Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1965)

12 Days of Halloween 2016 1

“Dracula Prince of Darkness” is usually seen as a solid Hammer Horror, but one that established the clichés and tropes going forward for the series. But it is also a fascinating study of religious legalism. No, really, it is!

The film begins (after a prologue reminds the viewers of the demise of Dracula) with a monk, Father Sandor, stopping the desecration of the body of a recently deceased woman. Sandor derides the local priest for fomenting fears and encouraging such rituals when the real evil of vampires has been defeated with Dracula’s death. However, he demonstrates the wisdom of true wariness when he warns some tourists to stay away from Dracula’s castle. Legalistically buying into every superstition is foolish, and only weakens reactions to true evil, but sensible respect and caution when dealing with realities.

Those tourists Sandor warned are two brothers, Alan and Charles Kent, and their wives, Helen and Diana. Helen is seen to be a prudish, moralistic woman who disapproves of the things her husband and brother are doing on the trip. But she is so determined to be against everything that when she does voice prudent warnings—like staying away from the evil castle—her companions have become calloused to her protests. Again, we see the dangers of expanding the definition of evil.

It turns out that the Kents should have heeded Helen’s fears, because the castle is occupied by a servant of Dracula, and he kills Alan and uses his blood to bring the Count back to life. Dracula quickly proceeds to make Helen his new vampire bride.

The rest of the film is pretty standard good vs. evil, with Charles and Sandor fighting to save Diana from the Count. However, a standout, tragic scene is the killing of Helen. She has become a wanton monster in the shell of her former prudish self, but the monks stake her with such brutality that one is both shocked at the violence needed but reminded that real evil—unlike the traditional ritual that the locals seem hungry for at the start of the film—is something that must be dealt with unpleasantly and never something one would do for entertainment.

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