Dracula: Prince of Darkness is an utterly fantastic sequel to Hammer’s very first Dracula movie, Dracula (1958). Directed by Terence Fisher from a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, and released in 1966, this film marks the return of the great Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, after an absence of eight years.
Although it was the third entry in Hammer’s Dracula series, it was not a direct sequel to Brides of Dracula (1960), because in that movie (which starred David Peel as Baron Meinster, one of the count’s apparent disciples) Christopher Lee did not reprise his role as Stoker’s bloodsucking count. Although Brides of Dracula was, in itself, a very good movie (indeed, many Hammer fans rate it was one of the studio’s very best), it still lacked the awesome presence of Christopher Lee, who, for me, was just the quintessential Dracula. So when he finally returned to play the count in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, I was so delighted.
The movie opens with a prologue replaying the closing scenes of Dracula (1958), where we see the count meet his final doom at the hands of Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Flash forward ten years, and we meet travelling monk Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who replaces Van Helsing in this movie as Dracula’s arch nemesis. Sandor interrupts a funeral service in the deep woods in which the officiating priest is just about to hammer a stake into the body of a small girl. This immediately evokes the feeling that even though Count Dracula is long dead, the fear of vampirism still hangs over the area like an oppressive black cloud.
Sandor’s next appearance is in the scene where, in a small inn, he meets a holidaying foursome by the name of Kent, comprising Charles Kent (Francis Matthews) and his wife Diana (Susan Farmer), Charles’s older brother Alan (Charles Tingwell), and his wife Helen (Barbara Shelley). When Sandor learns that they are travelling near the Carpathian Mountains, he immediately warns them to steer clear of the castle near Carlsbad (Dracula’s lair, of course). However, as is the tradition in horror movies where people are warned against venturing near a dodgy place, but stupidly do so anyway, Sandor’s warning falls on stony ground.
When a coachman (apparently nervous about going any further) leaves the Kents stranded near an old abandoned Chateau , they end up at the castle anyway (foolish souls that they are), as they are transported there by an uncontrollable, driverless carriage. Once inside, they are greeted by a dark, mysterious host who suddenly looms up out of the shadows of the castle. This strange man is none other than Klove (Philip Latham), who happens to be the deceased Dracula’s servant. I really liked the way Hammer made Klove’s creepy entrance as a kind of ominous prelude to the eventual appearance of Count Dracula himself. This is, in fact, one of my most memorable scenes in Hammer horror history.
Despite the fact that Klove initially presents a somewhat welcoming, if a little odd, figure to the four visitors, his secret intention is to sacrifice one of them in an obscene blood ritual to resurrect his “Master”, Count Dracula. And when that sacrificial moment eventually comes – and what a horrific moment it is too, with the unfortunate Alan being hung upside down and getting his throat slashed by Klove, so that his gushing blood splashes over Dracula’s ashes in the sarcophagus – all hell breaks loose as the castle’s demonic owner is resurrected. Now we know why Alan’s unfortunate wife Helen displayed such a nagging fear about the wisdom of remaining in the castle overnight, as it must have been a kind of ominous premonition that her husband was going to meet an extremely grisly fate.
Terence Fisher sets up all the action scenes of Dracula terrorising his victims magnificently. I thought that Philip Latham did an excellent job as Dracula’s manservant Klove, whose evil was just as repellent and disturbing as that of the vampire himself. I also loved the scene where the now vampirised Helen (played brilliantly by Barbara Shelley) tries to seduce Charles, only to eventually be cornered and laid to her final rest when Father Sandor drives a stake through her heart.
And what can I say about the great Christopher Lee in this movie that hasn’t been said already? Satanically commanding and regal as ever, the man is just so fantastic, so awesome, whenever he plays the vampire lord. He was even more scary and menacing in this movie than he was in the very first Dracula film. The fact that he does not utter a single word of dialogue in this film only adds to his dark, disturbing aura. Oh yes indeed, Dracula is one scary dude in this film, and that is how it should be.
Despite its low-budget, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is a truly gorgeous, well-produced Hammer horror movie. All the Gothic sets are presented in jaw-droppingly aesthetic Technicolor, and this provides the perfect background for all the cast to play out their parts wonderfully, especially Christopher Lee in his role as Dracula. I cannot fault one single performance from any of the actors here, as they all did a brilliant job. Granted, I did miss Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, but to be fair, Andrew Keir as Father Sandor was a fine replacement, displaying all the Godly calm, personal strength and unflinching determination to rid the world of vampirism that Van Helsing himself would exhibit.
James Bernard’s musical score is another pleasing aspect of the movie. It is so ominous, extremely haunting, and really gets the hairs rising on the back of your neck as you wonder where Dracula is going to strike next, who he is going to make a vampire, who he is going to kill. It punctuates all the suspense and shocks wonderfully.
In regard to the way Dracula gets his final comeuppance at the hands of the heroic vampire hunters, well, you’ve got to hand it to Hammer when it comes to dreaming up new and sensational ways to destroy him. Without giving too much away in regard to how Dracula does actually die in this movie (for those of you who haven’t seen the movie), all I can say is that it was a very cold exit indeed!
All in all, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is an excellent sequel all round. It was a huge box office hit on its release in 1966, and rightly so. A highly gripping, thoroughly entertaining and well-produced horror movie by Hammer, and one that I have watched many, many times over the years, and never get bored with. And I am so delighted to own this fantastic Scream Factory Special Edition of the movie, which you can buy now by clicking on the image link above this review.
If you enjoyed this Hammer horror movie review, you might be interested to know that I have written three books about the studio. For more details, just click on the relevant book links below.