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For most horror fans Christopher Lee's best remembered role will always be Count Dracula but what many people don't realize is that he waited eight years after the success of Horror of Dracula (1958) to play the infamous vampire again. Partly, he wanted to establish himself as a serious, multi-faceted actor and avoid the same trap Bela Lugosi fell into playing the same character. Yet, Lee reluctantly returned to the role in 1966 with Dracula - Prince of Darkness, which was actually the third film in Hammer's vampire series (the second entry, The Brides of Dracula (1960), featured David Peel as an aristocratic bloodsucker named Baron Meinster).
The storyline of Dracula - Prince of Darkness unfolds like a Grimm's fairytale. Two English couples on holiday in Transylvania find themselves stranded deep in the forest after their carriage breaks down. Soon a black coach with no driver appears and carries them to a nearby castle where rooms and a warm meal are offered to them by an absent host. But the night is young and a terrible fate awaits them all.
While it lacks the classic narrative structure and stunning art direction of Horror of Dracula, Lee's second vampire film conveys a genuine sense of unease that erupts into pure horror at the first appearance of the count; he descends on his victim hissing with teeth bared like some kind of wild, ravenous animal. His predatory behavior carries an overt sexual threat here and his presence is made all the more disturbing by the fact that he never speaks one word of dialogue the entire film. Ironically, Lee later admitted that the script was so bad he refused to say the lines!
True, Dracula - Prince of Darkness is not without its faults, the major one being one of credibility. Take, for example, the two stranded couples in the film's first half. They are such total dolts that they almost deserve their fates - wandering alone into darkened rooms or deserted corridors AFTER suspecting the worst. Despite this, there are several chilling sequences in the film which were subjected to close scrutiny and heavy cuts by the British censor board. Among these are the brutal murder of Alan Kent (Charles Tingwell) who is stabbed, strung up by rope and then drained of blood (his throat is slit) and Dracula's attempted seduction of Diana Kent (Suzan Farmer) - he tries to make her drink the blood from his self-imposed chest wound.
Possibly the most memorable scene in Dracula - Prince of Darkness, however, is the demise of the once prim and proper Helen Kent (Barbara Shelley), now a voluptuous vampiress, who has to be forcibly restrained by several monks while Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) drives the stake into her heart. "It is perhaps the most potent image of sexual repression in all of British horror cinema," writes film critic Richard Scheib, and "embodies the recurrent image of sexual repression ferociously emerging to tear Victorian society apart and its dispassionate elimination by men of reason."
Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Anthony Hinds, Jimmy Sangster
Cinematography: Michael Reed
Film Editing: Chris Barnes
Art Direction: Don Mingaye
Music: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee (Dracula), Barbara Shelley (Helen Kent), Andrew Keir (Father Sandor), Francis Matthews (Charles Kent), Suzan Farmer (Diana Kent), Charles Tingwell (Alan Kent).
C-90m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford