Everyone thinks that Dracula is dead after Professor Van Helsing killed him ten years earlier. Four English tourists stray into his old castle in the Carpathian Mountains and are met by Dracula's servant, Klove.
After being welcomed and treated to a meal, the tourists settle down for the night but one of them is curious when they see Klove dragging a case down into the basement. He follows Klove down there who proceeds to kill him and uses his blood to resurrect Dracula, unleashing his evil on the world once again.
The third installment of the Hammer Dracula films is the first true sequel to Horror of Dracula and sees the welcome return of Christopher Lee into the title role. He had decided to wait eight years before donning the cape again for fear of being typecast (which is ironic since he went on to star as Dracula in around eight films during his illustrious career!) but in all honesty, it probably wasn't worth the effort. Whilst nowhere near as memorable as the original, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is perhaps the best of the sequels although it works better as a collection of iconic vampiric set pieces rather than a fully rounded film. At least the film gathers the best that the studio had to offer in the form of director Terence Fisher, composer James Bernard and writer Jimmy Sangster who all contribute their individual pieces to the film in classic Hammer style.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness opens with the final scenes from Horror of Dracula to fill you in with what happened (and also to remind us of how good it was). The film then immediately begins to suffer from the same problems as the rest of the sequels. It simply doesn't know what to do with Dracula apart from having him hiss and growl into the camera and then seduce some nubile young women. The first half of the film is centered around the the resurrection of Dracula, but once he's back in business, the film hits a brick wall. You wonder why they bothered including him in the first place and it may have been better had they just continued with the same theme as Brides of Dracula, featuring Van Helsing as the main character and introducing a new vampire threat.
Like many earlier Hammer films, the pace is deliberate and the tone is foreboding. The film takes time to set up its story and characters, realizing that in order to care about people when threatened with evil, we need to know about them and their situation beforehand. It's a little tedious at times and some of the stupidity of the characters beggars belief (the contrived circumstances in which the four people find themselves at Dracula's old castle will have you shaking your head - despite all of the warnings, all of the doomsayers and all of the evidence to the contrary, the characters still decide to stay there and look what happens!).
Once Dracula has been resurrected, the film quickly goes through the usual motions of having him assemble a coven of lustful slaves to prey on whilst the vampire hunter rallies the troops and then finally confronts Dracula. This last sequence of events really seems rushed and had they introduced Dracula a little earlier in the film, they could have built up the finale a little more. Instead, the ending is left open for a further series of sequels, each one featuring more absurd ways of resurrecting Dracula.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness contains possibly one of Hammer's greatest scenes ever - that of Dracula's resurrection. Klove brutally slays one of the guests and hangs him above a coffin containing Dracula's ashes, allowing the blood to gush out and spill over them, reforming Dracula. It's an amazing sequence both in its violent nature and then in its spine-chilling conclusion as the Count arises to strike terror into the world once more. Coupled with James Bernard's memorable score, the scene is Gothic horror at its finest.
Up there alongside the best scenes of the film is the moment where one of the female vampires is manhandled in the monastery by the monks who then promptly proceed to stake her in a most ruthless fashion. For 1966, these scenes are brutally effective. The traditional Hammer period setting is used to full effect here although if you think you recognize everything, it may be because both this and Rasputin: the Mad Monk were filmed by Hammer in 1966 and they share the same sets (as well as the same cast - economic filmmaking at it's finest!).
Christopher Lee is back in the cape and although he only appears half-way through and doesn't speak a word (apparently his lines were so poorly written that Lee refused to speak them), his performance is still mesmerizing. He uses tools of the trade mostly forgotten about nowadays - the expressions on his face, his piercing eyes and his body language - to become a powerful and seductive figure, towering over the rest of the cast. In taking a personal stance against the treatment of Bram Stoker's novel, Lee turned the role into something more memorable than he could have envisioned.
Andrew Kier takes over the Van Helsing-like role as the local vampire slaying priest. He's no Peter Cushing but Kier is an excellent deputy, more than matching up to Dracula and his minions. Barbara Shelley, one of Hammer's most common leading ladies in their earlier days, is equally as memorable as the frigid Helen who is corrupted by Dracula and turned into an alluring sexual vampire slave. Finally amongst the cast, note must be given to Phillip Latham as Klove. His entrance alongside James Bernard's haunting music tricks the audience into thinking it's the Count himself. But he's just as sinister and deadly, acting as the vocal piece for Dracula throughout the film.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness contains some truly classic Hammer moments which unfortunately mask over a flimsy plot and poor pacing. For these reasons, it will never be considered a true classic but for fans of Hammer or vampire films in general, this one should be compulsive viewing.