10 years after the demise of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), a group of unwary, English travellers - Charles Kent (Francis Matthews), his brother Alan (Charles Tingwell) and their wives, Diana (Suzanne Farmer) and Helen (Barbara Shelley) - journey through the Carpathian woods. Foolishly ignoring sagely advice from gun-toting monk, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), the Kents spend the night at a certain infamous castle, where a mysterious manservant named Klove (Philip Latham) tends to their every need. Later that night, Klove slaughters one guest in a bloodthirsty ritual that resurrects his vampire lord, Dracula who feasts on the living once more.
Lock up your daughters - Drac’s back! The third film in Hammer’s Dracula series, following the excellent Brides of Dracula (1960), brought Christopher Lee back into the fold and established a template the studio would follow well into the seventies. Hereafter, Dracula would be resurrected, transform one comely victim into a wanton vampire bride, pursue a pair of young lovers and confront an all-knowing savant. Yet while the formula later went stale, here it scales new heights of mythic resonance. Despite having no dialogue, Christopher Lee’s snarling, animalistic Dracula exudes palpable menace. In many ways Dracula, Prince of Darkness was the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) of its day (one outraged critic denounced the movie as “a tour through a slaughter house”): a group of clueless travellers stumble into an old, dark house and are gorily dispatched, one by one. Poor, old Alan gets the worst of it, and after rendering neurotic Helen into his personal plaything, Dracula sets his sights on dishy Diana. You’d think after ten years he’d be a lot less discriminating, but he never chases after ugly old men, does he?
The film also draws slightly upon the western genre, portraying rural Carpathian as a lawless land overrun by fear and superstition, with Father Sandor coming across like John Wayne in a cassock. Peter Cushing’s absence is regrettable, but Andrew Keir’s blustery, sharp-shooting monk is a worthy substitute. He has a nice scene early on when Sandor prevents the ignorant peasantry from desecrating a dead girl’s corpse, and proves great fun barking at bad guys. Of course, in Hammer horror movies working class folk are mostly mumbling, superstitious-types while aristocrats are all cape-swishing swine. All the nice people are middle class. Francis Matthews and Suzanne Farmer serve their roles quite well, although Barbara Shelley takes top acting honours making the most of a role that is much less than the sum of its parts. Thorley Walters is also good, intriguingly cast against type as the Renfield-style madman, Ludwig.
Terence Fisher crafts a memorably balletic climax with Dracula battling his enemies atop a frozen pond. He also delivers a lingering, eerie final image of the vampire’s face bobbing beneath the murky waters. You just know before long - he'll be back.