Dracula Prince of Darkness
Hammer Films, 1965
Directed by Terence Fisher

Two English couples on a sightseeing tour in Eastern Europe find themselves abandoned by their coachman. Much to their surprise, a carriage with horses, but no driver, pulls up and carries them to a nearby castle. Inside, they find a dinner table set for four, and their luggage already deposited in the bedrooms. What are they to make of this strange hospitality? At length, a rather gloomy servant explains: the late Master left instructions for the Castle always to be kept ready to receive guests. The travelers drink a toast to the memory of the departed lord: Count Dracula, of an old and distinguished family...

Virtues and Vices
This film was the third in Hammer's Dracula series, but only the second direct sequel, since Dracula himself was absent from the misleadingly-titled Brides of Dracula. Though the film gains a lot from Christopher Lee's magnetic presence, he says that he found the dialog written for the character so bad as to be "unsayable." As a result, in the film as shot, the Count's utterances are limited to a cat-lack hiss of anger and a howl of dispair at the end. Surprisingly, Lee still gets a lot of mileage out of the role through clever use of body language. He makes particularly eloquent use of his hands, such as when Dracula is first awakened and his fingers crawl up over the edge of the sarcophagus; and later, when his imperious gesture compells the heroine to put her crucifix aside.

Dracula faces a different foe this time in the person of Father Sandor, a gruff and eccentric clergyman who totes a rifle. Andrew Keir embodies him as a larger-than-life figure: bearlike but steadfast, outwardly a man of action while inwardly a main of faith.

The hapless travelers are a more mixed bag. As the party-happy Charles, Francis Matthews sounds uncannily like Cary Grant in some 40's comedy. Barbara Shelley, though revered among horror fans, plays here a crabby, uptight woman who's all the more irritating for being the only one in the group with a trace of common sense! It's a decided relief when she comes to a bad end.

Literary Echoes
Having returned to the Dracula character, Hammer's scenarists John Elder and John Sanson seem to have decided to pick up on some elements of the original novel that never made it into Horror of Dracula. Thus, there is a Renfield-like character named Ludwig , who is mentally unbalanced, kept in a locked cell and prone to eating flies. He also fill's Renfield's original function of inviting Dracula into the building. Another key scene from the novel is echoed when Dracula cuts open his own chest to feed his blood to the heroine, Diana. The paternalistic way the men attempt to exclude Diana from their hunt of Dracula also echoes the treatment of Mina by the men in the novel. Finally, the comic figure of Father Sandor reminds us of the buffoonish side of the novel's Van Helsing. This is an aspect of Van Helsing that was omitted from the character in the Hammer films. 

In this story, Dracula's castle is said to be near Carlsbad. The only Carlsbad that I have been able to locate on European maps is a spa town at the western end of the Czech Republic, and is currently better known as Karlovy Vary. However, this is probably not the Carlsbad from the movie, which is supposed to be located in the Carpathian mountains. In modern terms that would place it somewhere in Romania, the Ukraine or Slovakia. For consistency with the preceding film, you would have to assume that Carlsbad is in Romania near Klausenberg (Cluj-Napoca).

Dracula Revived
This movie first provided the rationale that Dracula can always be revived by the simple addition of fresh human blood to his ashes. The notion recurs in later Hammer sequels, but is never rendered more gruesomely than here, where gallons of blood from a freshly slaughtered, hanging victim are poured into the Count's ashes in the sarcophagus.

Vampire Lore
Father Sandor delivers the obligatory vampire lecture here. He begins by confirming the primacy of Dracula: "And the fountainhead of this obscene cult was Dracula himself. I thought we'd seen the last of him."

He explains the strange state of the vampire: "He is already dead. He is Undead, Mr. Kent. He can be destroyed, but not killed." Of another vampire, Sandor says: "Bear in mind, Mr. Kent: This woman is not your sister-in-law. She's dead. This is the shell, and what it contains is pure evil. When we destroy it, we destroy only the evil." This is all very pre-Ann Rice, so there is no sign that these creatures have any redeeming features. Dracula has so little regard even for his latest vampire femme that he simply hurls her aside when she seeks his approval.

Of Dracula's powers, the remarkable strength is demonstrated here when he breaks a sword with his hands. His hypnotic force also comes into play when he bends Diana to his will. As in other Hammer films, Dracula never transforms into a bat or other animal. The issue of whether he casts a reflection is not addressed.

Sandor explains the rules for entering houses: "What the inhabitants of these parts don't realize is that a vampire cannot cross a threshold unless he's invited by someone already inside. And if he is, all the garlic flowers in the world won't keep him out."

Sandor's catalog of the methods for killing Dracula is typical of the Hammer series: "He can be traced to his resting place during the daylight hours and there, a stake through the heart. He can be exposed to the direct rays of the sun. Running water will drown him. The cross will burn him. He is not invulnerable." Although Sandor prays after slaying the vampiress, there seems no need to pray while slaying the creature, as would later be required in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

The most striking scene from Brides of Dracula is echoed here when Sandor uses the flame from a lamp to cauterize a vampire bite that was received by the heroine. The implication is that she would have been in danger if he had not done so, even though she had not died or even lost significant blood at that point.

Dracula's Demise - Spoiler
In a nicely inventive climax, Dracula is trapped when Father Sandor shoots holes in the ice around him, and finally falls through to a watery demise. The sight of his face drifting beneath the ice is one of the more authentically eerie images in the film.

Sugar and Spice
Sandor explains why Dracula is so difficult to kill: " You see, there are people who help him: apparently normal human beings who aren't vampires themselves, but who—for reasons we don't understand—are in his power.  This Klove is such a man. Spending his life at the castle. Waiting for such an opportunity as you presented him with last night. A chance to resurrect his master."  

Phillip Latham makes a memorably funereal impression as Klove, who to all appearances meets his end when he is shot by Charles. An oddity, however, is that in the later film Scars of Dracula, the Count also has a servant named Klove (played in that film by Patrick Troughton). In that film, Klove is a much hairier and dirtier character, though even in Dracula Prince of Darkness, it is remarked that Klove is none too clean. Are we to suppose that Klove survived the gunshot wound? Perhaps he has unnatural vitality due to some partial infection with the vampire taint. If these Kloves are the same person, then he has certainly degenerated by the latter film, when he can no longer make a polite impression, and has become the target of regular sadistic cruelty from the Count. It doesn't pay to serve the Dark One. 

Dracula Prince of Darkness is not currently available on video or DVD in the U.S., but foreign editions may be available occasionally from vendors on eBay.com. Be aware that DVDs or videos from other countries may not be playable on your equipment. Be sure to read the fine print and contact the vendor in advance if you have any questions about whether a video, VCD, or DVD is compatible with your player. 

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Left margin pattern: the Dracula coat of arms, from Dracula Prince of Darkness.

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Copyright (c) 2005 by Joseph Morales