Dracula: Prince of Darkness


Director: Terence Fisher

Cast: Christopher Lee, Philip Latham, Barbara Shelley, Charles Tingwell, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Andrew Keir

Words – Scott Burns.

After the success of The Brides Of Dracula (1960), which nonetheless disappointed fans because it didn’t feature the title character (only Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing returned), Hammer reunited with Christopher Lee (who feared being typecast as the vicious vampire) and director Terence Fisher (who was being taken seriously as a major film-maker of the macabre) for a brand-new film resurrecting the Count for more blood-curdling thrills.

After a brief prologue featuring the final scene of Dracula (1958) where Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) destroys the vicious Count, the story begins with four English tourists, Alan and Helen (Charles Tingwell and Barbara Shelley respectively) and Charles and Diana (Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer), chatting in a pub with monk Father Sandor (played by future Quatermass Andrew Keir) who warns them not to travel to neighbouring Karlsbad. They, of course, travel there anyway but are abandoned by their terrified driver on the road. They are then transported (by a driverless black carriage) to an old castle where they find dinner ready for them, their luggage taken to freshly-made rooms and the old retainer Klove (Philip Latham) ready to serve them. Only Helen seems perturbed by their “good fortune”.
That night, a curious Alan is killed by Klove and his blood is used to resurrect the butler’s master: Dracula, in a feat of gruesome (if strangely charming) special effects. Dracula turns Helen into a vampire and sets his sights on Diana too. Only Charles, with the help of Father Sandor can stop the fiend and send Dracula back to the grave.

Despite the titular villain not making an appearance until the halfway point, the film is never dull, thanks to the usual quality direction from Fisher. Though Cushing was unavailable to play Van Helsing again, both screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (using the pseudonym John Sansom) and Andrew Keir make the character of Father Sandor a capable and worthy adversary to the forces of evil.

Photographed in Techniscope 2.35:1 by Michael Reed with production design by Bernard Robinson, the film looks great and completely authentic with Reed especially effective in his lighting of Helen when she has turned and tries to seduce Diana. The music, again by James Bernard, builds on his work for Dracula, complimenting the atmosphere of the piece, coming to life during the sudden action scenes staged with great care by Fisher.
Lee, at this point in his career, was afraid of being typecast in monster roles and refused a part in The Brides Of Dracula as a result. Charmed back into the role by Hammer boss James Carreras, Lee stipulated that Dracula should be mute for the duration of the film. Lee explained that this decision was motivated by the poor quality of the dialogue but this has been disputed by Jimmy Sangster who claims that Dracula never spoke because “vampires don’t chat”. Lee would appear in a further five films as the Count for Hammer, and finally laid the vampire to rest in the French comedy Dracula And Son (Dracula pere et fils) in 1976.

The rest of the cast are great but special mention must go to Shelley in this, her most famous role. Shelley was a model-turned-actor who, after finding no parts for her in England, became a sensation in Italy. Upon her return to the UK, she found employment at Hammer in the film The Camp On Blood Island (1958) and appeared in Blood Of The Vampire (1958, for rival company Eros) and sci-fi classic Village Of The Damned (1960). After Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, she appeared in the highly successful and popular adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s smash-hit television series Quatermass And The Pit (1967) with Andrew Keir. She worked steadily in film and television until her retirement in 1988. She passed away on the 3rd of January 2021 aged 88.

This film is probably what you imagine when you hear the words “Hammer horror”, namely a snarling Lee with bloodshot eyes and a whirling red-lined cape or the Count biting the neck of a buxom maiden. But what else shines through is the high quality of the film-making thanks to the dedication of Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster and the cast and crew. British genre cinema at its best.

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Dracula Prince of Darkness film promo