Hammer always approached their version of Dracula with a serialized attitude, making every chapter of his emergence as something unique and entertaining. After 1958’s “Dracula” which shown his battle with Peter Cushing, he is defeated and left to basically stay as ash in his old castle in England. Of course, as we learn with all of Dracula’s Hammer exploits, he eventually is revived by some human error or devotion to his powers that amount to his re-emerging in “Prince of Darkness.”
After the death of Dracula, a roaming rifle wielding Father Sandor wanders the country side ensuring the eradication of vampirism. When he comes across four English tourists dining at a local inn, he warns them to stay away from Karlsbad, where a haunted Castle lurks. Attempting to ride home, they’re stranded by a coach driver who is fearful of crossing Karlsbad, but hitch a ride on a driverless horse and carriage. Driving them to the castle in Karslbad, much to their surprise, they decide to stay in the seemingly deserted domicile overnight. Confronted by servant Klove, they don’t realize until it’s too late that he’s a loyal servant of Dracula, and plans to use them to revive the Count and continue his reign of terror.
“Prince of Darkness” isn’t a great sequel, but it’s one that I particularly enjoyed thanks to its sheer sense of dread, and spooky tropes involving scary castles and evil man servants. For a movie that only features Lee’s Dracula for about twenty minutes total, “Prince of Darkness” is a surprisingly tight and spooky vampire film with Lee commanding the screen as the fanged count. He’s less about charisma and charm and much more about animal rage and power, and the moment he is revived, he becomes an instant force to be reckoned with. According to legend, Lee had dialogue but refused to use it, while the screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insisted he never wrote dialogue for Dracula, so do with that what you want.
That said, “Prince of Darkness” has a very good sense of pacing, establishing a world that’s been affected by Dracula and continues to be. Rather than introduce us to the foursome of aristocrats, we meet Andrew Keir’s great hero Father Sandor, a rifle wielding vampire hunter who spends his time roaming the countryside and looking for vampiric menaces. He’s one of the very few people to sense the re-emergence of Dracula, and once he arrives, he’s more than equipped to do battle with the vampire lord. It’s a shame we don’t see Father Sandor in future “Dracula” films as he’s a great vampire fighting foe who uses his wits and quick thinking to fight the vampires lurking around his home.
The problem with “Prince of Darkness” is that the script seems to go on way too long, beginning in a logical setting and ending in the mythical castle where Dracula lurked with his assistant. The prologue involving the abbey and the convenient introduction of Ludwig, who so happens to be Dracula’s aide, feels blatantly tacked on, and drags on what feels like an already complete narrative. That said, “Prince of Darkness” is a solid, albeit flawed, chapter in “Dracula” saga, and one that warrants a viewing for Hammer buffs.
The new collector’s edition features a trio of audio commentaries. There’s an audio commentary with author Troy Howarth, one with filmmaker Constantine Nasr and writer/producer Steve Haberman, and one with cast members Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley. “With Back to Black: The Making of Dracula: Prince of Darkness” is a thirty minute documentary with historians, journalists, Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews discussing the history of the film and its legacy. There’s the “World of Hammer Episode: “Dracula and the Undead,” a twenty four minute episode of the vintage program that focuses on Dracula. There are five minutes of Super 8mm Behind-the-Scenes Footage, featuring commentary by cast members including Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley. Finally, there’s the original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, a poster gallery, and a Special Thanks which discusses the new scan from Shout! Factory.