, Corruption) killing the the fearsome blood-sucker Dracula (Christopher Lee, The Wicker Man) who crumbles to dust when exposed to the deadly rays of the sun. Ten years later a pair of vacationing English couples find themselves stranded in the eerie Carpathian Mountains, miles from their destination but in view of a nearby castle that's long been feared by the locals.


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

We have the argumentative couple Alan (Charles Tingwell, Breaker Morant) and Helen (Barbara Shelley, The Gorgon), and Alan's younger brother Charles (Francis Mathews, The Revenge of Frankenstein) and his wife Diana (Suzan Farmer, Die, Monster, Die!). The red-headed Helen is quite a complainer, she doesn't seem to enjoy much in life, and is none to pleased by the stranding in the desolate forest. Ignoring the local lore about the castle and not wanting spend the night roughing it in a spooky forest the foursome accept a ride from a strangely driver less carriage that whisks them away  to the castle, which is of course a bad idea. Once inside they meet a creepy man servant named named Klove (Philip Latham) who oddly seems to have expected them, offering them dinner and lodging for the night at the behest of his deceased master, the Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), who he says was renowned for his generosity.


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

As night sets in Helen becomes increasingly agitated, and while so far she's been the sour-puss of the bunch, her companions might later have wished they'd given credence to her unease as things turn increasingly sinister inside this creepy castle. That night while wandering the castle Alan in incapacitated by Klove and taken to a basement crypt where he's ritually slaughtered like a pig, his throat slashed over an open sarcophagus, the Kensington gore flows heavily and as his blood mixes with Dracula's ashes, the blood resurrecting the vamp, his hand emerging from the mist filled sarcophagus to great effect, it's probably my favorite scene in the entire film, fantastic stuff. 


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

With the bloodsucker now ressurected, a bit late in the movie for my tastes, the game is on as the remaining guests, unaware of the impending danger, fall prey to the Count's unnatural charms and lust for blood. Noticeably absent from the story is Peter Cushing's iconic Van Helsing who is only glimpsed in the film's prologue, in his place is an unorthodox, rifle-toting friar named Father Sandor (Andrew Keir, Quatermass and the Pit), who does quite nicely as the defacto vampire-hunter. 


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is a classic slice of Hammer Horror, but overall I just didn't find the characters overly compelling, nor the women quite as alluring. It was a bit tame for my tastes, I prefer the more lurid Hammer entries that came later with Vampire Circus (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971), but with that said I did enjoy this viewing quite a bit, and I fully understand the beloved status of the film, my preferences just run a bit more weird I guess. 


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

I don't find Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula here all that enthralling either, he's a primal, speechless beast with blood-shot eyes, eliciting only a few hisses for the duration of the film. It's Christopher Lee so he has presence to spare, but he seems a tiny bit wasted in a wordless role. I give the film praise for the Gothic setting and creepy atmosphere, but I found the characters sort of flat, finding it difficult to throw myself into their plight. Early on I did enjoy the chemistry of our four characters, naysayer Helen particularly, and I rather liked the introduction of Klove and the bloody resurrection of Dracula is fantastic, plus the addition of vampire hunter Father Sandor is welcome, but in the end it's just not one of my preferred Hammer entries. The memorable finale recouped much of my waning vigor for the film with the cold, icy and watery death of Count Dracula, it's a top notch scene, but the film itself is a bit too restrained for me to love. 


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

Audio/Video: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) arrives on Blu-ray for from Scream Factory, presenting both the U.S. and U.K versions in the original (2.35:1) widescreen aspect ratio, in 1080p HD. The two versions are considerably different in regard to color timing, brightness and clarity, with the U.S. version looking a bit rougher, but grain is courser, more so than the U.K. cut, which itself is sadly scrubbed of grain and fine detail. Colors are much stronger on th U.K. version, greens and reds getting a nice pop, but there's a prevalent yellow hue to it that gives blood and an unnatural orange appearance, and with the U.S. version having a strong blue leaning and suffering from black crush. 


Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

Both versions display some minor scratches and white speckling, but they are very minor in my opinion, with the U.S. version showing more than the U.K. version. The U.S. version is also considerably darker, but looking less tinkered with digitally. Neither version is definitive to my eyes, but the U.K. version has a more refined and attractive appearance with more nuance and color saturation, but it's DNR'd. For the curious the difference between the U.S vs U.K. versions comes down to credit sequences and nothing more, they're both uncut and run 90 minutes, but it's nice to have both version here on one disc. Scream Factory's new 4K scan of the U.S. version is sourced from an interpositive provided by 20th Century Fox, there's a feature on the disc describing how the original intent was to go back to the OCN for their restoration, but the it was too badly damaged to handle for restoration purposes. The U.K. version seems to be the same version that appeared on the OOP Millennium Blu-ray.  

Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

While the Millennium release offered only lossy Dolby Digital Scream Factory offer lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono on both versions, giving the atmospheric James Bernard (The Gorgon) score some nice depth, optional English subtitles are provided. The source certainly has limitations, there's hiss and crackle on both tracks, with the U.S. version being rougher sounding by comparison.



Looking at the special features Scream Factory carry-over just about all the disc extras from the OOP Millennium Collector's Edition Blu-ray from 2013. This includes the group commentary from stars Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Mathews and Barbara Shelley,  plus the 33-min documentary 'Back to Black' which covers the making-of the film, with interview from various authors, film historians and actors and actresses, it's a delight to watch for any fan of Hammer Horror. Scream also include an episode of World of Hammer “Dracula And The Undead”, narrated by Oliver Reed (Burnt Offerings), notably this is a different episode than the one that appeared on the Millennium release, that one was a Christopher Lee retrospective, this one is a broader all thing Hammer Dracula. Not carried over is a restoration demo, and of course the lobby card reproductions that accompanied it. 



New to this release is the U.S. version of the film, plus two new commentaries, one with film scholar Troy Howarth, and a second with filmmaker Constantine Nasr And Writer/ Producer Steve Haberman, and in my mind both of these excellent commentaries are worth the price of this Collector's Edition Blu-ray, these guys know their Hammer Horror and fill every second with information about the production, locations, and cast and crew, great stuff. Scream also offer two image galleries loaded with promotional stills and artwork for the film, plus a selection of trailers including some tasty double-features. 



The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the original poster for the film plus a new illustration from Mark Maddox, which is also featured on the slipcover and disc art.

Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version

Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

Special Features: 
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Interpositive Of The US Version From The 20th Century Fox Vaults
- NEW Audio Commentary With Author Troy Howarth
- NEW Audio Commentary With Filmmaker Constantine Nasr And Writer/Producer Steve Haberman
- Audio Commentary With Cast Members Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, And Barbara Shelley
- World Of Hammer Episode “Dracula And The Undead” (25 min) HD 
- Back To Black – The Making Of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness (31 min) HD 
- Super 8mm Behind-The-Scenes Footage (5 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailers (6 min) HD 
- Still Gallery (7 min) HD 
- Poster Gallery (5 min) HD 
- Special Thanks (1 min) 

Top: Scream Factory U.S. Version
Bottom: Scream Factory U.K. Version 

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) is good Gothic, bloodsucking fun, a damn decent watch, even if it's not a top tier Hammer entry in my opinion it deserves a place in any horror fan's collection. The new Blu-ray from Scream Factory offers a mixed bag of viewing options, a rougher U.S. version and the more refined but heavily DNR'd U.K. version, plus we get some cool extras, the best of which are two brand new audio commentaries, which in my opinion are worth the upgrade all by themselves.

 

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