Of all the things one could possibly want, returning the lord of vampires to the land of the living should not be high upon that list. But such as it is, at least one man does and so the Count is brought back from the ashes he once was and he picks right back up where he left off by killing the hapless visitors in his castle. But not all is lost as Father Sandor arrives to help poor Charles and Diana before it is too late. One of those people who knows exactly what Dracula is and what he does is Father Sandor, and if he has any say in the matter, Dracula will return to the grave.
Prince of Darkness is the second sequel to Horror of Dracula and one that is much darker in many ways. Here, Christopher Lee has no lines, he is merely the imposing monster that has returned from the grave and aims to take back what is his. It is a menacing portrayal that Lee gives as the Count is made all the scarier by his silence. The makeup given to Lee has also lightened his features some so that he looks as if he has newly risen from the grave. Lee has always had a commanding presence in every film he has ever done, whether in the role of hero or villain and it is no exception here as he uses that fact to give Dracula that aura of fear and respect. Dracula wastes no time in establishing the fact that he is back by turning Barbara Shelley’s character into a vampire the moment he has risen. He then aims to turn Diana before she escapes with her husband which does not go exactly as planned, but being the force of nature he is, he pursues and will not be turned away again.
In this particular film there is no Peter Cushing and no Van Helsing to face off against the Count, and instead, we have Father Sandor played by Andrew Keir who is almost as adept as Van Helsing in facing evil. He is rough, brash and matter of fact in his attitude. He has no time for fools and will do what it takes to get the job done. Unlike the previous two films, our vampire hunter does not get into a physical confrontation with his prey, though Francis Mattews who plays Charles, does so. Barbara Shelley and Suzan Farmer play our damsels in distress with the right amount of beauty and vulnerability to entrance the viewer. Though it might be interesting to see the good Father appear in another film as Keir and Lee rarely shared a scene together, he is no match for the charismatic Cushing.
Terence Fisher does his usual good job of directing, and with cinematographer Michael Reed and writers Jimmy Sangster and Anthony Hinds, they manage to make this film much more moody and atmospheric than the previous two. There are no brightly lit sets this time around, as almost every scene takes place at night, dusk, dawn or the poorly lit castle. There is no pretense that things are going to be all right for the audience, no clashing of what appears to be good with that of evil as to give any hint of the way things will turn out. The tone of the film is much bleaker as if there is no hope left to be had when Dracula has risen from his slumber. The mood is sombre, morose and one of dread for much of the film and it is a welcome change to see it as thus. While Lee provides an eerie performance, it is with this film that he more closely resembles Bela Lugosi’s Dracula with his calculated and furtive movements and minimal vocals. It works well and is a highly effective realization of the undead Count.
Though Prince of Darkness was a good film, it was by no means better than the previous two. Horror of Dracula and The Brides of Dracula had a little more style and substance about them and it definitely helped to have Cushing appear in them. It would have been nice to see Lee appear just a bit more as he was really only in the last half of the film, though it is understandable why he was not as the events leading to the resurrection scene had to be arranged. When Horror of Dracula was released, there was little expectation for Dracula to return given the ending. Here, Hammer has made it quite easy for the vampire to make a comeback, which he does so for five more films. This was definitely a nice change of pace for the series and hopefully going forward, it continues.
4 out of 5