“Who was your master?”
“His name was Count Dracula…”
— A snatch of dialogue from Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)
Dracula, Prince of Darkness is notable for many reasons.
First off, this movie marked Christopher Lee’s return to the role that he played 8 years earlier in The Horror of Dracula. After being forced to make one Dracula film without Dracula, Hammer Films was finally able to make a direct sequel to The Horror of Dracula.
As a result of Lee returning, this was also the first of the Hammer Draculas to feature the previously destroyed Lord of the Vampires being revived through a splash of blood. This was a plot element that all subsequent films in the series would feature and, to a certain extent, you have to admire Hammer’s efforts maintain some form of continuity. Whereas it would have been easy enough to just have Dracula show up with no explanation as to why he’s back, the Hammer films at least tried to make sure everything followed some sort of identifiable logic. (Or, at least they did until Dracula A.D. 1972 but we’ll get to that movie later…)
This was the first Dracula film not to feature (with the exception of the footage from Horror of Dracula that opens the film) Peter Cushing in the role of Van Helsing. And while the film probably would have been improved by the presence of Cushing, the film does come up with a more than adequate substitute in the form of Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor. Whereas Cushing’s Van Helsing always seemed to be a rather rational vampire hunter, Keir brings a truly demented energy to the role.
And finally, Dracula, Prince of Darkness is probably best remembered for being the Dracula film in which Dracula does not speak. He does hiss a few times but, for the most part, Dracula is silent throughout this entire film and, instead, relies on his servants Klove (Philip Latham) and Ludwig (Thorley Walters) to do most of the talking.
Why Dracula doesn’t speak is a matter of debate. Christopher Lee has claimed that he refused to say any of the dialogue that had been written Dracula while screenwriter Jimmy Sangster wrote, in his autobiography, that Dracula was specifically written to be a silent role. (Or, as Sangster put it, “Vampires don’t chat.”)
Regardless of why Dracula is silent, it actually works quite well. Sangster’s right. Vampires don’t chat and Christopher Lee’s haughty Dracula would be the least likely of all to make small talk. Dracula’s silence both reminds us of the contempt with which he views the living and it also plays up the animalistic aspects of the character. It helps, of course, that Christopher Lee is one of those actors who can do more with one dismissive glare than most actors could do with 20 pages of the most florid and overwritten dialogue.
As for the film itself, it serves as a reminder that the only thing that need happen for evil to be triumphant is for stupid tourists to take a holiday in Transylvania. Ignoring the warnings of practically everyone else on the planet, the Kents — Alan (Charles Tingwell) and wife Helen (Barbara Shelley) and Charles (Francis Matthews) and wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) — spend the night at Dracula’s castle. Dracula’s servant, Klove, murders Alan and drains his blood over Dracula’s ashes. Soon, Helen is a vampire, Diana has been selected to be Dracula’s latest bride, and it’s up to Sandor and Charles to save everyone’s soul.
Dracula, Prince of Darkness is a lot of fun. It’s full of all the usual Hammer touches — melodramatic dialogue, ornate castles, pretty costumes, plentiful gore, unfriendly villagers, and not-quite-brilliant heroes — and, best of all, it’s got Christopher Lee proving that Dracula doesn’t need to speak to be frightening. Subsequent films in the Hammer Dracula series would grow increasingly uneven but Dracula, Prince of Darkness is a worthy entry.