We open with the final sequence from Hammer Films 1958 'DRACULA', showing the spectacular demise of Count Dracula at the hands of Van Helsing. This sequence is enclosed in a smoky frame because the earlier movie was shot in a different aspectic ratio - DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS was one of the few Hammer movie to be shot in 'scope.
We then go to a funeral, where a young woman is being prepared to be staked through the heart before burial, over the impassioned protests of her mother. The proceedings are thrown into disarray when an imposing figure appears, bellowing for them to stop and firing a rifle into the air. This is Father Sandor, and he's furious that the body is being subjected to this indignity when everybody knows that Dracula has been destroyed for a good ten years and there is no evidence that the girl has been bitten by a vampire.
We then go to a tavern where two English couples are taking a holiday. It is quickly established that one of the couples (Alan and Helen - yeah I know) is very prim & proper while the other (Charles and Diana - yeah I know) is quite modern & forward. Father Sandor arrives and proceeds to warm his posterior (as he calls it) by the fire, hiking up his vestments at the back to allow full access to the heat while holding forth on this as one of the great pleasures of life. One couple of shocked, the other is charmed. Could their respective personalities be relevant to the movie that follows, do you think?
Against the advice of Sandor the couples decide to head to their next destination. He is particularly adamant that they should stay away from the castle, which does not even appear on the map. The coachman decides to throw them out of the coach before they reach their destination (along with their luggage), abandoning them within site of the castle. As we've already seen in BRIDES OF DRACULA , coachmen love nothing more than to abandon travellers in the worst possible spot.
While they are trying to figure out what to do next, a coach without a driver just happens to ride up to them. They mount the coach to drive it to the next town but - surprise - it takes them to the castle. The more staid of the couples (particualrly Helen, played by Hammer regular Barbara Shelley) think that the best response to this is to turn tail and run, but they end up going inside to find a table laid out for four guests. They then discover that their luggage has already been laid out in the bedrooms.While they are pondering this, a pleasantly smiling, genially welcoming man arrives to greet them.
We learn his name is Klove. He informs them that although the master of the house is dead he had left instructions for hospitality to be granted to any weary traveller. Klove was surely Angus Scrimm's inspiration for his performance as The Tall Man in the PHANTASM series.
This build-up has taken up almost the entire first half of the movie. This is in stark contrast to the 1958 DRACULA, where writer Jimmy Sangster and director Terence Fisher (who are also behind this movie) brought us into the action at a tremendous pace. Having pussyfooted around for long enough, the movie now makes its move. Klove lures Alan down into the cellar, knocks him out cold with the hilt of a knife, then strings him up by his ankles so that he hangs over what appears to be a sarcophagus.
Klove then brings out a small casket that you will probably guess contains Dracula's ashes, and sprinkles them into the sarcophagus. He then slits Alan's throat, and his blood gushes into the coffin where it revives the Count. You might notice that this ceremony bears some similarity to a number of old legends; Odin and Osiris come to mind. It's also a sort of inversion of the crucifixion of Jesus. I'll let you sort out the meaning of this symbolism for yourself.
So you can imagine the shock Helen receives when Klove takes her down to the cellar. Her husband hangs upside down and Dracula waits for her, and he says....well, he doesn't say anything. Dracula does not speak at all in this movie, supposedly because Christopher Lee thought that the dialogue he was given was so poor that he refused to say it.
He's still a sex god, though. Helen is soon in complete thrall to him, and later when he slices open his chest and pulls Diana down to drink his blood, the implications of oral sex are blatant. It's hard to get a coherent reading on the sexual politics of DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Dracula still represents pure unbridled sexuality, and is still evil. However the characters who suffer the most (Alan and particularly Helen) are the most sexually repressed. Perhaps Charles and Diana fare better because they are more balanced. Helen's fate is particularly hideous, as she is held down, writhing and hissing, and staked by a roomful of men in a scene that suggests (perhaps unconsciously) a gang rape. This scene plays as quite uncomfortably misogynistic.
The movie ends in slightly baffling fashion, as Dracula fights Alan on the thin ice of the castle moat. Diana and Sandor figure out that a vampire cannot cross running water and start shooting the ice, creating cracks that trap him. He then slides into the water - and drowns. What the...?
Despite its slow start, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESSemerges as a fine sequel to Hammer's first DRACULA. Andrew Kier as Father Sandor makes a fine substitute for Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. It's kind of a shame that Hammer didn't run two series in parallel, one with Dracula against various savants and one with Van Helsing against various villains, but I guess Cushing was already quite busy with their FRANKENSTEIN series.
The scene of Dracula's resurrection almost makes up for the relative lameness of his demise. The supporting cast is a little bland, except for the versatile Barbara Shelley as Helen, who is compelling whether playing prudish, terrified or wanton. Christopher Lee is still in fine form as Dracula, despite his late appearance and non-speaking role; he's always been a fine physical actor, and his hands are particularly expressive.
This was the final outing for Terence Fisher and Jimmy Sangster as director and writer, respectively, in this series, though both would continue to work for Hammer on other movies. The next movie in the series, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (I guess that Dracula Has Risen from the Moat doesn't have the same ring), was written by Hammer bigwig Anthony Hinds under his John Elder pseudonym and directed by two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who's probably best remembered now for shooting David Lynch's three least typical movies (The Elephant Man, Dune and The Straight Story)
Guest Review by: Pearce
Images: Marcus Brooks