The Hammer Dracula films are something of an unruly bunch, with the quality deteriorating rapidly like the Count’s body when exposed to the sunlight. The venerable Terrence Fisher was arguably the studio’s best director, and he fashions something better-than-average from some fairly random ingredients here. Dracula doesn’t actually speak here, and is off-screen for long stretches, but fortunately there are some big compensations to divert attention.
Francis Matthews plays Kent, whose party of English tourists circa 1895 get a stern warning from shotgun-toting priest Father Sandor (Andrew Keir); stay well away from the castle at Karlsbad. Of course, it’s not long before Kent’s party is sitting down for dinner in the same castle, with Phillip Latham doing a chilling job as the old retainer Klove. Klove murders one of the guests and uses their blood to revive the sleeping Count Dracula, and although Kent and the remains of his party escape to warn Sandor that Dracula is risen from his grave, the Count’s own escape plan is already in action.
Barbara Shelley and Susan Farmer join Matthews and Lee from the cast of Rasputin The Mad Monk, but what’s notable about Prince of Darkness is that it’s straight-up sequel rather than a reboot or modernisation. Familiar items include Thorley Walters as a insect-eating servant, while a prologue features the climax of the previous Horror of Dracula hit. Peter Cushing enjoys a lemon on the substitutes bench this time around, but Matthews and particularly Keir do a great job in bulking out the forces of good. Sure, Lee barely speaks, but his presence is strong, and there’s a couple of creepy scenes where his super-strength and speed are admirably conveyed just by Lee’s physicality alone.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness is a good into to the in-house studio style; glamour, extreme politeness and traditional values mark out Hammer films as having something different to offer from conventional horror. With some stand-out sequences, notably the count’s stop-motion resurrection and the rousing climactic fight on cracking ice, this is one revival of the classic vampire story that packs a punch when the pleasantries are finally over.