Christopher Lee’s Dracula never drinks…wine.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is Christopher Lee’s second vampire film with Hammer Film Productions and features the resurrection of one of the scariest film villains of all time.
Here it is! This year’s entry from the vaults of Hammer horror! The British re-imagining of the Bram Stoker Dracula legend, starring Christopher Lee. Firstly, the film looks like it will be gorgeous in technicolor, eschewing the vibrant colors of the gothic setting. It also seems to take a different tact than other Dracula origins, having the titular-character start off dead and be brought back to life when his servant slaughters one of the initial guests. I haven’t watched many of the Hammer horror films, but the ones I have seen have all been entertaining!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The film opens with a brief flashback of Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) destroying Dracula (Christopher Lee). Ten years later a group of townsfolk led by their priest attempt to desecrate a dead young girls body for fear she is a vampire. They are stopped by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) who ridicules them for their continued belief in this vampiric cult.
In the Carpathian Mountains four travellers have stopped for a midday rest. Alan Kent (Charles Tingwell), his wife Helen (Barbara Shelley), his brother Charles (Francis Matthews) and Charles’ wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) all meet Father Sandor, who warns them not to continue to Carlsbad, and especially not to visit the castle there, regardless of it not appearing on their map.
On the way to Carlsbad their driver leaves them on the side of the road, not wanting to go further when a driverless coach arrives. Charles is eager to to take the carriage, but Helen is extremely frightened. They realize the cannot control the horses, and are taken to an old castle where the table is set for four visitors and their bags are moved into the rooms unseen. A creepy man, Klove (Philip Latham) appears and serves them dinner, speaking to them briefly about his master, Count Dracula, who is now dead. Helen continues to be fearful, while Charles loves the mystery and adventure.
That evening Alan investigates a strange noise and follows Klove to the basement level, where he is attacked and strung up by the manservant. Klove slits his neck and drains his blood over the ashes of his dead master bringing the vampire back to life. Helen is the next victim, falling to the blood lust of Dracula. Charles and Diana manage to escape when they are found by Father Sandor.
He takes them back to his abbey in Kleinberg where he explains to Charles that Dracula will come looking for Diana. Klove attempts to sneak Dracula and Helen into the abbey with no success, but Ludwig (Thorley Walters), a mad prisoner of the monks, has a previous psychic connection to Dracula and lets him in. He takes Diana and flees back to his castle. Father Sandor kills Helen with a stake through her heart.
Charles and Father Sandor have little time. They chase after the wagon carrying the Prince of Darkness and Diana, attempting to reach it before sunset. It crashes just outside the castle, spilling Dracula’s coffin onto the frozen moat. Using his rifle, Sandor shoots at the ice creating fractures that Dracula falls through into the frozen running water below, supposedly killing him. Charles and Diana are safe!
“You are an idiot, Father. Worse than that: you’re a superstitious, frightened idiot.” – Father Sandor
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is pretty standard vampire fare. It’s inspired by the original Bram Stoker story, which was originally adapted in 1933 with Bela Lugosi, and retold many times. Prince of Darkness is the third in the long line of Hammer Dracula films. The first film from 1958, Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) ended with the death of the titular character. It’s the film from which the flashbacks at the beginning of this film are taken, and why Dracula does not appear until about halfway through the film. If it were just an adaptation of the vampire myth, or even a sequel to a vampire film, there would probably not be much worth talking about here. But this film stars Christopher Lee as the monstrous vampire.
The first half of the film lulls the audience into almost a monotony as the Kents, warned against visiting the castle do just that. Helen keeps telling everyone she’s scared, and they need to leave, but Charles, and to some degree her husband Alan, goad her into staying. The audience knows exactly where this is going, and when the tension cannot be avoided anymore, Dracula literally rises from his grave to attack the mortals. Lee’s presence on screen is incredible. Never speaking a word during the film, and wearing bloodshot contact lenses, his quiet menace and imposing stature really makes his interpretation of the character much more feral and dangerous than previous incarnations.
From that point on, the film races to a rather abrupt conclusion, with Dracula dropping into the running water – a fate that Father Sandor mentions previously can stop the vampire. And then it’s boom! Roll credits! There’s not much time for any introspection or follow-up with any of the characters. It doesn’t appear as if these characters continue in any of the following six Dracula films, but it would have at least been nice to see a scene where Charles apologizes for being so gung-ho to take the family into the castle in the first place.
As a vampire film there’s not a lot of new ground covered in this movie. Fans of the genre will enjoy the classic tropes. But the one thing that makes this entirely worthwhile is the awesome performance by Christopher Lee.
- Third film in Hammer’s Dracula series after Horror of Dracula and The Brides of Dracula (which did not feature Christopher Lee, but did include Peter Cushing).
- Prince of Darkness was followed by six more Dracula films in the Hammer line, five of them featuring Lee.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.